Title: Connections


Part One

"Oz man, what's going on with Buffy?" Oz looked up at Devon to see him devouring her with his eyes as Buffy danced on the crowded floor. They were playing at, yet another, in an endless stream of Frat parties. "I hear she's really cut loose now that brood guy-what's his name--is out of the picture?" Oz grunted as his focus was taken up doing his cool Base solo. After few more songs the band decided to call it a night and catch as many chicks as they could for company. Oz normally hung back from that activity. It had been six months since his break-up with Willow and he was still reeling from it. At first he was going to drop out of college all together and had for the Fall semester, but he decided to come back in January and he was happy he had. His beautiful ex-girl friend had moved on but she saw how her being at his gigs bothered him so she never came to the parties he played at.

Oz walked through the noisy crowd of drunken party animals over to where Buffy was standing talking to Devon by the punch bowl. "Ah, come on, Buff, come join me in just a little night cap." Oz heard Devon say as he walked up behind Buffy.

"No way, Dev. Not after that Beer spell in the fall! No drinking for the Slayer." Buffy said. Oz noticed Buffy give a slight shiver and she turned around suddenly as if expecting a fight, relaxing when she saw Oz.

"Hi Oz, don't do that!" The slayer told him even as he saw the happy lightening of her expressive eyes. He knew she was happy he came over to chat when she shyly smiled at him.

Oz had always found the slayer attractive and lately they had had time to talk and he was beginning to like her in ways other than friendship. He knew that she was struggling to get over the entire Parker/Angel thing like he was with the Willow thing. When he came back to school she was there waiting for him, to welcome him back, to be a go between while he and Willow worked out their differences enough to reach the level of friendship that they now had.

Devon pushed himself between Oz and Buffy. "Okay Buffy no booze but at least try some punch?" Devon asked handing a cup of punch to Buffy. Devon turned his back to Oz as Buffy took the cup and began to sip from it with a polite smile for the lead singer.

"So, Buffy it's been awhile. What have you been doing to keep busy?" Devon asked as he placed his arm around Buffy invading her personal space at the same time trying to steer her away from Oz. It was comical to see Devon try to pull the slayer away. Oz could tell she was just being polite to Devon because he was his friend but if he didn't get his hands off of her, she was going deck him.

"Hey Buffy, "Oz shouted above the noise. "How about sharing some of your punch? They're out of cups?" The blonde slayer looked relieved and pivoted around under Devon's arm at the same time handing her punch to Oz. To the causal observer it looked like Buffy was simply giving Oz her drink, not ditching Devon like she actually was. Oz noticed a stricken panicked look flash across Devon's face as he started to bring the cup to lips-then the cup was forcefully knocked from his hands as Devon pretended to fall.

"Oops," Devon said as he shot Oz a nervous smile. And a cold feeling of dread washed over Oz. He looked up at Buffy's amused face and he saw instantly that she knew something was wrong from his expression. The wolf surfaced just a bit and Oz grabbed the front of the taller boy's shirt pulling his face down. Oz slowly, clearly, asked, "What. Did. You. Put. In. Her Drink." Fury raced through him, Oz felt the wolf snarl deep within him at the threat to his...friend.

Devon blanched, the color draining from his face at Oz's words. He tired to smile again, lost it. "Just some acid to loosen her up a bit...." Oz could only see red as he threw his ex-friend to the floor and stood over him ready to rip Devon to shreds.

"Oh, God!" Oz's rage was stilled by Buffy's hoarse cry. The slayer grabbed both of Oz's arms in a bruising grip as she pulled him to face her, a parody of what Oz had just done to Devon.

"Oz you gotta get me out of here." She pleaded, "please don't let me hurt anyone!" The pain in his arms caused Oz to flinch and Buffy dropped her hands helplessly by her sides. "We got to think for a minute Buffy, just let me think." He said and then to reassure her, gently took one of her hands in his.

Oz thought, most "acid trips" were nice and mellow the people never really losing touch with reality. But, a few... the few trips, the bad ones, you read about in the newspaper where some guy goes berserk and it takes ten police officers to subdue him. Oh, god, a slayer on a bad trip? The damage Buffy could do--trained to kill demons, with her strength and speed-she would never forgive herself. Oz looked down at the stupid boy on the floor and reached into his pockets for his keys.

"Go get the van and bring it around front, now!" He told Devon throwing his keys at Devon's chest and taking pleasure when he heard a grunt of pain. Oz turned back to Buffy tugging her hand to his mouth and kissing it. He looked up to see an expression of fear and hope mixed-fear of what she could do in a drugged state-hope that Oz would help.

Oz took his other hand and caressed her face, trying to send soothing thoughts through the touch. Buffy closed her eyes and leaned into his hand. They, unconsciously, moved into a hug, comforting at the moment but something passed between them that spoke of a future-if they could make it past the next few hours. "Buffy, I need you to stay calm and focused." He whispered in her ear and felt her nod that she heard him. "Most trips are really cool," he continued, "but we are going to take you to my wolf-out place just in case." He finished hoping she would understand what he meant to do, not wanting to actually say the words. When he felt her nod again, he turned keeping one arm around her waist and the other arm in front leading her from the party and out the front door.

Oz did a quick mental calculation; it had been about five minutes since Buffy drank the first of the spiked punch. That meant she should start feeling the effects any moment or maybe she didn't get enough? He thought, hopefully, remembering how Giles said Slayers had a built in resistance to drugs and poisons. Oz looked down at Buffy as they past under a street lamp trying to see her eyes, see if they were dilating, but she held her head down. She wasn't leaning on him for support, so he figured that was good sign.

They stopped at the street to wait for Devon. Oz turned her towards him, gently lifting Buffy's chin up at the same time and was shocked to see tears spilling down her face. "Hey, hey, what's this?" He asked quietly. She sniffled and wiped at her eyes with the back of her sleeve. "Some slayer I am, afraid of some acid."

Oz hugged her tightly to him. "You aren't afraid of the acid, you are frighten that you will hurt someone." He told her naming her fear so she could relax with him. It was the same fear he had each month, that he would escape and hurt or kill someone. During the Halloween thing in the fall Willow and Xander thought he had been afraid of changing-but as they were talking about their separate fears at Giles' apartment munching down on candy-he saw true understanding in Buffy's face. She understood it wasn't the change he feared it was what he would do if he changed.

She let out a long shuttering sigh and leaned back in his arms so she could face him. "It's just everything is so exaggerated as the slayer, every minor problem, every mistake." She said, her eyes appearing bruised in the light of the street lamp. "If I were normal," she continued. "It, normal...." She paused, eyes glazing over as Oz watched. Buffy sniffing the air suddenly swayed, Oz instinctively tightened his hold to keep her upright. "Smell food, hungry." She mumbled easily pulling out of Oz's embrace. "So much for slayer drug resistance." He mumbled.

Oz grabbed Buffy's shoulder and turned her back to him; he then placed his hands on each shoulder and stared in her dark eyes. "Focus Buffy, stay focused!" He told her earnestly. She shook her head, and the blank look disappeared. Oz heard his van on the street behind him and he led the compliant slayer to it. From the inside of the van Devon opened the paneled door. The werewolf helped the slayer into the van; she crawled across the carpeting to the other side and sat against the wall. Buffy started to run her hands through the deep shag of the carpet seemingly becoming lost in the textures.

Devon stepped out of the van, "well I'm out of here, three's a crowd." Rage once again flared up in Oz as he grabbed Devon's coat sleeve spinning him around and pushing him against the van. Devon fell into the open door and Oz jumped on top of him holding the bigger boy down by sitting on his chest. Oz leaned down into Devon's face menacingly, " you really have no clue what you have done, do you?" Oz asked in a low voice full of danger.

Devon swallowed, "what? Come on Oz, man, if you want her for yourself it's cool. I gave her enough to last all night-even for her..."

Buffy's scream stopped Oz's thoughts of murder. He looked up in time to she hit the steel wall of the van with a closed fist-denting the wall outward at least six inches. Devon turned his head at the noise and then his mouth formed a big O. Oz jumped off of Devon, "you drive, my place." And without hesitation Devon closed the van door and jumped into the driver's seat, roaring away from the Frat house and down the street.

As soon as Oz got off of Devon Buffy wrapped her arms around her legs and started to rock back and forth. Oz was confused by the sudden shift in her behavior, it had been his experience that once a bad trip started it continued-it didn't stop. Still he needed to check out Buffy's hand, even in the dim light of the van he could see the knuckles had deep cuts in them the blood dripping on the carpet and he was sure she must have broken something. Oz reached for the first aid kit under the passenger side front seat then slowly crawled over to Buffy trying to project non-threatening feelings her way. Keeping his head down as if he was an actual wolf and she was the pack leader. She stopped rocking and watched him approach.

"Oz I'm scared." She told him holding out her injured hand to him when he was close enough. 'It seems to be coming in waves, uncontrollable waves of emotion," she stated. He nodded to her, knowing she could see in the almost non-existent light in the van. Opening the first aid kit he pulled out a little penlight turning it on he started to examine Buffy's hand. "I mean the colors are all weird and everything," Buffy continued in a small-frightened voice. "And like I'm light headed in a kind of groggy way and stuff but if I concentrate...." Again she trailed off as she lost focus staring at the blood dripping from her fingers onto the palm of his hand. She took her other hand and smeared it around then tasted it off her fingers.

He was shocked and a little grossed out by her actions, as he searched the kit for some bandages. She yanked her hand from his causing him to drop everything on the floor. She covered her face and huddled deeper in the corner between the wall of the van the driver's seat.

"Hey watch it!" Devon called when she hit his seat. She jerked forward at the sound of his voice and then tried to curl into an even smaller ball. The werewolf's anger began to grow again at Devon for putting them both into this situation. Buffy should be able to attend a stupid party and not have it end up life and death. Oz noticed, as his anger at Devon became stronger so did Buffy's agitation. She was literally grasping her legs so tightly that her fingernails were ripping the fabric of her slacks.

Oz knew he was missing something, something very important. He just couldn't figure out what. He picked up the light and turned it off. He was going to have to wait for Buffy to calm down again before he could risk touching her. Less than a minute later Devon stopped the van got out and opened the sliding door.

