They hadn't found Oz until the Saturday morning, and it had been one of the longest nights of Buffy's life. She'd searched all through town, all the places she thought a werewolf might run, but she'd located no sign of him. The whole time her blood had been pounding in her ears, the metallic taste of fear thick on her tongue as the heavy tranquilizer gun she'd gotten from Giles thumped against her back as she ran. She'd wished briefly, very briefly, that Spike were there to help her, but she shoved the idea vehemently away.
With a friend missing, running around somewhere unsupervised, possibly hurting people… it drew a hard parallel for her.
Despite her efforts, it had been Willow who found him in the end. In a rather compromising position too, apparently. Buffy had run out of places to look a few hours after sun-up and had returned to Giles' flat, only to find that her friend had left the impromptu headquarters and gone out on a search of her own. Her anxiety immediately began to spike even higher, but the phone had rung before she could hit top panic levels. Hearing Willow's voice on the other end of the line had her collapsing onto the couch in relief, but the feeling hadn't lasted long.
Willow had been more upset than Buffy had ever known her, sobbing and choking into the receiver, the name Veruca one of the only coherent words that Buffy managed to pick up. If her interpretation was correct, it happened that the dark new singer at the Bronze was a werewolf too, and that meant bad things for her best friend. Willow already suspected something between her boyfriend and the other girl; finding the two curled up naked together on the morning after was of the major badness.
Buffy herself might have caught a break in that Oz had gotten both himself and Veruca secured before the change and hadn't done damage to anything more than his relationship, but she didn't think that Willow had come away with the same sense of gratefulness.
The phone call had only made Buffy even more worried for her friend, but Willow hadn't wanted any company. Towards the end of their phone call she'd gotten quite despondent, her crying trailing off until she'd been speaking in a flat, emotionless voice, demanding that Buffy give her a bit of time and space before promising to meet up with her before night fell once more. Buffy had moved to offer to watch Oz for the remaining nights of the full moon in her place, but Willow had already disconnected the line. Buffy sighed wearily. Her first instinct was to go find her friend – this was the Hellmouth after all, and who knew what this Veruca was thinking – but Xander urged her to let well enough alone. Even Giles thought that it would be best to let Willow sort out her own thoughts before confronting her. Slumping down into the couch cushions, staring blankly at her harried Watcher as he unloaded feathered darts from his tranquilizer gun, a heavy wave of exhaustion fell over her. She felt drained, emotionally and physically, wrung out like a dishrag, but never imagined that she might relax enough to drift off.
She'd woken several hours later with a violent jerk that had almost thrown her from the couch, only to find Xander kneeling at her side, his hand still on her shoulder having shaken her from sleep. Anya stood off to the side, glaring over their heads towards the door, and as Buffy slowly sat up, running her hands through her tangled hair, she'd noticed Oz standing at the door, an uncharacteristic look of anxiety on his face.
His arrival set off another round of frantic searching; he'd been unable to find Willow, and now Veruca was missing too, leaving him with cryptic words that had him fearful of her intentions. Buffy immediately sprang into action, arming herself with the tranquilizer gun and ordering the others to do the same before sending everyone out across the city to look. She kept Oz with her, for lots of reasons, but mostly because she didn't want the moon coming up again with him walking around loose. Unfortunately this meant that she'd also had to listen to him talk, something she never thought she'd hold against Oz of all people, but she did. She had no interest in hearing his excuses, hearing him try to work out what had happened for himself by using her as a sounding board. Her heart was aching, and she still had to push through, had to find Willow, and Veruca, before something even worse happened.
It almost had.
As the afternoon wore on, Buffy became even more desperate to find her friend, and when Oz had come across Veruca's scent trail, he had convinced Buffy to let him follow it. She had continued on looking for Willow, hoping to locate her before night fell. Looking back on it, the college should have probably been the first place she looked. Willow had always found comfort in the library and the science rooms in high school, and while she had certainly grown and blossomed into a much more confident young woman in the last few years, she was still Willow.
Buffy got to the chemistry lab just in time. She'd come crashing through the doors to find Veruca advancing slowly on Willow, a vicious sneer on her face as she threatened her with human words edged in snarls, the change coming on hard and fast. Buffy had no qualms about shooting her in the back with the tranquilizer gun, just as she fell to all fours and fur came bursting through her skin. In fact, she shot her two more times, right in her furry butt, just to be sure she was out of course. A sob ripped through the room as Willow collapsed, and Buffy quickly ran to her side, skirting the unconscious werewolf and gathering up her broken friend in her arms.
As Willow cried, shaking and rocking against Buffy's shoulder, she tried to rapidly form a plan. She needed to get Willow out of there, but she also needed to deal with Veruca, and Oz. If she had changed already, so had he, and they both needed to be secured. But there was no way she could leave Willow. Magical supplies had been scattered on the counter above them, and Buffy felt something cold settle in the pit of her stomach. Eventually she'd managed to get Willow up onto a stool facing away from the lightly snoring Veruca and gotten to the phone, dialing Giles' number.
