Red Moon Rising by Hunter Ash

Title: Red Moon Rising Part 3
Author: Hunter Ash 
Copyright � 2001 by Hunter Ash. All Rights Reserved.
Email:
carrkjar@yahoo.com Feedback welcome!!
Homepage Addy:
http://www.hunterash.com/ 
Disclaimers:
The characters and show all belong to Joss Whedon, Fox, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui, and God only knows who else. The storyline, however, is the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
F/F romance
: the story assumes a loving and sexual relationship between people of the same gender and may even include 3 at the same time <G>. If this offends or is illegal for you, then please leave. Come back when you are older, have an open mind, moved, or changed your laws.
Spoilers:
Some general 5th season stuff, but nothing major.
Summary:
OZ is back and causes havoc when he demands Willow join him as his mate. Buffy, Willow and Tara have other ideas.
Rating:
R, violence, werewolf attacks, major character injury, angst, hurt and comfort. It�s Buffy, there�s violence.
Author's Note:
While this is not my first story, it is my first Buffy story. So�.kind words are hoped for�<G>. Oh, and by the way, this will be posted in parts. This being part one. Feedback always welcome.

| Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 |

Red Moon Rising

Frau Hunter Ash

Part 3

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

Two hours later, Willow and Tara knocked on Giles� door and were surprised when Spike opened the door. He took one look at Willow�s pale and pinched face and yanked both of them into the condo. The platinum blonde vampire frowned as he took in the sight of the cast with the swollen fingers barely sticking out from the cast and sling.

"Spike?" Willow asked softly, her eyes turning immediately to the sofa where she had last seen Buffy.

"Word�s out on the demon grapevine that the Slayer is on the ropes and you are to be the next Ms. Werewolf Oz," Spike said grimly. "I bundled up and drove over as soon as all the other little demons bedded down for the day."

"I don�t know what to say," Willow said simply. It was very much out of character for Spike to offer help. Normally, whenever he was around he just bitched about not being able to kill all of them and feed on humans like he once did.

"Best not to say anything then," Spike quipped and glanced up at the hallway where Joyce and Giles exited from the Watcher�s bedroom.

Both college students and the vampire growled when they saw the gun in Giles� hand and the Watcher began blushing.

"Where�s Buffy?" Willow demanded as Joyce moved forward to hug her.

"She ate and went to check out one of Oz� old hiding places," Giles explained.

"You let her?" the red-haired witch snapped. "Last night she was dying and you let her go out looking for Oz today?"

"Willow," Giles snapped back and then took a moment to take a deep breath. "She woke up this morning as if nothing had happened. Her arm is still broken but she was insistent on going looking for him. She promised that if she found him she wouldn�t move against him until calling us."

"Goddess," Willow said in a weary voice and sat down heavily on the sofa. Tara ignored Spike and Joyce�s raised eyebrows as she sat down next to the witch and wrapped an arm around Willow. The young college student, not noticing the questioning looks, leaned into Tara�s comforting warmth. "This is so messed up," Willow complained. "Tara told me that Oz still wants to trade me for Xander and Anya and that I�d know where he was?"

Giles quickly sat down on the coffee table to get a better look into Willow�s eyes.

"Yes, that�s exactly what he said," Giles answered firmly. "Where would he have them? Any ideas?"

"No, I can�t think of any," Willow fought back the urge to break into tears again.

"Come on, Little Tree," Spike encouraged. "He�s counting on you knowing where he is."

"Well, the Chem. Lab where he took out Veruca is too crowded and the library cage at the high school is gone with the rest of the school," Willow said thoughtfully.

Giles noticed how she was cradling her arm and could see the pain reflected on the young woman�s face, even with the cast and sling protecting the arm.

"When was the last time you took medication for the pain?" he questioned.

"Not now, Giles," Willow growled, her green eyes flashing. "I have to be clear and figure this out so we can save Xander and Anya and keep Buffy safe."

"I know that but the pain can also make you fuzzy and can cause you to lose your concentration," he argued.

"Okay, here�s my suggestion, kiddies," Spike announced. "Willow stays here because of her arm but the rest of us start searching the two graveyards."

"Why the graveyards?" Joyce questioned.

"One, I�m betting that�s where Buffy is looking and we can keep an eye on her," the vampire grinned. "Two, there are lots of crypts there and I�m betting that�s where Oz would be with his vampire and werewolf crew."

"What have you heard about his group?" Giles asked as he went to the closet, pulled out a trunk and opened it. Joyce walked over to see what he was up to and found herself holding a small satchel as Giles rummaged through the trunk.