"Hey Oz how do we get inside?" Devon asked from above him. The Oz looked at the huddled figure the light from the street shinning on her.'Go unlock the doors, you have the keys." The werewolf answered.Oz was at once relieved to be at his place because all they had to do was get Buffy downstairs and he was concerned that it would be an impossible task. Oz took the deep breaths Giles had taught to do before his wolf out episodes-breathing into the pain of changing seemed to help it and at the same time calmed him. He started to crawl to Buffy and he noticed the closer he got,the less agitated she acted.

He saw smeared streaks of dried blood on her face from her hands. He touched her knee and she glanced at him. "You okay?" He asked quietly. "We're here." Her agitation seemed to flow out of her as soon as he touched her. She gave him a weary smile. Oz stood in the van and held his hand out to her to help her up. The werewolf placed his arm around her to guide her out of the van; her balance was really off he thought, as they almost fell getting out of the van.

As they got to the open door leading down to the basement Oz thought about lifting Buffy and carrying her down the stairs-he was a small man but she was a tiny woman less than a hundred pounds-he could carry her easily. Still, she would be an awkward load for the narrow stairs so he satisfied himself by pulling her closer to him; she fit perfectly under his arm with her arms wrapped tightly around his chest.

************

Part Two


As they got to the bottom of the stairs Oz saw Devon had already turned the overhead light on and he was in the caged off area. Since his break up with Willow, Oz couldn't trust only chains to hold him so he bought some old timely jail bars from a junk dealer and made a cage. The back of the jail cell was the brick basement wall where he had attached the new set of chains-they looked like regular police issue restraints-but they weren't. The thin steel links disguised their strength; the length of the actual chain portion let the wolf pace. Buffy had been here, of course, watching over him during his time of the month. He asked the Slayer to make sure he couldn't escape when he had first constructed this cell in the basement of his apartment building. So she knew what to expect, still, now that they were here, he shied away -he didn't want her chained like some criminal. They should be at the Ice Cream Bar getting a double cone, not here and not for this reason!

"Hey, Oz my man!" Devon said holding up the chains. "Kinky, man I didn't know you had it in you." Oz fought the wolf, trying to keep it from coming to the surface. But before he could blink Buffy had attacked. She pushed Devon against the brick wall in the back of the cage- moving out of Oz's arms so fast he barely had time to register the fact she was gone. The slayer held the large boy off the floor with one tiny hand around his neck. Devon compounded his night full of mistakes by taking a weak swing at the slayer as he struggled to force air past her hand. She easily blocked the punched, with her injured hand re-opening the closed cuts. Oz could see her shoulders begin to slump as if she was losing her strength. But then she used her injured hand to grab Devon's belt and she pivoted around lifting at the same time.

"Buffy no!" Oz shouted knowing that Buffy was about to slam Devon down onto the concrete floor, which would more than likely kill him or break his back. Oz started to move, but even as he tried to rush forward he knew he would never be able to save Devon. Then Buffy just stopped- relief pushed the terror away in Oz's mind. As Devon and Buffy crashed to the floor when the slayers legs gave out, Devon on top of Buffy breaking his fall. Still, Oz heard the sickening crunch of bone breaking and the lead singer grabbed his wrist. The slayer under the boy started to get up-throwing the boy off her as she did a push-up. The wolf saw the chain lying next to them so he picked up the handcuff and snapped it quickly around the slayer's little wrist. Then he grabbed Devon by his coat and threw him out of the door of the cell.

Oz did a forward roll out of the cell as Buffy reached for him, being pulled back by the chain around her wrist. The slayer let out an animalistic cry when Oz slammed the door of the cage closed and started a staggering pace as far as the chain would let her in the confinement of the cell.

The werewolf sat breathing on the floor for a few minutes trying to calm his racing heart. He watched as Buffy tried to break the chain around her wrist pulling on it until the brackets he had anchored in the wall began to giveway. But, just as before, her mood suddenly changed and she sat down on the floor watching him quietly.

"Man she broke it, the bitch broke it." Devon said standing, holding his arm protectively to his body.

"So what Dev." Oz said quietly. All of the wolf's anger just draining out of him now that he knew Buffy would be safe-from herself and anyone else for the rest of the night.

Devon pulled himself up straight in his righteousness, "She's a danger, I'm going to the police and press charges." Oz stared at the taller boy letting the full force of his wolf nature through, he stared for a second, then two and Devon caved in. "All right. I have to go get this taken care of." He indicated his wrist. "I'll see you at practice in the morning?"

"No man, it's over." Devon turned back to face Oz. In the light he saw that Devon's neck was already bruised from where Buffy held it. "Devon, you hurt my friend tonight. What you did was low, man. I never want to see you again." Devon opened his mouth to say something but closed it when Oz continued to stare at him. Finally, Devon nodded and left.

"You didn't have to do that, you know." Oz turned towards Buffy. She was still sitting quietly on the floor against the back wall.

"I know." He answered. "But, after tonight and what he's done to you I can't be around him anymore."

She shrugged. "Life of the slayer." A single tear made it's way down her face. "He's right," she sighed as another tear joined the first, "I am a danger." She tugged on the chain holding it up showing it to Oz. "I could have killed someone tonight." She paused, then whispered, "I could have killed you."

Oz just sat in shock at the crap Buffy was saying about herself. "Yes, you could have-if you had wanted too. But the important thing is you didn't want too." He told her standing up and walking over to the cell.

"I don't know Oz, it's like these uncontrollable waves of anger wash over me...." She trailed off and Oz could tell she was gone once again. But this time she was calm, she started to examine her injured hand. "Pretty color...."

Everything clicked for Oz at that moment, the mood swings, and her strange reactions-some way some how she was reading his emotions. He noticed that she was shivering slightly and finally the fact that the door to the street was still open and it was cold filtered through his tired fuzzy brain. He quickly went up the stairs and closed the door. On his way back down he got some of the blankets he has stored in a box and walked over to the cage. By this time Buffy was back with him and watching him closely.

"Don't even think about it." She said when it became clear to her what he intended to do. "Oz I don't want to hurt you." Buffy started to get up but didn't make it to her feet before she slowly slumped back down to the floor.

"You won't hurt me, Buffy. At least not physically." The wolf said as he opened the door and walked up to her. "I think we have some kind of magical awareness or something." He continued in a calm voice breathing the way Giles' taught him.

"Huh?" She answered. And Oz noticed that the closer he got to her the calmer she seemed. Until he spread out the blanket and gathered her in his arms. He marveled again at the way she fit perfectly. Oz kept his breathing steady and soon Buffy was breathing with him-in rhythm-as he felt her relaxing further.
"A connection, huh?" The slayer said yawning. 'Yes, a connection." The wolf answered thinking sleepy thoughts at her. And he was rewarded when she drifted peacefully off to sleep-a sleep he soon joined her in.

--------------------

Oz was walking through a cavern; he could feel the cold dampness of the air on his face. The stench of rotting corpses hung thickly around him as he carefully made his way deeper. Everyone of his senses hyper aware, hyper alert fully attuned to the intensity of the hunt. This was what he was made for, it created a singing in his cells driving him--calling him-he couldn't deny it, he had to answer. He wanted to answer the calling; it was fun, it was intoxicating-he was going to die.

He tried to push back the despair the thought caused, but he couldn't, so he lost his focus for just a moment and in that moment it spoke.

"Welcome to my home." The voice said. A pleasant voice. Oz felt the polished wood of the crossbow in his hands and was comforted by it.

"Thanks for having me." A quick reply and smart retort, all the while trying to cover the terror the voice had invoked. Reaching for the strength of will to keep his head, to look for away, anyway to defeat the Master so that his friends could live, his death not be in vain.

The fight was quick, the crossbow useless, the Master used his fear of failure against him-he felt the Master slowly reaching into his mind stopping him from fleeing. He couldn't move, 'oh, god please', he begged silently as panic gripped him; opening his mind further to the Master's total dominance. He could now feel the Master behind him, his mental touch as complete of a rape as if he had done it physically and all Oz could do was stand there....

"You're the one, you're the one that sets me free," the Vampire gloated as he gently removed Oz's leather jacket his hands caressing Oz's bare shoulders, sending a dark trill down his spine. Then the Vampire's fangs were in his neck and thrall of the Master's feeding overcame him-he blacked out in ecstatic pleasure-only to awaken to the feel of cold water closing over his face.

Oz woke suddenly and rolled away from the slayer faster than he thought possible. The werewolf was on his feet and out the door of the cage as the slayer woke. She jerked up, and swung blindly at the movement--still caught in the aftermath of the nightmare.

"Not again, I killed you!" She shouted, trying to hit something only she could see. The chain wrapped around her wrist clinking at each swing. Oz stood on the outside of the cage shaking with the emotion of the nightmare and the rush of his near escape. Buffy was tiring, calming down, again. Someone touched Oz's shoulder and he, like the slayer, swung blindly at the person behind him. Only to have his arm grabbed and twisted behind his back as he was pushed face first into the cage bars. His assailant surprised him, still reeling as he was from the dream.

"May I release you?" A curt British voice asked in his ear. Oz nodded. Buffy's head had snapped around at the sound of Giles' voice and Oz knew it was safe to go back into the cage. Giles released him. But as Oz began to open the door Giles' put a restraining hand on his shoulder. "Let's give her a few more minutes shall we?"

"Yes, Oz give me a few minutes." The slayer said, sitting down on the blanket and pulling part of it up into her arms, quickly hiding the chain from Giles' view. Oz knew Giles' saw the chain from her earlier flare-up so he wasn't surprised when Giles' nodded to him to go outside.

The sun was high in the sky it was later than Oz thought it must be pushing towards noon. Giles stepped out the basement doorway behind him. The young werewolf turned to Giles searching his face as the watcher asked, "what happened? Willow called and said Buffy never returned from the party? She told me you were playing at it, so I stopped by to check to see if you had seen her and I find her chained?"

"Yeah," the werewolf was uncomfortable explaining the situation to Giles. Oz turned his back to Giles and away from those knowing green eyes. Giles' eyes looked so much like Buffy's that he could be her real father instead of the father of her heart. "Ah, someone..." Oz paused. "Devon spiked her drink with acid."

"The fool." OZ heard the anger in the Watcher's voice.

"Buffy was afraid she would freak so I brought her here." The werewolf continued, "I didn't think to call you. I'm sorry." Oz turned back to the watcher expecting to find condemnation on his face; instead he saw what he thought of as Giles' thinking expression.