Buffy thanked god for her Watcher.
He'd arrived less than ten minutes later with Xander in tow, and they had quickly and efficiently loaded Veruca into his car. Buffy had handed Willow over into the care of her oldest friend and instructed him to take her home, to get some sugar into her and to not let her out of his sight. She and Giles continued on to the crypt where, he informed her, Anya was watching Oz. The boy had brought himself back to the cage at the last minute, unwilling to continue searching for his girlfriend as the moon bent him to its will. Giles related that he had been visibly upset, giving testament to just how affected he was.
By the time they'd gotten back and dragged Veruca inside, chaining her tightly so that she was separate from the other werewolf but still safe inside the room, Buffy still didn't know what she was going to do. Oz was fully transformed and highly agitated, snarling, pacing, and attacking the bars of his cage, proving just how volatile a werewolf could be, but still, she knew him. Knew Veruca. They were humans, despite their furry state three nights out of the month, and she couldn't, simply couldn't slay Veruca. It would feel far too cold-blooded, and what would it be like for Oz, to see, to know…
Buffy had declined Giles offer to stay so that she might leave, instead sending Anya quickly on her way as the ex-vengeance demon muttered nasty threats on Willow's behalf, arming her with instructions to reiterate her order to Xander not to leave the redhead alone. For the rest of the night she sat at her Watcher's side, guarding the two werewolves who mostly ignored them in favor of pawing and sniffing at each other once Veruca had awoken. The she-wolf had been suspiciously calm when she'd come to, glaring at them through narrowed eye before turning her back. Buffy'd merely tightened her grip on the tranquilizer gun lying across her knees.
It had been a long night, almost as hard as the night before had been. Giles wasn't inclined to conversation and the quiet had blared in Buffy's ears, her heart pounding as she chewed at her lower lip, a thousand thoughts running rampant in her head. At one point she had even wept silently, and her Watcher had sighed sadly, reaching out to wrap and arm around her shoulders. She'd leaned into his side for some time, taking comfort in his silent support, glad to know that he too was having difficulty with the situation. He wasn't telling her to what she should do, wasn't using his 'Watcher' voice to reinforce her sense of duty, and that in itself was evidence enough that he was at a loss for advice.
Morning eventually came once more, and the two werewolves had shaken and writhed as they regained their human forms. Veruca had hummed and stretched languidly, brazen and unapologetic of her nakedness while Oz kept his knees drawn to his chest, his shoulders hunched and his head hung. Buffy coldly threw each of them clothes, harshly silent until they were both dressed and standing. Handing her gun off to Giles, who kept his eyes carefully trained on the quietly calculating girl, she moved forward and unlocked Oz's cage, letting the boy out of his confinement. She'd seen him hesitate as he stepped over the threshold, and it had ripped at her.
When she hadn't moved to unlock the chains still hanging on Veruca, the girl had gotten quite angry, screaming and showing her teeth even though she'd lost her canines, lunging against her restraints in an effort to attack. Buffy had stared at her with blank eyes, all emotion suddenly draining away. The dead voice with which she then spoke had silenced the volatile girl immediately. It was her decree that she would get the hell off the Hellmouth immediately, and get as far away as she could before the final night of the full moon fell. If those scant few hours took her out of the state, more's the better. Tossing the key to the floor at Veruca's feet, she had shepherded the others out of the crypt and back into Giles' car, where they made the ride to Willow's in an uncomfortable silence.
When they pulled up in front of the house, Oz had moved to climb out after Buffy, but she'd pushed him gently back into the car, telling him firmly to go home and sort himself for a few hours before he came back to confront Willow. To soften the blow she promised to work on her for him in the interim, and to help mediate the conversation when it was time to have it. He'd only nodded silently, but Buffy had almost been able to see his brain churning away at the problem. He might be one of the most stoic people she'd ever met, but he was also one of the smartest, and she knew that he would do his best to apologize. He was sweet with Willow, and was able to draw her out in ways that Buffy hadn't thought possible in high school, so she hoped with all she was that they could mend what was broken between them.
After watching Giles' pull away she had slipped tentatively into the Rosenberg house, pleased to find the telltale ring of keys on the hallway table that indicated Willow's parents were away on one of their many trips out of the country on business. She followed the low, humming sound of a television into the back sitting room and found Willow tucked tightly into the corner of a bog, puffy couch, Xander at her feet leaning against her legs with one hand on her shoe, and Anya, curiously enough, sitting close to her side, balancing a bucket of mint chip on her knee and murmuring quietly to the teary girl dipping a spoon mechanically into the ice cream. Her entrance had three pairs of eyes turning to greet her, and Willow had immediately broken into a fresh round of sobbing, leaping to her feet and crashing into Buffy with the force of a locomotive.