"He�s got himself a pack, sometimes werewolves stick together day and night," Spike explained and easily caught the pistol and ammunition clip Giles tossed at him. The vampire nodded appreciatively when he looked and saw the bullets were silver. "They�d rather live as wolves than humans most of the time and learn to control their wolf side. It becomes easier for them to shift but the downside is that they become more wolf-like than human. Eventually they�ll drift to the woods or desert and live constantly in werewolf shape."

"Oz," Willow said softly, tears beginning to flow as she imagined the gentle young musician, she had loved, becoming little more than an animal.

Spike frowned as he watched Willow sink her head onto Tara�s shoulder while being comforted by the other witch.

"Oz obviously found a pack and became their Alpha male," Spike continued. "Creepy, actually. Now he�s looking for a mate to be his alpha female. He plans on taking and turning Willow; the pack will either settle in Sunnydale or go somewhere else to prey on humans."

Giles looked up from the trunk when Spike hesitated, lost in his thoughts for the moment. "What�s wrong, Spike, missing the old days?" he taunted.

"Actually, I was," Spike admitted easily with a shrug. "The vampires are helping him because he promised them a good shot at the Slayer with help from the pack."

"What happens if� if they find out Buffy was bitten?" Tara asked.

"Bitten?" Spike snapped, his face becoming a snarl of anger. "By what?" he demanded

"Oz was about to bite Willow and Buffy took the bite instead," Giles explained, handing a crossbow to Joyce and opened the satchel to show her that there were arrows inside, wooden arrows with silver tips. Buffy�s Mom nodded in understanding.

"The Slayer was bitten by a werewolf?" Spike whispered. "Not bloody good, goddamn it!"

"No," Giles agreed. "She became very, very sick and we�re hoping that she fought off the infection."

"Not bloody fucking likely!" Spike snapped. "Especially if the wound was deep. How deep was it?"

"He broke both bones in her arm with his teeth," Willow answered bitterly.

"Hellfire!" William the Bloody cursed, tucking the gun into his belt. "And you let her go?" he shouted at Giles.

"The moon isn�t full for another month and it�s daylight," Giles said somewhat defensively.

"Oh hell," Spike snapped. "And you call yourself a scholar and Watcher. Damnit, you silly bastard! She was bitten by the Alpha male."

"What do you mean, Spike?" Willow demanded, sitting upright. The blonde vampire was surprised and confused but brushed his questions about Willow, Tara and Buffy aside.

"She can�t hurt the Alpha male unless she challenges him to his right to lead the pack," Spike tried to explain. "If Buffy runs into him, she�ll be subservient to his will. They live like wolves, damnit! She can�t challenge him unless she�s in wolf form and that�s a month away and she doesn�t have control over the wolf-side like they do."

Giles sat down heavily in a chair while Joyce stood holding the crossbow, stunned and trying to absorb this new information about her only child.

"Oh my God," Giles muttered. "He could turn her against us?"

"Yes, like Dracula commanded Renfield," Spike nodded. "If he gets his hands on Buffy he could order her to grab Willow and take her to him."

"I�ve never read anything like this," Giles complained.

"That�s because packs don�t interact with humans, normally," Spike snapped. "You�ve read some of the tales about two or three werewolves attacking villages in medieval times, haven�t you?"

"Yes, we always thought those were just half starved wolves," Giles responded, still dealing with the possibilities of Buffy being controlled by Oz.

"They were packs and there was an alpha male and female," Spike said wearily, losing his anger. "We�ve got to find Buffy before she finds Oz."

"And Xander and Anya," Tara added.

"Right, anything you say," Spike agreed reluctantly.

"Spike, there won�t be enough cover at the graveyards for you," Giles said firmly, getting to his feet and wrapping an arm around Joyce�s shoulder. "You stay here and protect Willow. We�ll find Buffy and then see if we can find where Oz is hiding."

"Bloody hell, I want to fight!" Spike complained.

"Spike," Joyce said. "You know how it would hurt Buffy if anything happens to Willow and neither of you can fight today."

"You�re right, Mum," Spike nodded but still frowned.

"I can help, a magickal tracking spell or something," Willow protested.

"Not with that hand and the pain you�re in," Giles said firmly. "I�m taking my cell phone, as much as I hate the contraption. If you think of anything, call me!"

Willow looked into Tara�s eyes and saw the compassion, love and agreement with Giles in them and the witches� body sagged back onto the sofa.

"I�m not going to win this fight, am I?" she muttered.

Tara leaned over and kissed the redhead tenderly and got up, accepting a crossbow from Giles.

"Not this time, Willow," she agreed.

"Would someone like to fill me in?" Spike demanded and everyone turned to him with questioning faces.