"When was she drugged." Giles' asked softy.

"I don't know I guess about one or so, why?" The werewolf asked confused.

"Back in my Ripper days the trips would last a few hours at most, so it should be safe to release her." Giles explained. Then grabbed Oz's arm in a bruising hold pulling his sleeve up to look closely at it. The wolf saw a bloodstain, a rather large bloodstain. It took a moment to register and then Oz remembered.

"Buffy kind of freaked on the way over in the van." Giles' head snapped up. "I think she might have broken something in her hand, but I couldn't tell last night." Oz rushed to finished.

Giles' dropped his arm, "go release her and bring her up here." The watcher pulled out his car keys; "I'll take her to the hospital. With her accelerated healing capacity it could already be too late. If she indeed broke something, then it may require surgery to fix." Giles said turning to walk away from Oz. Oz could only shake his head, the stress from last night and the realization that Buffy could feel his emotions -- then the dream--everything was just too much for him; he was overloaded.

He turned walk back downstairs, trying to make sense of his emotions but when he got to the cage he found Buffy asleep. Curled up in the blanket on her side facing Oz, her face angelic in repose. Oz felt a turning in his stomach and a burning in his heart that he hadn't felt since he first saw Willow. He could not believe how truly beautiful Buffy was; even her swollen and bloody hand didn't mar her absolute perfection. She stirred, as if she still felt him, and opened her eyes slowly.

"Oz," she yawned. "Where did you and Giles go?" She stretched and stood up with true feline grace. "I'm pretty sure the drug has worn off." She held her chained wrist up for Oz to see. "Ah, the key would be nice. I sort of have to go to the bathroom." Oz snapped out of the stupor that Buffy's incredible beauty had caused.

"Oh, yeah," Oz said walking over to the bookcase placed next to the side of the cage. He watched as Buffy stretched again only this time it ended with hiss of pain as her injured hand brushed against the brick wall behind her. She seems surprised, and studied her hand as if it was new part.

"Well I really think I broke it." Buffy said resigned. "Where did Giles go? I think I need to have this look that before it heals weird, if it hasn't already." Oz pick the key up off of the shelf and walked back to the cage door, he hadn't locked it; didn't seem necessary last night and this morning it definitely wasn't needed. He walked into the cage and took Buffy's hand intending to unlock the cuff holding the chain -- but when they touched it was almost as if an electrical current shot through them. They both took a step back surprise.

"What was that," Buffy exclaimed. And she tentatively reached her hand forward to touch Oz again on his shoulder and again the current ran through them, though less intense. Oz discovered that after the initial shock of touching if they stayed in contact there were no other weird electrical type shocks, though he did continue to feel strange. He quickly released her, and turned to let Buffy walk out of the cage.

"Giles is waiting for you in the car. He thought you might need to go to the hospital." Buffy nodded to Oz and slowly made her way to the stairs. Before she started up to the street she turned, "thank you Oz." She sighed, " thank you for keeping me from hurting anyone." She looked down and away; "I have too many things to deal with, if I had hurt someone...." She didn't finish but instead she gave him her biggest smile and quickly fled up the stairs and out the door.

Oz could only shake his head as the werewolf in him demanded that he follow her. But the boy, the hurt boy, the young man still recovering from the Veruca werewolf episode, could only let her go. He reached down and picked up the blanket that they had shared gathering a close to his face and with his Wolf sense of smell took in the scent that was uniquely Buffy.

***************

In a deserted warehouse on the outskirts of Sunnydale the young man walked up to the vampire. The young man had a cast on his wrist and had deep purple bruises in a ring around his throat.

"You failed" the vampire stated calmly. "You were supposed to bring us the slayer, you said you could bring us the slayer. Now the ritual will have to be delayed until we capture the her." The vampire stood and walked over to the now terrified young musician. "How many of my followers must I now sacrifice to catch the little girl? Since you have so thoroughly disappointed me."

"I'm sorry, so sorry." Devon said falling to his knees before the vampire. "Please just give me one more chance I know I can do it." The vampire reached down and wrapped his hand around Devon's already bruised throat lifting him into the air. The Vamps grotesque face in Devon's -- gagging the young boy with his breath. The vampire set Devon back onto his feet, then pointed at the cage suspended in air fifty feet away.

"I know you will succeed, Devon, because if you do not she dies. After we have fun, and make her one of us. Then the first thing she will eat will be you." Devon looked over at his sister, the horror of her captivity clearly written on her face. "Enough of this" the vampire said. "You will take five of my best and bring the slayer to me tonight. You will succeed or you will not see tomorrow." With that the vampire waived his hand the five of his minions walked up to Devon and escorted him to the tunnel entrance below the warehouse.

*******************

The irritating ring of the phone woke Oz from a dreamless sleep. It took at least three rings for him to realize it was the phone and then another two to answer it.

"Hello?" He asked, noticing the clock by his bed said five p.m.-almost sundown.

" Oz?" a cultured British voice asked. "I thought you would like to be informed of Buffy's condition."

Oz used his palm to wipe his eyes, trying to wake-up. "Ah, yeah, I would Giles. I was thinking of going over to the dorm in a little while."

"The news is quite good actually," Giles answered. Oz could hear the relief in his voice. "Buffy broke two bones, but they were not displaced so no surgery was required. And the doctor was quite amazed at her rapid healing."

Oz breathed a huge sigh of relief. He was quite concerned about the slayer's hand. "That's great Giles, so she's back at the dorm?"

"Yes, I dropped her off there a few hours ago. But, the doctor thinks she's going to be asleep for quite while." Oz felt the amusement in Giles' pause. "I explained to the doctor how non-compliant Buffy tends to be with injuries, so I am afraid the doctor made sure my slayer will be asleep for several more hours." Oz was secretly pleased to hear that Buffy would not be patrolling tonight with a broken hand. And although he heard amusement in Giles' voice, he also heard pride that Buffy would put the safety of others before her own comfort. Then Oz remembered the acid.

"What about the LSD, Giles?"

"The doctor did blood work before he gave her the injection. The drug was completely out of her system." The watcher answered.

Relieved the werewolf stated, " so there is going to be a slayer waking up in a few hours starving to death." The slayer's huge appetite was a running joke among the Scooby Gang.

Over the phone Oz could hear Giles chuckling, "I believe there is a pizza parlor a few blocks from your apartment that tends to overload its pizzas with cheese." Oz caught the strong hint, remembering Buffy's propensity for eating any and all foods with cheese.

"You got it Giles, werewolf pizza delivery service at your slayer's pleasure." Oz quickly finished the conversation with Giles and an hour later he found himself outside of room 214 of Stevenson's Hall. But before he could knock the door quietly opened and Willow stepped out placing her finger over her lips in a sshhing motion.

Oz couldn't stop smile forming on his lips. But, for the first time since their terrible breakup, he didn't feel pain when he saw Willow. He felt happiness that Willow had found someone in Riley.

"She's still asleep," Willow said after the door was securely closed. Then indicating the pizza boxes and the bag with two, two-liter cokes. "But I'm hungry too so why don't we go down to the lounge for little while. I've never known Buffy to sleep for more than four hours so she should be awake in a little while." Willow babbled as she led the way down the stairs and to a quiet section of the student lounge. Oz still loved it how she would babble -- actually Oz still loved her, period. Only his feelings had changed, he didn't remember when his feelings changed, but to his relief they had.

"Before she fell asleep Buffy told me the you took care of her last night?" Willow said sitting down.

"Yeah, I know what it's like to be worried that you are going to hurt someone." Oz put the extra, extra, cheese pizza under the table and opened Willow's extra pepperoni pizza for her. Oz could feel Willow eyes on him and could understand her scrutiny because Buffy was her best friend -- really the sister she never had -- and he had only been her lover.

"You're blushing behind your ears," Willow commented. Then said out of the blue surprising the young Wolf "You hurt her and I will come after you."

Oz smile up at Willow, " I understand." The tension broke, then, and Willow and Oz started talking like the friends they were before they were lovers. Finally, after about an hour they decided it was time to go back to the room and wake up Buffy.

Only when Willow opened the door they were met with a cold wind blowing through the window, through a broken window and Buffy was nowhere to be seen.

*******

" Come to me in my dreams, and then,
By day I shall be well again.
For so the night will more than pay
The hopeless longings of the day."-Matthew Arnold



Connections Part Two

When Willow opened the door they were met with a cold wind blowing through the window, through a broken window, and Buffy was nowhere to be seen.

Panic seized Oz's heart and he took an unconscious step forward into the room only to trip on a net bag full of wet shower supplies. He kept from falling flat on his face by stumbling onto Buffy's bed.

"These are Buffy's," Willow said picking up the bag. "And they're wet." She brought the bag over to Oz, hope shining in her eyes. "Maybe after her shower she decided to go get something to eat." Oz nodded to Willow, but he knew something bad had happened to Buffy. Some how he could feel it. He got up off the bed the walked over to the broken window, even before he saw the blood he could smell it.It was Buffy's and there was lot of it on the outside of a window.

"What is it Oz?" Willow asked walking up to him and then she let out a frightened gasp as she saw the blood still dripping down the jagged edge of the window. Oz stood there thinking, his werewolf sense of smell told him not only that it was Buffy's, but that it was very fresh. The odor of the blood filled his nostrils causing him to become overheated -- his clothes suddenly constricting -- he could feel the wolf in him trying to break free. He had to get out of there, he could track her, he could find his her and then he would rip the throat's out of people that threatened her. Willow's hand on the shoulder nearly sent him over the cliff -- a free fall into pure wolf induced instinct. He pushed off her hand in stepped back away from her, away from the blood on the window, taking deep breaths he regained control.

"Willow I have to get out of here, I can track her." Oz said fidgeting, trying to keep from making eye contact with Willow because he knew she would know how close the wolf was to taking control. He knew she could never understand the wolf part of him was always just under the surface. The werewolf blurted the first excuse the came to fogged mind. "I need you to call Giles, go over there and wait, when I find her I'll call."

Willow began to shake her head in negation, "no Oz it's too dangerous let's get everybody together."

Intellectually, the tiny bit of Oz's intellect it was working, he knew that Willow was correct. That he should wait until the entire Scooby gang was gathered but there was just no way he could contain the wolf. "Trust me I'm not going to pull a John Wayne." And before she could react he ran out the door. He heard her call to him as he left the room and again as he paused under the window picking up the blood scent again. Only he was lost into the predator's instinct of the hunt, he had to move, to do something.