The rest of the day was spent in a Scooby special, with a stack of old movies only slightly shorter than the stack of pizza boxes delivered well before noon. In between, the three friends let Willow cry as much as she needed to, hugging her when she wanted it, letting go when she pulled away. Buffy and Xander listened to anything that she managed to choke out but offered few opinions, both of them fearful of saying the wrong things. Anya showed uncharacteristic support in a characteristic way, offering loudly and vehemently to call in as many favors as she had to to get Oz thoroughly cursed, though she had piped down after a few consistent refusals. These proposals had made it hard for Buffy to hold her tongue about what she'd seen in the chemistry lab, the remnants of a spell aborted just in the nick of time scattered across the countertop, but she thought it a conversation for another time.
Around early afternoon Willow eventually got a little more relaxed, but Buffy had only gotten more anxious. She did what she could to hide it though. Halfway through their second to last movie Anya had started to squirm, and she took the opportunity to send her and Xander home. Willow had barely reacted to their goodbyes, her eyes red and swollen, but perked up when Buffy clicked off the tv and sat on the coffee table directly in front of her. She'd listened silently for the next twenty minutes while Buffy stumbled her way through a litany of mish-mashed sympathies, apologies, and advice, questions that weren't answered and didn't expect an answer. The longer she talked the less sure she'd been about what she was actually saying, and she was almost grateful for the knock that had sounded the door.
It had been awkward. Terribly so. Buffy had answered the door and then immediately left the two of them together and gone into the kitchen, drumming her fingers on the table top as she tried not to listen. The harsh tick of the Rosenberg's clock beat away the time in her ears until Oz appeared silently at her side, his eyes downcast. She had jumped, caught off guard, but followed him outside onto the front walk when he'd gestured with his chin at the door.
It had broken her heart to hear him say goodbye. Not just for Willow but for him. For the rest of them. Over the years he had become an integral part of their group, a good friend to them all, and it was going to hurt to lose him. In a way she'd understood all the things he'd said; that he needed to find a solid sense of self, to gain control over those parts of him that were more instinctual, ruled by feelings low in the chest that went against everything your head told you. She was starting to understand a little of that.
But it was going to be hard on Willow. That would be the thing. This was going to break her down, and it being so soon after… well. It wasn't going to be good. He didn't say when he'd be back, so Buffy had made sure to tell him – they wanted him back. She'd wrapped him in a crushing hug as tears stuck in her throat, but he'd brought her quickly back out of it. His big, clunky, Dingoes van was parked on the street behind him, and he was ready to be gone. Buffy had been instantly concerned – there was still one night of the full moon left after all – but Oz had reassured her that he was planning to take enough tranquilizers to knock out an elephant. He'd spend the night chained inside the van in a drugged haze and be back on the road in the morning. He'd kissed her on the cheek then, thanked her, which brought the tears crashing, and then turned away. Climbing into the van, he'd leaned out the window just before he drove away and told her not to worry about Veruca.
As Buffy watched the van pull away down the street she felt a chill sweep through her, and she wondered if maybe Oz had more reasons than she thought to go seek control.
Heading back inside, she feared what she would find in the family room, but Willow was gone, and it was the sound of the shower upstairs that led her where she needed to go. She eased inside the bathroom without a word, sank to the floor against the wall and listened to the gentle weeping on the other side of the steamed, fog-covered glass. Neither girl said anything, there was nothing to say. Both of them could feel the world shifting under their feet, and all the words in heaven and Hellmouth couldn't change that. In the end all Buffy could do was lay out the fluffiest towel she could find and drag herself back downstairs to call her mother and tell her not to expect her.
She spent the rest of Sunday ensconced in the couch cushions, trying to lend as much support to her best friend as she could. The emotional destruction of the last few days, what felt like years, eventually dragged them both down into restless, unsettled sleep. They were both lucky in that neither had classes on Monday, and so as the clock simply rolled over from one day to the next, nothing changed. They napped on and off, left sappy chick-flicks on in the background, and ate more chocolate and cold pizza than anyone had a right to. They talked, and Willow cried, and eventually, when night finally fell, she pulled herself together just enough that Buffy didn't feel like a completely terrible person leaving her alone.
By the time she'd gotten back to the house on Revello drive she felt almost like she was coming down with the flu; sluggish, heavy, and just a little too warm. It had been days since she'd showered, since she'd gotten any real sleep, and yet she felt trapped, like she was forcing down a core of hot, crackling energy that needed to be blasted out through her skin, but was instead being pushed deep in the futile hope that it would dissipate. She stood in the middle of her kitchen with her feet wide and solid beneath her, her hands clutching hard at her upper arms as she crossed them, bouncing on her toes as she tried to shut away everything that had happened over the weekend. It wasn't working. She could feel a sudden scream boiling up out of her throat against the quiet of the house when the back door clicked open, saving her the effort of shattering it.
Spike stepped inside and for the first time in days, she smiled.
I tried out something new with this chapter by doing it almost all of it in the past tense, a sort of flashback style without any dialogue. Not sure I'll use it again, but let me know what you think and how you feel about it anyways!