LIBRARY—THE THIRD NIGHT OF THE FULL MOON

Willow chewed her thumb nail down to the quick, hoping that the digging pain would eat away at her guilt. Absently, Giles batted her wrist, dragging her hand away from her mouth. "Disgusting habit," he muttered and repositioned his glasses on his nose. He glanced down at his watch and frowned.

Buffy clapped her hands together and stood. "Well, I guess I'm on Slayer duty now." She shrugged into her denim jacket and pulled her hair into a low ponytail.

Willow's heart trembled at Buffy's words and she glanced at the empty cage. She grabbed Buffy's arm and corrected in a begging voice, "Not Slayer duty, right? More like, animal control." Hope quivered in her tear-spent throat.

Buffy pressed her lips together in a cheerless smile. "I'm sorry, Wills, but Oz is making a choice to be a danger to people. I'm taking the tranq gun, but if worse comes to worst…." Her voice trailed off ominously.

"Let me come with you," Xander offered Buffy. He placed a hand on Willow's shoulder. "I won't be any good in a fight, but I can shoot pretty straight and I'm excellent bait."

"Oh, Xander," Buffy sighed, shaking her head. "Using you as bait seems a little unethical and subject to you know, death-y failure."

"Wait just a moment," Giles interrupted. "It's not the most terrible idea."

Xander looked surprised, then pleased, then confused. "Why does that feel like an insult?" he asked.

Giles ignored him and turned to Buffy to elaborate a plan.

Willow couldn't attend to his words. Waves of misery rushed through her head, drowning out all else. She was worried about Oz, racked with guilt about Oz, desperate to make things right with Oz, and annoyed with her friends for having none of the answers. In almost a trance, she pushed away from the table and left the library. Dimly, she heard one of her friends saying her name, but she didn't turn back.

She went to her locker and spun the dial with the mechanical ease of habit. She withdrew a spell book and a knit satchel. Upon entering the chemistry lab, she spilled the contents of her bag on a counter. and switched on the Bunsen burner and began mixing ingredients in a beaker. She felt completely outside of herself. The only link between her body's movements and her mind was the word, the feeling, the presence of Oz. She placed the beaker of ingredients above the flame and concentrated her thoughts on Oz. She visualized his wolf-self, snarling, snapping, howling, raging, napping in his cage, transformed by the moonset into a naked, pale boy with thick, red hair, the greenest eyes, the most beautiful mouth.

The smoky haze of the heating solution took shape and became a circle with tiny flames within it—a map of souls. Willow squinted at the picture. "Just Oz," she said. Her voice was even, almost dead. All but one of the flames went out. "And me," she added. Her flame returned. She and Oz were so far apart. For a moment, her lip quivered. She jerked her chin up with a defiance and courage she didn't completely possess. But for Oz, she would. And she wouldn't tell Buffy and Giles. They wanted to use bait, they wanted to appeal to the animalistic, feral being that was not her Oz. They wanted to hurt him, even though he was hurt enough. She wouldn't let that happen. She would appeal to the man. She would remind him that she was his best friend, that she loved him. She would hold him in her arms and make it all better. He would forgive her and they would get past this. Willow wasn't stupid, though. After she made a note of his relative location and stuffed all her ingredients back in her bag and locker, she ducked into the library and grabbed up the spare tranquilizer gun. She fit it with darts. She looked down at her outfit—white overalls, a red turtleneck, and red and white sneakers. Not exactly werewolf-hunting/wooing garb. Willow shrugged and slung the gun over her shoulder. We can't all wear leather and earrings, she reasoned as she stalked from the empty library. She just hoped she didn't run into Xander, Buffy, and Giles while they were setting up and executing their Wile E. Coyote scheme.

She stepped into the warm night. The moon shone brightly.

Spike threw the empty beer bottle against the wall just to hear it smash, but the glass tinkled like fairy frost. He kicked a crate and it slid across the factory floor and crashed into the wall where it splintered in two. That was more like it. He wouldn't be so testy if he weren't so bored. And he probably wouldn't be so bored if the chit would hurry the hell up and come for her mongrel. Or if he could have a drink. No one's bored when he's drunk. But Spike couldn't afford to let his defenses down around the witch. Hit me with a blender once, shame on you. Spike shoved himself out of his reclining position and considered the growling wolf shackled to the wall.

"Maybe Red's not love's bitch after all," he taunted the wolf. "Maybe she couldn't care less about you." He flicked his nose with his thumb and spit. Could the dog even understand him in that state? Probably didn't know his own name, let alone his girl's. Spike ambled closer to the werewolf, just out of range of his snapping jaws, and contemplated his options. If the chit didn't come for the wolf tonight, it probably meant she wasn't coming. Unless she was waiting for the next night when the boy wouldn't transform and she was less likely to die. Smart move. But when Spike considered what he knew of love, he rejected the idea. No, Red would come for her pet in spite of the danger. Hadn't he done just the same, coming the Hellmouth to save Drusilla? Granted, he hadn't banked on the Slayer being quite so dangerous, what with her resourceful Scooby Gang and all that rot. Maybe he should have left a note at the witch's apartment: Come alone or the wolf gets it. He winced. Kidnapping notes were too painfully crude, even for his direct sensibilities. There had to be some art involved. He knew he could make the witch do what he wanted her all while making it seem like her idea. That would make it a more worthwhile victory. To taunt her right before he pierced the ivory column of her neck. And to think, he would say, you wanted to come here. His mouth watered at the thought. Maybe he would even be gentle. Nips and sips. Maybe even have the girl after all in the best sense of the word. And the best part is, she would beg for it. The vampire's bite and gaze could have that effect. He liked that idea. The witch begging for him.

He kicked the wolf in the nose and it whimpered in pain. "Now, I hope for both of our sakes," he said as he strode away, "the witch comes tonight."