The scent of Buffy's blood was strong; Oz took off in the direction that his nose and primitive nature told him he would find her. Letting himself go, releasing his carefully constructed control over his inherent animalistic inclinations. After the Veruca werewolf incident, he had broken up with Willow and had gone into the deep forests of the Pacific Northwest to prove Veruca wrong. The three months he spent alone he discovered that she had been right all along, the wolf was more prevalent in him than he had let himself to believe. He found out, that while he only had the physical appearance of the werewolf for three nights a month, he had the enhanced senses all the time. Besides the sense of smell he had acute hearing -- every bit as sensitive as a Wolf's. While the senses had subtly incorporated themselves into his life without his knowledge, the terrible predator's instinct had been created the night he tasted Veruca's blood. The predator terrified Oz with its intensity. Oz was frightened that the wolf's primal instinct would take him over at the wrong time --overriding his human intelligence causing a fatal mistake.

He came to a trap door, which was obviously the entrance to the tunnels that ran below the University. The blood smell ended at this entrance to the tunnels. The wolf screamed for him to throw himself down into the sewer and race after the kidnappers. Instead he stood silently clinching his hands into fists so tightly his nails dug into his palms as he tried to rein in the emotions of the Wolf. Breathing deeply he was able to calm his beating heart and force the adrenaline down to a level in which allowed Oz to use his human intellect. If the Vampires were smart, they would leave a guard at the entranceway, to catch anybody who tried to follow. Oz looked around, thinking that the smell of Buffy's blood was so strong he could probably still find the trail if he went to another entrance.

Oz race through the night looking for another entrance into the tunnels. Finally, he spotted a man hole cover in the middle of the street -- thankfully a street with very little traffic on it at the moment. He quickly removed the heavy steel plate and scrambled down the metal stables, struggling to replace the manhole cover and maintain his precarious balance. Oz had the wolf's ability to smell and hearing while he was in human form-just none of its strength. Finally the heavy piece of steel was back into place; there was just enough light for him to be able to see the dirt floor of tunnel, so he jumped the rest of away down. The werewolf turned in circles picking up the scent of blood when he would sure of direction he slowly started following it. He eased his control over his wolf instincts letting them loose, he knew that part of him would have more success than the human part. The wolf was a hunter, the human a musician.

He deliberately kept to the shadows of the tunnels, trusting his enhanced hearing to warn him of any demon's approach. After hours of tracking Buffy, the maintenance tunnels from under the University having long since been left behind, for the storm drainage system of Sunnydale. The network of man made caves came to an end at the conjunction of five separate passageways. He panicked; he was at the end of the tunnels-looking out over the ocean thorough a wire mess-the wind off the water drowned out the last of Buffy's scent. Oz slowly turned in circles once again, in a futile attempt to catch a hint of the scent on the air: nothing. Pleading with his animal side to find the faintest wisp even as he knew it was useless, this close to dawn the wind always came off the sea.

He just felt that he was close -- very close -- to the Slayer. But, he'd lost her.

The wolf fell into despair, with the real human teenager Oz portion not far behind. Oz backtracked to a latter to the surface and decided to go up to call Giles. Oz thought he had gotten this far, he was exhausted and if he did not tell someone where he was then Buffy would surly be lost. But as he climbed out of the sewer he discovered he was in the warehouse district of Sunnydale. Close to the docks -- there were warehouses all around him. The wolf protested when he saw he was out in the open; with no place he could hide. So as casually as he could he walked away from the tunnel entrance vaguely looking for telephone.

As he passed one of the warehouses he felt something, like a wisp of a scent-only it wasn't that-it was softer. It was feather's touch in the back of his mind. Something told Oz he had found her, she was in the warehouse he was walking by, but the same thing that was softly caressing his mind was urgently pushing him away, screaming to him danger, to leave quickly.

Oz kept a steady pace trying not to appear out of place. As soon as out of sight of the warehouse he started running searching for a phone, four blocks away he found one at a 7-Eleven.

Oz quickly dug the money out of his pocket as he watched the sun rise higher in the sky. Giles answered on the first ring, or actually the beginning of the first ring.

"Oz?" The watcher asked tentatively into the phone.

"Yeah, Giles it's me."

"Where are you?" The werewolf could hear the worry in the watcher's voice. Oz was suddenly totally and completely rung out.

"I'm at the 7-Eleven on Broad and Main. I think of found Buffy. Could you come and get me?" The tired partial wolf asked.

"Yes, of course I'll be right there and we will plan her rescue at my place." The phone disconnected and Oz sat down a bus stop bench to wait for Giles.

************************

Oz sat on the couch in Giles apartment; he had arrived only a few seconds ago to full house--all the gang--Xander, Spike, Anya, Willow and Giles was there. Oz's brain was quickly becoming mush, he needed sleep, he needed rest -- he needed Buffy safe. Giles brought him some tea, waited a few seconds for him to least take one sip.

Xander's curiosity got the best of him, "so where is she?"

Oz deliberately put the cup of tea on coffee table. He couldn't trust his ordination of the moment. "I am pretty sure they are keeping her in a warehouse by the docks." Oz shook his head trying to clear the cobwebs. "I tracked her by the blood trail," at Willow's gasp Oz decided to take it different approach. "There was very little blood, Willow, the smell sort of lingers in the air. I got as far as the ocean before I lost the trail."

He stopped trying gathering his thoughts. He reached down picked up the tea taking yet another deliberate sip. He realized that he was being melodramatic, that everyone in the room was hanging on his words. But his mind was too fogged to function properly so he had to take his time to form coherent thoughts.

"I lost the trail and decided to call Giles -- but when I passed this one warehouse I felt a tugging inside, inside of me. I am certain that's where she is." The last of the sentence was slurred. Oz could see the Giles understood just how exhausted he was feeling.

Giles, Oz thought muzzy, would now take over. Buffy told him that, during Thanksgiving Dinner she had called the Watcher the patriarch of their little Family. Oz, of course, hadn't attended the Thanksgiving celebration, but that hadn't kept Buffy from giving him a complete rundown of the events. She made the entire affair sound funny, until she got to the point that Angel had been in town and hadn't cared enough to tell her. In typical Buffy fashion she had gone to LA and given Angel and piece of her mind-yet the hurt still lingered-just like the scent of her blood in the sewers.

Giles stood gaining the attention of everyone in the room and snapping Oz back to the present.

"Oz did you notice the warehouse number?" Giles asked.

Oz made is tired brain work -- "it was... six."

Giles looked at him sharply, " are you sure?"

The exhausted werewolf met the Watcher's eyes and slowly answered him. "Yes I'm sure. I had to think for moment, but know it was the number six."

The watcher gave him a weak smile. "Okay, Xander, you and Anya go an keep in eye out in case they try to move her." At the watcher's order both Xander and Anya immediately left. "Oz, Riley is in Iowa for the week, but Angel will be here tonight as soon as he can after sunset. Until then there's nothing you can do so why don't you go up to my bed and try to get some sleep."

The teenager looked over Willow and she nodded in agreement with the watcher. "He's right Oz you look exhausted. You need to get some rest so you will be fresh tonight."

He didn't have to be told twice, Oz pushed up off the couch and staggered up the stairs and just fell face first on to Giles' bed.

**************************************

He felt a small hand stoking the nape of his neck. It was the exact spot--which he loved to have touched. It wasn't a sexual touch; it was a comforting one. The gentle stroking continued to pull Oz out of sleep, and began to send a pleasant trill down his spine. He knew who the person sitting on the side of the bed was without looking, Buffy. Then realization dawned and he sat-up to engulf her in a relieved hug-only when he reached for her she wasn't there.

He blinked the sleep from his eyes and looked around the darkened room, noticing for the first time that curtains were pulled across the windows keeping out the bright sunlight. With a confused groan he lay back staring at the ceiling, tears of frustration forming in the corners of his eyes.

It was a dream; it was only a dream. He glanced over at the clock it was two. He still was exhausted and felt like he could sleep for a week.

The bed sagged under a weight of someone small sitting down next to him. He knew it was Buffy by the tingling trill that trailed its way slowly through his body. Oz kept his eyes closed this time; afraid she would disappear once more. When he felt her small delicate hand pick-up his he decided to carefully look at her.

"Hi," she whispered.

He smiled at her; she was dressed in the gown she wore to the Prom. Her beauty literally stole his breath away and he felt a huge grin split his face.

"Hi back at you." He finally had the air to say.

"You know this a dream, don't you?" She asked, her voice still a whisper.

He nodded. Oz knew it was a dream from the moment that he saw her in the gown.

"Great." Buffy said brightly. Too brightly. "This is kind of a slayer thing. Helps with unfinished business and the like." A profound sadness radiated out of her hand and into him. He had the sudden feeling he was drowning in the despair.

"We are going to come for you tonight, Buffy. Angel will be here as soon as he can and...." Oz was silenced when Buffy placed her hand over his mouth. Her eye's becoming full of sudden tears.

"I'm sorry, Oz." She cried and laid down next to him her head on his shoulder. The gentleness of her touches gone as she pulled him into a desperate kiss. "Oh, god. I wish I could have told you this before now-but I was too afraid of being hurt or losing the friend I had in you."

"Shh, Buffy. We will get you out." Oz said firmly, they had to save her!

"No, I don't want my family to die." Buffy said as she sat up pulling away from Oz both physically and emotionally. Oz heard himself whimper at the lost of the connection between them.

"They are going to perform some kind of Ritual at sunset and I'm the guest of honor. I'll be dead before Angel can leave LA." Buffy said her ex-lovers name with venom. "Oh, and tell him I remembered his last betrayal. I remembered it in my dreams. I remember everything in my dreams."

The young boy didn't understand the hatred in her voice, but dismissed it as unimportant. The vampires were going to kill her at sunset he needed more information.

"Why sunset, why you? How many are there...." He blurted.

Buffy's form shifted from the soft-girl in the Prom gown to the Slayer dressed in jeans and sweatshirt. Her body language shifting with her changing into a hunter-this part of Buffy, the slayer, the killer, the protector-called his wolf.

"I don't want you to die, Oz. This was the entire reason I came to you like this, I think I love you." The slayer announced with her usual confidence.

Frustration forced Oz to move for the first time since this insane dream began-then he immediately regretted it when he saw Buffy's form fade slightly. "If you don't want us to die, tell us about the place they are keeping you." He couldn't disguise the anger in his voice. "Because one way or the other we are coming after you-so you might as well help us." He finished.

She just stared at him for a moment. Then the brave, big bad slayer crumbled into a frightened teenage girl, sitting down on the floor of Giles' bedroom.

With a defeated sigh, she started talking. "You know it's a warehouse?" She asked him and continued when he nodded. "They've made it into a real fortress, steel doors, steel shudders over the windows. They carried me through a trap door like thingy from the tunnels. There are only ten of them, plus...." She paused and glanced up at him. "Plus Devon." The werewolf felt a jolt of satisfaction that the cause of all horror of the past few days was dead-but the boy was shocked and saddened by his friend death; he had to look away from Buffy's all knowing green-eyed gaze.

When he was able to look back at her, she continued. "They made him this morning in front me." Now it was Buffy's turn to glance away. "Oz, don't come, please!" She pleaded with him, kneeling. "I can't fight my out of a paper bag right now, please, I want to know you are safe. I need to know you will be safe!" She cried. "They have me chained to the altar already, and even without the chains I doubt I could even walk.Please forget me, leave Sunnydale,have a happy life."

"Oz, wake-up, wake-up Oz you're having a nightmare." Willow's voice cut into his dream. He tried to cling to sleep, but Buffy was fading, a sad smile playing on her lips. Just before she disappeared totally, Oz saw the image of her beaten, bloody, and bruised body laying chained on a stab of concrete and then she was gone-replace by the worried face of Willow.
Title: Party 3: Connections (3/3)

******

Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
The bridal of the earth and sky;
The dew shall weep thy fall tonight;
For thou must die-George Herbert



Connections Part Three

"Oz, wake-up, wake-up Oz you're having a nightmare." Willow's voice cut into his dream. He tried to cling to sleep, but Buffy was fading, a sad smile playing on her lips. Just before she disappeared totally, Oz saw the image of her beaten, bloody, and bruised body laying chained on a stab of concrete and then she was gone-replace by the worried face of Willow.

He jumped out of the bed; "we have trouble." The young werewolf told Willow as he led the way down the stairs into Giles' living room. The watcher looked up from the book he was reading then stood.

"What is it Oz?" he asked. "What's wrong?"

Oz glanced at the clock visible in the kitchen; "I just had a dream, Buffy was in it" Oz said.

"It's only natural for you to...." Oz interrupted the Watcher. "No, Giles' Buffy was 'in' it." The Watcher stared at the Wolf, silent, waiting for Oz to explain. "She said they were going to perform some kind of ritual at sundown!"

Oz saw the Watcher and the Witch both check the time-it was three thirty-they had exactly two hours and thirteen minutes to think of a way to free the slayer. Two hours and thirteen minutes for five normal people and Spike to figure out a way to gain entrance and defeat eleven vampires before they could kill his love, his heart.

*******************************************

Buffy was drifting. Her world had been narrowed down to nothing but the pain she felt in her body and soul. When she was fully conscious-her mind clear-she understood how the vampires in her dorm room had taken her so easily. Willow's leaving had woken her and she had gone to take a shower before she joined Oz and her best friend for dinner. But, when she returned to the room she had been caught by surprise, something had hit her in the back of her head. She was able to turn around before her knees buckled and she saw Devon standing there with a blackjack....

After that, there was the continuous fog of pain broken only by brief moments of clarity. In one such moment the vamp leader had tried to break her spirit by draining and turning Devon in front of her. The vampire had carefully kept his face hidden all the while laughing as the slayer struggled against her chains in complete helplessness. Reveling his power and her weakness.

In another moment, the vampire leader told her in detail just what they were planning to do to her. He was going to torture her and use her blood to make him stronger, the blood taken from a slayer during the ritual would give him power beyond his dreams, or so he said. His plans had sickened her-but she was the slayer-she was meant to die a terrible death. No, what caused her the soul deep pain was the knowledge that if her friends came to rescue her, they would die. Because he wasn't going to drain her, kill her, he was going to bind her to him. The vampire was going to tie her to his will by blood. The slayer had no doubt the ritual would work and then when her family came, all he would have to do is tell her to murder them for him. She wasn't going to let that happen. He could beat her, whip her, any horrible torture he could think of, she would hold out.

*********************************

Buffy came back to her senses again slowly. She had no idea how long she had been out that time; but the dream with Oz was still very fresh in her mind. The slayer had tried to warn him to stay away, but she knew it was useless. Though the taste of their kiss was still on her mouth-firming her resolve to hold out not let the faceless vampire win.

"Ah, I see our guest is awake." The vampire leader commented above her head. Out of her line of sight. "Soon you will beg me for my touch. You will scream my name in ecstasy."

"Yeah, right such lofty goals." The Slayer answered.

"I see I was right." He continued, ignoring her as if she hadn't spoken. Still playing the games of not letting her see him clearly. Somewhere Buffy remembered that the German concentration camp guards would interrogated the American prisoners of war this way. By keeping out of sight the prisoner would start to endow super human size and intelligence to the guards. Keeping the prisoners humbled and easily handled.

"Given a few hours and your body will recover from a simple beating." Three vamps walked up to the altar she was chained to and began to cut away the last of her sweatshirt and shorts. Modestly was not an option so she disregarded it. The voice of the leader continued, "what a beautiful slave you are going to make. The perfect assassin."

When the three vampires had finished cutting off her clothes they started washing her hands and feet and working their way in towards her body with a sweet smelling clear liquid. Wherever the liquid touched cuts or scrapes, were immediately numbed. The relief from the constant pain stunning to Buffy. A slow languor spread deep into her muscles from the cuts outward-relaxing her against her will.

The vampire leader, started to chant in a language Buffy couldn't understand, that she had never heard before, only her body was reacting to it. As the liquid dried on her skin her nerves became alive, the feeling was euphoric, not painful and still the strange languor spread further encompassing all of her. She heard a match strike and then the sweet smell of the liquid was replaced by a bitter odor coming from some kind smoke. Her mind was slowing, she was having a hard time forming thoughts, the incredible voice chanting the words of power filled her ears and her head-pushing everything else out.

No, she fought the thrall of the words, of the drugs she knew they were using. Torture she could fight against. But, this, this slow seduction of her senses and her mind confused her. Doubt weakened her mental barriers further-the drugs were relentless in creating an open euphoric state for the chanting to induce a numbing trance totally against her wishes. She tried to hold onto to the dream kiss with Oz, but it was fading. So prepared for physical abuse she was held captive by the gentle sway of the magic and drugs as they overwhelmed her and she was lost.

After, after what, she thought peacefully, she tried to remember what it was after, but then she was distracted as she was lifted into a sitting position. She was so relaxed she could barely stay up right-the voice stopped the chanting-as she was released from the constricting chains. She whimpered at both the lost of the voice and the pain of the blood flowing into her limbs caused. Hands, hands? Hands from somewhere lifted her and stood her up-the same hands gently placed a soft cloth dress over her nude body-the material sending jolts of pleasure through her everywhere it touched.

The chanting started again; this time it was commanding, asking something from her. And she smelled yet another kind of smoke as a cup was placed between her lips and she was forced to drink from it. It didn't take much to get her to drink because it tasted so good and she was so thirsty. She was handed another cup and the fluid in it was so wonderful she drank it all in one gulp.

Suddenly, the chanting stopped; She stood swaying as the vampire walked in front of her-his face clear to her for the first time-it was Ethan.

"Who is your Master?" He asked her, Buffy's mind cleared and screamed at her to hit him, she was free of her bonds, of the chains, she commanded her body to fight-it didn't. Ethan's amused sardonic smile grew slightly.

"Who is your Master?" He repeated. The slayer tried to say, 'not you' but instead she could only stand, her body still swaying to the beat of the silent chant.

"Was my blood good? Did it taste like nothing you had ever had?" And she helplessly whined because he was right and she felt her mind beginning beg her to ask for more. "For the ritual to work you had to drink it willingly while free. The rest was just to set you up and you fell into it, like a good little girl." He laughed at her pain, at her stupidity at being tricked.

"Who is your Master?" He asked yet again. Seemingly excited by her continued rebellion. He nodded to someone behind her and he was handed a bowl of what appeared to be wine. She could smell the spices from it through the smoke that still hovered around her head.

"Do you want more, Buffy?" He asked her softly. Buffy was about to tell him where he could put whatever it was in the bowl, when her mind screamed at her to take it drink it. At her shocked expression, Ethan laughed again.

"Drink it, it will be easier for you after you drink it." He commanded, lifting the bowl to her lips and she felt herself drinking, totally confused at her own betrayal. It was so good, and it made her feel so wonderful--she felt darkness, blackness began to descend across her mind. Thinking was becoming impossible it was if a curtain was being pulled over who she was, what she was. Her determination succumbing to the irresistible combination of the drugs and magic.

"Who is your Master?" He asked again, only this time she couldn't think of a smart reply not to say. She could feel her personality being smothered under the blackness-was she just thinking something? She couldn't remember....

"Just imagine Ripper's face when his slayer, the daughter he never had, tears out his throat." He laughed again. "This part I don't need your permission for..." And he took her hand, the one that had been broken just yesterday, and kissed it. She let out a hissing breath because the nerve endings were still heightened-it was very erotic-he looked up at her, and smiled, then savagely bit into her wrist.

Buffy screamed; trying to pulled her arm away, trying to use her other hand to hit him away from her. But when he started to draw her blood up into his mouth she became lost in the glorious pain of the vampire's feeding. The girl's legs gave out and she collapsed to her knees, she felt her heart slowing, along with her mind-darkness slammed into place over the last of her rebellious thoughts-he stopped feeding and looked down at her. She loved the way he looked at her, so hungry, she knew there was something she was forgetting but trying to think beyond the blackness was just too hard.

"Who is your Master?" He asked again.

"You are." She answered wholeheartedly rising to unsteady feet.

Just then the side of the warehouse caved in as a huge Rider Rental truck came plowing through it. The slayer turned and looked at her enemies, her former family, who were now threatening her new Master? They had to die. She turned towards the vehicle preparing to fight when her Master called her back.

"Slave come with me. You are too weak and my hold over you tenuous." He said running his hands up her body sending a dark trill through her, "we need to consummate our relationship before you be mine forever." He led the way to the back of the warehouse away from the battle between the humans and his other lesser slaves.

The former slayer glanced back at the battle; two humans in the first truck were firing crossbow bolts out the windows pinning down some of the Master's forces. While a van had pulled in behind it and the human Xander was on it's roof shooting what was obviously Holy Water at the pined down Vampires.

She had to admire the strategy of the humans-yet at the same time she knew she could kill them all-if the Master would give her his permission.

"Master let me fight." She asked.

The Master turned back to her quickly and she noticed a bit of fear in his eyes. "I said no, slave. Do you want to anger me?" He told her harshly stopping to look carefully into her eyes trapping hers with his, reaching into her mind with clawed feet, shredding it. She cried out and the mental torture. She shook violently from the assault and he gathered her into a comforting embrace even as he soothed her bleeding mind.

"Obey me little one, you can't fight a blood spell alone. Don't make me hurt you again it will mar your beauty." He whispered in her ear, then turned back to continue towards the back of the warehouse. Expecting her to follow meekly, which she did.

The ex-slayer saw the trap door in the back of the warehouse as it opened. Spike jumped up out of it hitting Ethan with a right hook before the evil vampire could react. The Master fell to his knees as the slayer rushed forward grabbing Spike by the head a twisting, snapping his neck cleanly. Spike crumbled to the floor as Ethan, no The Master, she thought confused, tried to stand.

She reached down to help him as Giles' and Oz came out of the hole. The former slayer kicked out catching the Watcher in the middle and sending him flying into the wall. Buffy turned to Oz preparing to throw him against the wall, too. But, when she touched him, the young Wolf grabbed her arm and a familiar shock past through her. Suddenly her mind was clear-she shook her head why did she hit Giles?

Ethan stood and started to pull her towards the passageway, but she held her ground. At the resistance the sorcerer took in the physical connection between the werewolf and the slayer and then before either could react yanked her free of Oz's hold. Buffy felt a door slamming over her mind and the confusion left her; the Master was in danger from the werewolf she had to kill the wolf. But, the Vampire stopped her as she started forward.

"No, Buffy we will come back. We must leave now." She meekly nodded, not wanting to invoke another display of the Master's dominance. But, the Master stopped her again. Giles' was blocking the access to the tunnels by standing over the passage down with a cross extended towards Ethan. The former slayer looked at the Wolf and saw he had a stake-she growled a warning at him as she pushed Ethan behind her to protect him.

"Ripper, dear boy, it seems like we have a stand-off." Ethan said from behind his slave.

"No, I don't think so, Ethan. You die this time." Giles answered him and at his threat the slave took a small step forward.

"Come now, Ripper, you know what kind of spell I used on your slayer. You kill me before you can break the connection and her mind is destroyed." The dark sorcerer laughed. "Which would suit my purpose of causing you as much pain as I can-but would also get me killed."

Giles gave a defeated sigh and stood back from the passageway.

"Let's go Buffy." Ethan said pushing the bespelled girl forward.

Immediately, Giles stepped back cross up. "She stays."

"All right, all right." The vampire said. "Slave," he continued running his hand provocatively down her body, eliciting a seductive gasp from Buffy and an evil glare from the watcher. "Stay here. I'll be back for you. There is really no way to completely break a blood spell." He kissed her, "you will be mine."

He lifted an eyebrow at Giles and the Watcher stepped back. The vampire made his way down the trap door and was gone.

As her Master left she could feel the hold he had over her mind lessening the further away he got-a kaleidoscope of images ran through her battered mind. A whirlwind she couldn't make sense of, so her mind did the best thing it could do for her beaten and exhausted body-it shut down. As the kind darkness of sleep engulfed her she felt Oz's strong arms catch her and wrap her in a tight comforting embrace. His calmness washing over her exposed emotions in a soothing balm as she passed into unconsciousness.

********************

Oz sat next to Buffy on Giles' bed. The slayer had been asleep for 24 hours and it didn't appear like she was going to wake-up anytime soon. Both Giles' and Willow seemed worried about the length of time Buffy had been asleep, apparently slayers never slept this long.

She had woken twice, to go to the bathroom-Willow and Giles' taking the five minutes she had been conscious each time to pour a high protein mixture down her throat-but as soon as her head hit the pillows her lights had gone out, again.

Oz knew she just needed to sleep until her mind could both heal and deal with all that had happened to her. When she was ready she would wake-up. Giles and Willow had already found a counter spell to the Blood/Slave spell Ethan had cast-it was just a matter of gaining Buffy's waking permission. Wiccan's couldn't cast a spell on a person, even a simple healing spell, without the full consent from the person involved. So her friends stayed watching over her night and day to make sure she was safe. Even Spike had taken a turn after he had recovered from his broken neck.

Oz pushed a strand of blonde hair off her face, marveling at her beauty. A yawn escaped him and he decided that maybe he could take a quick nap. He watched as Giles' came in to the room to relieve him of his watch. So Oz, lay down next to the slayer and gathered her up in his arms, soon they were both fast asleep with the father of their hearts watching over them and keeping them safe.


*******



How shall I hold my soul, that it may not be touching yours?-Rilke

Trust Part One

Buffy could feel the warmth of Oz's emotions washing over her from his arms that were wrapped tightly around her. So safe, the young woman thought sleepily. She took a deep breath trying to gather in all the werewolf's unique smell. She didn't know if it was because he was a werewolf or just a human-but she had always found his essence-exciting.

The slayer knew she was at Giles' apartment, in the Watcher's bed, she just couldn't remember how she had gotten there or why she was in his bed in Oz's arms. Maybe a late night of slaying? she questioned. She was terribly tired, so maybe that was it. She lay, dozing, pressed against the werewolf's body a while a longer, floating in his love. She felt absolutely decadent basking in the peace of the sleeping boy's emotions-letting them fill her with a delicious tranquillity. The young slayer loved how her head fit perfectly on the pillow of his shoulder. But the nagging dilemma of how and why she was at Giles' kept intruding on her wish to go back to sleep-to sleep forever in Oz's arms-that's all she wanted.

Her sleepy haze vanished when Angel entered the bedroom. He broadcast hurt, worry, anger and the deep sense of loss to the young slayer. His mood totally overrode and drowned out the peace of Oz's. Though Oz was still in her mind, like Angel, only Oz was welcome-she craved his mental touch. Angel's touch was a black cloud reminding her of the night their bond had been formed, the night he drank from her. His pain became her pain the moment he walked into the room and she couldn't stand it. She was confused, why he was here, in Giles' bedroom?

"Come to me." A voice out of nowhere commanded her. Buffy opened her eyes, blinking her vision clear, trying to find the person behind the voice. All she saw was Angel sitting by the bed watching her intently.

"Come to me, now!" The voice seemingly pulled Buffy to her feet. Her sudden movement waking Oz and the werewolf watched her with the same questioning expression that Angel wore. The slayer started to walk towards the door without realizing it. The weakness in her body caused her to stumble and sit down heavily on the edge of the bed.

Pain lanced through her mind, blocking out everything around her. Screaming she fell back clutching her head with both hands trying to block out the agony. Vaguely she heard Angel shout for Giles but it was like she was underwater. Her body had a mind of it own and it stood once more, intent on leaving the room-Buffy watched as she hit at Giles' in the face as he tried to grab her. And she was thankful for what ever it was that had weakened her because Giles' was able to sidestep brunt of the blow. The follow through left her off balanced and Angel was easily able to grab her hand. It was broken hand and new agony raced through her.

"They aren't to be trusted. Resist them, they made you weak," the voice said blanking out everything else. And Buffy found she was tied to a chair in Giles' living room. Not just tied, chained to the chair. The rug was rolled up and placed in the corner and all the furniture was stacked in the hallway. The slayer was completely disorientated-first she was up in the bedroom-and then it was like she just materialized chained to a chair in the front room. Her body ached everywhere and she saw quite a few colorful bruises on her legs where her shorts ended.

"Oh good, you're awake. We can begin now," Giles said, walking into her line of sight. She saw he had a huge black eye. Buffy was able to take in the chalk runes on the wood floor.

"Giles? What happened?" the slayer asked. A headache was beginning in the back of her head and working its way to her temples.

"What do you remember?" Willow's voice asked from behind Buffy. The slayer turned her head and immediately regretted it as the pain intensified, causing a sick dizziness to fill her and darkness threatened the edges of her sight. She closed her eyes and took deep breaths trying to ease the sickness and her confusion.

Just then both Angel and Oz rushed in the front door of Giles' apartment. An intense emotional awareness from the two men slammed into Buffy's fragile mind. Oz's bright love intertwined with Angel's dark, brooding, but every bit as intense love, created an overload within the young girl. Buffy felt crowded in her own skin, that Angel and Oz were pushing her out of her own body-she thought she would explode from the their power.

"Buffy?" Willow questioned as she touched the little slayer's shoulder. The touch sent Buffy over the edge on which she was balanced and she thankfully slid back into darkness.

**************************

Oz sat next to the bed, the chained down slayer occupied, listening to Willow and Giles' argue for what had to be the eighth time in two hours. After the slayer had woken the first time and tried to fight her way out of Giles' apartment they had kept her chained. A precaution that was beginning to appear unnecessary since the slayer had spiked a fever a few hours ago. Now, the Witch and the Watcher were at odds on how to treat her. The young werewolf was frightened; the slayer seemed to be to wasting away before his eyes.

Oz thought back, fighting the haze of exhaustion that hung over his every movement--it had been six days since the nightmare began. Six days since Buffy first drank the drugged punch that Devon had given her and in those six days the Slayer had not eaten a bite of food. She was able to keep down some fluids, but precious little, thus the reason for the IV connected to her arm.

"You know it's wrong Giles' and I won't allow it!" Willow yelled walking back into the bedroom.

"I understand what you are saying Willow, without Buffy's permission no spell will work completely but we have to do something." The Watcher answered the Witch as he walked over and checked the slayer's IV line for the tenth time in the past thirty minutes. "Permission implies trust, so we could use the complete reversal spell. Instead of the other one. But at this point she can't give us her trust. We have no choice. This has to stop."

"Giles let's give her a little more time, Ethan has to sleep or feed or something, sometime." Willow pleaded. It wasn't hard for Oz to remember the blank look in his Buffy's eyes; a look put there by the Master Magician turned Master Vampire Ethan. He had done a Blood/Slave spell on the tiny slayer before the Scooby Gang could rescue her; the gang arriving just minutes too late to stop it. Or, as Giles' believed, they were able to stop the worst part of the spell, the part of the spell that would have created an unbreakable consort bond between the Vampire and Slayer. But the part he did complete, the part that turned the beautiful independent slayer into a mindless drone, the vampire was able to finish. And that was the part that was causing all the trouble now-because every time Buffy regained consciousness Ethan was able to exert control over her. The spell to break his hold needed her permission, permission she was unable to give in her present state while either unconscious or in Ethan's thrall. Willow continued, "Let's just give Angel and Spike another day. If they don't find Ethan by tomorrow morning then we will do it your way." The Witch reasoned sitting on the bed next to the slayer as she picked a wet wash cloth out of a bowl of cold water and wiped Buffy's sweaty brow.

The Watcher stood next to the IV bag that was hung up by a coat hanger, which in turned was hooked on a nail placed in the wall. "Willow, I don't think you understand the seriousness of Buffy's illness. A Slayer cannot sustain her metabolism without food, without lots of food."

The Watcher looked grim, "it has been nearly a week since she has eaten, even you can see the weight lost she is suffering. I fear if we wait to break the hold that Bastard has over her she will may not recover."

Oz nearly panicked when Giles' said she could die. He watched Willow get up off the bed and stalk towards the window looking out at the false dawn. Oz could see his ex-lover's resolve face melting. She turned back to the Watcher, "but your way won't break the connection completely, will it? She'll still be able to feel him inside her, like she does Angel?"

Giles' nodded at the young Witch. "Giles' she'll be able to feel his sickness whenever he's close to her, it will always be there-that evil-and gods forbid that he ever get his hands on her again because then," the young girl paused. Hot tears rolled down her cheeks and she turned away from the Watcher not willing to voice what would happen to Buffy.

Giles' took off his glasses and started cleaning them with his ever-present hankie. "Yes, his soul, if that is what you refer to a demon's spirit, will still be attached to Buffy's." The watcher put his clean glasses back on, squinting at the witch. "But she will be able to resist his pull and start to recover physically." The watcher's voice took on a pleading tone for the first time. "When she is well, we will be able to combine forces and hunt him down like a rat."

Willow shook her head turning back to face the Englishman, "What kind of vile...ugliness, will he be able to subject her to in the mean time?" Oz could see that Willow had made her point when Giles' flinched. Then she pressed her advantage, "you all think she's so strong in here," Willow pointed at her heart. "Because she's the slayer. Well, she's not, Giles' she's a young woman who's seen too much, and been through too much. You never see it because she hides it from you, but I live with her and she can't hide it from me! You don't hear her cries at night when she has a nightmare." The young Witch finished glaring at Giles' in an unspoken challenge.

Oz remembered the dream Buffy had about the Master killing her and how every time he closed his eyes he was haunted by it. The filth that vampire had left behind in Buffy's mind was every bit as terrifying as anything Ethan could come up with.

Oz thought if the exchange between Willow and Giles' hadn't been so bleak than it would have been like he was a spectator at a tennis match. The verbal barbs just like a ball being hit back and forth. But, he wasn't a spectator; and this wasn't tennis, they were deciding Buffy's future. Though his emotions towards her were new, and they never had a chance to discuss them before this nightmare began, he had a stake in the situation. He picked up the slayer's hand, the one not encased in a huge cast, and reached out to her sleeping mind. Nothing. He received nothing in return. No sparks of recognition, no answering touch to his psyche, the way he expected. They were losing her, rather it was from the physical illness or the mind evil she was infected with, if they didn't do something soon she would die or go insane.

"Willow, Giles' is right," the Werewolf stated simply. The sister of Buffy's heart turned startled and walked back over to the bed, keeping it between her and the two men. Oz watched as she stoked the unconscious slayer's face, the werewolf was able to sense the witch taking the same mental accounting that he had just done. At her defeated sigh, he knew she felt it too, they had no choice but to do the ritual Giles' set forth.

*********************************

Buffy heard chains clanging and then felt hands pulling something off of her wrists. She could feel the intertwined love of oz and Angel at a distance. Like two strands of thread wrapped around each other: one dark and one light: both painful in their intensity. They rubbed at her raw mind; making it bleed--even as her soul sought their comfort--her raw bleeding mind rejected them.

The slayer wondered at the weakness in her body; she tried and failed to open her eyes. The hands were back; they were...neutral hands. The person they belonged to didn't burn her already fragile brain with any weird electrical shocks.

"They made you weak. You can't trust them...." The voice said. Grating again on the open wound of her thoughts. As much as Angel and Oz hurt her, the voice hurt far worse. And the things it was constantly telling her and showing her. She moaned against the power the voice held over her-hot tears leaked out of the corners of her eyes as she wrestled with it's words.

"Shh, Buffy. We have you. We'll make it go away." She recognized Giles' words.

Giles' lifted her, holding her so she could hear his beating heart. He kept his senses under such control that they didn't hurt her. To her relief, she was able to drawl comfort from his physical presence.

"Don't let them do this...." The voice spoke. "Fight, kill them, its all their fault." It said and Buffy out of reflex, weakly swung her fist blindly. Two small hands grabbed hers and held them, Buffy knew then that Giles' was carrying her and Willow was helping. Her best friends touch painless, too.

Buffy was placed on a hard surface; Willow continued to hold on to her hands as first one then other was re-chained. The tiny blonde floated for a while and when she woke she was just able to raise her head up and open her eyes. She tried to blink her vision was blurry clear but couldn't. She could tell she was back in Giles' front room and laying spread eagle chained to the floor.

Willow looked up from, whatever it was she was doing, over in the corner of the room. The slayer couldn't tell what exactly the Witch was doing; though she dropped it as soon as she noticed Buffy was awake. The Witch rushed over to the slayer, kneeling by her head.

"Buffy, I need you to give me permission to do a reversal spell. Please Buffy, can you hear me? I need permission." The slayer couldn't keep her head up or her eyes open. She was so incredibly tired. "Buffy, stay with me!" She heard the desperation in her best friend's voice but the lure of the darkness was too inviting. The last thing the young slayer heard as she faded out was the mocking laughter of the unidentifiable voice. The voice that was intent on driving her insane.

*******


Trust Part Two-The Recovery

Golden, White Threads of magical light,
Chasing the moon across the sky.
Weaving life's web from left to right,
At each tiny strand I can only wonder why,
You let your soul fly free tonight-D. Bouvier

"Buffy, I need you to give me permission to do a reversal spell. Please, Buffy, can you hear me? I need permission." The slayer couldn't keep her head up or her eyes open. She was so incredibly tired.

"Buffy, stay with me!" She heard the desperation in her best friend's voice but the lure of the darkness was too inviting.

*****

Oz stood in the kitchen of Giles' apartment watching Willow plead with the senseless Buffy. He just could not understand why Willow needed Buffy's permission to perform the reversal spell to break Ethan's hold over her.

Oz knew Buffy loved and trusted Willow and Giles. He knew Buffy couldn't continue to live the way she was, slowly killing herself fighting off Ethan's thrall. It was ridiculous that Willow was wasting time by asking permission to perform the ritual. A moot point. But there she was, sitting on the floor next to the unconscious girl begging her to wake-up.

Walking around the corner, Oz asked impatiently, "Willow, what are you trying to do?"

Willow looked up from the senseless Buffy. "I'm trying to gain her permission, Oz. To do a full reversal spell I must have Buffy's trust."

"You were asking her permission...is that asking for trust?" Oz questioned.

Willow sighed and then spoke to him as if she was talking to a child; "In Wicca, permission denotes trust. I need Buffy's trust. To gain that I have to ask for her permission to perform the spell."

"I thought you had her permission? You know she can't be like this, you know it's killing her! I thought you and Giles had already decided to perform the reversal spell?" Oz asked, walking slowly forward into the living room.

Willow looked away, sadly shaking her head, "No we're going to perform a spell that will lessen the hold that Ethan has over her but it won't entirely wipe it away." Willow stood up and walked around the unconscious girl lying on floor. Oz looked at Buffy's beautiful face, and slowly down her chained arms. Willow and Giles had the tiny slayer chained spread eagle onto the floor.

Giles entered the room from the hallway carrying a large bowl of something smelly. Oz's heightened sense of smell was repelled by its contents.

"If you can't gain her permission, why do you really need it, Willow? You know she trusts you." Oz continued still not comprehending the reasoning behind not performing the correct spell.

Giles answered from the table where he was mixing more awful smelling things into the bowl. "We think that she trusts us all, but if we are wrong in anyway, we could destroy her mind." Giles shook his head sadly and added more herbs to the mixture in the bowl. "If we could just lessen his hold on her long enough to start her physical recovery then we can go and hunt him down like the rat he is."

Oz thought about his connection to Buffy. What he had felt coming from her was so new to him it was difficult for him to separate all the conflicting emotions. But the one thing she always felt was a deep sense of love and the trust for Willow. The incredible love the slayer felt for both Willow and Giles was an undercurrent to all her other emotions-their love was her entire reason for living-it was ludicrous to think that she didn't trust them.

"Buffy trusts you guys, she trusts you with her life -- more than that she trusts you with her soul," Oz insisted, walking over to Giles.

"That's nice of you to say Oz, but there's really no way we can be sure." Giles answered as he stirred the contents of the bowl more furiously. Oz felt frustrated; what good was it having this connection with Buffy if he couldn't save her. He had to find away to make Giles and Willow understand just what she felt for them.

"Giles, you know that Buffy and I have a connection. I don't understand what it is or how it is but I do know one thing about everything Buffy feels..."

Giles stopped, then slowly placing the bowl on the table next to him.

The Watcher turned, giving Oz his full attention, looking down at the young wolf with hope shining in his eyes. The werewolf knew then that the Watcher wasn't sure the ritual they were about to perform would work. The father of Buffy's heart was deeply afraid that he would fail his daughter.

Oz gathered his resolve and tried to explain. "It's hard to describe what Buffy feels, but the undercurrent, I guess you would call it, of love and trust permeates everything." He turned toward Willow to make sure she was included, to make sure she could see his face so she would know he was absolutely certain what he was saying was the truth. "She loves and trusts you both so much it frightens me. It frightens me because since this connection formed I now know what love truly is: it's trust in the other person."

Oz thought he saw tears forming in the corners of Giles' eyes. The werewolf's eyes were blurring with his own tears.

"How Oz? How could she trust me after what I did to her on her birthday? How?" Giles stopped speaking. He walked over to prone girl lying on the floor looking down at with an expression of hope mixed with pure anguish.

The door to the back hallway storage room opened and Angel walked in the room startling the three people gathered around the unconscious slayer.

Oz watched as the Vampire slowly took in the expressions on everyone's face. A flash of panic briefly crossed his face as he glanced around for Buffy then changed to evident relief when he saw she was alive.Her condition unchanged, but she was alive.

"What's going on?" the brooding vampire asked.

Willow wiped the tears from her eyes and answered him, "Oz thinks we should do the full reversal spell without Buffy's permission."

Angel shook his head emphatically. "If she doesn't completely trust whoever performs it the backlash on her could destroy her mind. No, I won't allow it," he stated firmly.

Willow and Giles nodded their heads in agreement. All the hope they had felt just moments ago gone. Oz didn't know what to do. He knew he was right; he just knew it. Buffy could be on her way to recovery tonight if they would just believe him.

Angel walked over to Buffy and knelt by her side.The ensouled vampire brushed a strand of blonde hair off of her sweating brow.

"I'm here" he whispered to her gently. "I won't leave you again. We'll get through this together."

Oz felt the bottom drop out from under him; if Angel came back Buffy was lost to him. As soon as the thought had formed in his mind he discounted it. All he wanted was Buffy to be happy and whole once again. If Angel could give her the happiness she deserved, he would step aside. He would gladly leave the picture if it would help Buffy-he would leave after she was better. And the only way she was going to get well was by doing the complete reversal spell.

The tiny slayer jerked her head away from the vampire, intense pain flashing across her pale face. "Hurts, stop, hurts..." she mumbled, her words barely audible.

Angel continued to stroke her sweaty brow, "We know it hurts, Buffy. Hang in there. We are working on breaking Ethan's hold."

Oz watched the exchanged looks, as Buffy became increasingly more agitated. Willow sat on the floor next to her trying to soothe her. Buffy's bloodshot green eyes flew open searching the room in a panic. "Oh, god, it hurts!" she screamed. Her body was beginning to tremble. "Make him stop, please stop."

Oz took an involuntary step forward and the movement caused the tiny slayer to look up at him. As their eyes locked it felt like two steel clamps grabbed his head between them and were trying to smash it. Oz sank to his knees, gasping for air. He thought he was being pulled underwater-unable to breathe-the pain was so intense. He was aware of Willow's steadying hand on his shoulder; she was using her Witches' power to project comfort and peace, helping him calm his racing heart.

He still couldn't catch his breath; it was like Buffy was drowning. Buffy's mind latched onto his in a desperate attempt at staying afloat only in doing so she was dragging them both under.

Willow was talking to him; she was saying something. Oz focused on her face trying to read her lips, the roaring in his head making it impossible to hear her words. "Breathe, Oz, breathe, slow breaths like Giles' taught you."

Oz focused on his breathing. He had been practicing his breathing and meditating since he first found out he was a werewolf. He concentrated on finding his center and when he did the pain lessened. He was able to open his clenched eyes. He had no idea when he had shut them. Buffy was still there, was still in his head though her pain wasn't as overwhelming as before. Something nudged the back of his mind, something soft and warm-Willow.The Witch was asking to enter his head, too, to help him with Buffy.

Oz then realized it wasn't Buffy that created the bond between them, it was his wolf. The magical part of him that he always despised loved the slayer every bit as deeply as his human side. Willow was able to connect to Oz, as was Buffy, because his magical wolf side loved them both.

Oz threw open the barriers he hadn't known existed and Willow slipped easily into his head. She steadied him, helped him fortify his grasp on his center. Once he was solid within himself Willow pushed him outward to Buffy's connection-together they poured every bit of love they both felt for her through it. Almost immediately the pain lessened.

Once again Oz opened eyes he hadn't known were closed, but the sight that met him was disorienting. It took him a moment to adjust and realized he was seeing the people around him through Willow's sight. Instead of Buffy, he saw a blazing white light, with huge dark strands of what appeared to be ropes attached to her heart. When he looked at Giles' he again saw the white light but it was much dimmer.Angel was a mixture between the same light as Buffy's and the dark putrid light connected to Buffy's heart.

He felt Willow's essence in him became excited, happy, and joyful. He heard her through his physical hearing call to Giles to quickly light the fire of Kali and cast a circle of protection; a sphere of blue light engulfed them. Once the circle was cast the darkened ropes connected to Buffy appeared thinner than before.

"Giles, bless my athame in Kali's flame," the witch instructed the Watcher. Oz saw Giles pick up Willow's silver knife and wave it through flame burning in the bowl of herbs he was mixing earlier--doing exactly as he was told. Some part of the wolf's mind was amused that older man followed the young witches' instructions. Somehow, Oz knew this wasn't the ritual they'd planed to use, that Willow was using her instincts in magic, not her training.

"Okay, go over to Buffy. The first cord is to the right of her heart...no...no, down further...." Willow instructed and directed Giles as he used the magical knife as a surgeon would use a scalpel. As each of the putrid ropes was cut Giles would pull the darkened strand out of Buffy and place it in the bowl that contained the flame.

It was a slow process, and Oz was tiring. Sweat poured down his face and yet he knew both Willow and Giles were in worse shape. Finally, Giles came to one last strand-it was thinner and lighter than all the other ones. Oz's eyes followed it to where it left the circle and he realized right before Giles cut it that it was to Angel. It was Buffy's last connection to Angel, formed the night that he drank from her to save his life.

"Stop!" he tried to shout but it came out as more of a horse whisper. It still had the desired effect because Giles stopped. "That one's Angel's," he said, and for the first time since the strange ritual began he saw Angel move. The vampire opened his mouth to say something and then silently closed it. Angel continued to stare at Oz, though, making him slightly uncomfortable.

Giles looked up and asked quietly, "are you sure, Oz? We can't leave a single link to Ethan or he will be able to re-establish his hold."

Oz swallowed. This was what it meant to have Buffy's trust. He couldn't betray her and let Giles cut it. "Yes, Giles, I'm sure. Buffy wouldn't want her bond, no matter how it was formed, with Angel broken."

"He's right," Willow added her voice weak with exhaustion. "I didn't notice it before, but that strand is different. Giles, leave it and let's finish up."

The watcher picked up the bowl holding Kali's flame and thanked the Goddess for her help and then extinguished the flame by placing a lid over it. He then stood and walked over to the wall of the circle, the blue light glowing and pulsing as its creator neared, he thanked the protecting spirits for their help and opened the circle the blue light flickered out.

Oz felt Willow withdraw from him both physically and psychically by moving away and plopping down on the couch against the wall, she fell asleep instantly.

Oz slowly got to his feet, he had been kneeling the entire ritual and his legs were cramped. He stood swaying with exhaustion as Angel and Giles unchained the sleeping slayer by his feet. Angel lifted Buffy up into his arms and carried her up the stairs, back to the bed she had stayed in since the crisis had begun.

Oz followed the vampire into the bedroom and watched as the he gently put her on the bed. The ensouled vampire then placed a soft kiss on her forehead- then straightening, stared down at her.

Oz was at a lost as to what to do. He remembered Angel's earlier vow to the slayer and didn't want to ruin her chance at happiness. So, with a resigned sigh, the wolf started to leave the room. Before he could reach the door, Angel's words caught him.

"You'll take care of her, won't you?" Angel asked still looking down at the tiny girl in the huge bed. Oz's heart jumped into his throat and he began to hope.

"Angel..." He began, and then stopped as the Angel turned and Oz could see the blood red tears flowing down his face.

"Don't, Oz. I can't make her happy, but you can. You can take her into the light." Angel stood back away from the bed. "Get in, sleep, I'll watch over you both. I'll protect you."

Oz gave Angel a look of utter confusion. "Oz, when she wakes up she's going to be confused, disoriented and quite possibly frightened, I just want her to wake in the warm arms of someone who loves her." The vampire wiped some of his tears away, turned and walked out of the room leaving Oz alone with woman he loved.

Trust Epilogue:
*****

The images and emotions were flashing through her awareness so fast she couldn't understand them. She saw herself trying to stake Angel, hitting Giles, kicking Willow, and, finally, throwing Oz across the room.

Then the images would shift and turn into the dark intense pleasure of the Master's feeding. It seemed to blend seamlessly into the glorious surrender of her Will to Ethan's spell. The images and feelings changed yet again back to her trying to kill her family. The pain of her the betrayal becoming unbearable to the point that she begged for insanity to come and take her away.

But the warm emotions of the man holding her wouldn't let it. Somehow he knew; everytime she felt herself sinking into the bleak darkness of insanity he would tighten his hold on her and pull her back from the edge.

Until, finally, the dreams lost their power over her because of him. For how could she be ashamed of her actions while under Ethan's thrall if 'he' wasn't? How could she continue to feel the anguish and terror at being helpless when his love permeated her being? If someone like Oz could still love and forgive her after all she did, then she could learn to forgive herself, too.

Slowly she relaxed; slowly she began to believe in the truth of the unrelenting strength of his love. And through his love she began to heal.

*****

Oz held on to the thrashing slayer with all his strength. He clung to her with the last bit of endurance keeping her from the edge with only his love.

Oz watched wrinkles in Buffy's troubled brow soothe out at the same time he felt the violent fever that had gripped her all night lessen.

He glanced up to at the vampire as he hovered in the doorway of the bedroom. Angel had been there all night keeping watch over the two lovers. Just as he had promised.

"It's over," Oz stated hoarsely. 'It was exactly like you knew it would be. We almost lost her, again."

"I know, Oz. The confusion and then the guilt of remembering...." Angel's words trailed off and his eyes clouded with remembered pain. "She's going to sleep, now, Oz why don't you try to get some too?"

Oz nodded and closed his eyes: he felt safe with the knowledge that Angel would die before he would let anything hurt Buffy again. He fell asleep with his and his true love's soul intertwined as closely as they could get.

The End