"I know that Tree there has the hots for the Slayer, could feel that one a mile away whenever they�re together," Spike snapped. "I also know that Willow drives Buffy crazy but now these two are playing House?"

Both college students began blushing bright red and Tara�s head dropped into her normally shy body language. Joyce was also alternating her glance from the two young women to the vampire, Spike was asking the questions that she and Giles were too polite to ask but were dying to know the answers to.

"Sod off, Spike," Giles snapped. "Whatever happens between the three of them isn�t our concern right now."

"Yes it is, you old gaffer!" Spike shot at them. "Buffy is going to need that love right now, more than ever, and no one needs this goddamn confusion."

"Give it a rest, Spike," Giles growled. "First we find Buffy, get her safely back here and deal with Oz. And don�t bother Willow with this while we�re gone!"

"All right, all right," Spike muttered.

Giles knelt in front of Willow and gently took her uninjured hand into his. "We�ll find Buffy and make sure she�s safe," he promised. "I want you to take one of those pain pills and if you think of anything, call me."

"Please, Giles," Willow said softly. "I can�t lose her or any of you."

"I know, Willow," he squeezed her hand reassuringly and stood up, his manner becoming firm and one of leadership.

Tara bent down and kissed Willow�s cheek quickly. "Get some rest," she ordered.

"Be safe," Willow responded.

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

<The graveyard looked different than it normally did

,> Giles thought, as they entered the gates. <Then again, he normally saw graveyards in the dark,> he mused. Seeing the neat rows of tombstones, grave markers and crypts looked almost innocent and peaceful in the daytime.

"We�ll skip the newer areas and concentrate on the older crypts," Giles informed his fellow hunters, Joyce and Tara. He hesitated, looking at both of them. "Please don�t go into a crypt alone. Vampires can�t stand the day but they can move about in the shadows and they love crypts. These werewolves might be able to change into werewolf form during the daytime too."

"We all stick together then," Joyce agreed, her voice firm and determined.

Giles shook his head, mentally beating himself up. He had no business bringing Buffy�s mom and an untrained college student out here. They were facing horrible deaths and possibly even worse fates than death. <Course,> he thought, <he wouldn�t have been able to keep them from coming.> It was Buffy and the kids that were in danger and these two people were the closest thing to family that most of them had.

As they began opening protesting crypt doors and quickly looking inside with flashlights for recent visitors or hidden passages, Giles reflected on how much the small group had in common.

Xander and Willow�s parents were almost non-existent in their lives, especially now that they were out of high school. Xander�s family could actually be cruel to the young man and Giles knew how Xander hated living at home in the basement apartment. Willow�s family was always gone but more attentive to their daughter, their blindside was that they didn�t see their daughter as a young woman and also didn�t see the adult problems their daughter was facing.

Common to all the parents, except Joyce, and the other citizens of Sunnydale was the fact that they didn�t seem to notice the horrors facing their families every night and even sometimes during the day: demons, ghosts, evil sorcerers, and especially vampires.

An hour later, Giles was frustrated. There was no sign of Buffy or Oz and everyone was tired from being tense for so long. Opening a crypt door was nerve wracking, exploring a crypt kept the adrenaline pumping and then the dust made it miserable.

Giles called a momentary halt to the searching and pulled out his despised cell phone to check on Willow and Spike. The Watcher frowned when no one answered his phone at home.

Joyce caught his frown while Tara sat down on a tombstone, brushing crypt dust off her jeans.

"What is it?" Joyce asked softly.

"No answer," he responded slowly. "Willow is probably asleep from the meds, but why isn�t Spike answering?"

"Should we go back?" Joyce asked.

"Willow?" Tara suddenly whispered her hand stopping in mid-motion. Both Giles and Joyce spun to watch her closely. Tara�s eyes were unfocused and half closed, as if listening to some far off noise inside her head.

"It�s Willow, something�s wrong!" she declared, jumping to her feet and dashing back towards the car.

Giles and Joyce hesitated only a moment and then trotted after her.

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

It took a half-hour for Spike to finally stop demanding to know what was up between Willow, Tara and Buffy. He let Willow retreat to the computer that Giles had relented and bought last year, letting Willow set it up for research and archiving.

Spike settled into a chair in front of the television, grumbling that television was a fantastic invention but the people who programmed it and designed the shows were idiots, especially soap operas.

The vampire merely snarled when Willow suggested that he could turn it off and read a book instead of watching the soap operas. The witch shook her head and focused on the computer.

Spike became absorbed in the television and barely noticed Willow getting up and wandering through the condo: into the kitchen, coming back with a soda, into the bathroom, and back to the computer. He didn�t even glance up when she headed for the kitchen again.

He continued to be oblivious until stars and blackness filled his vision, unaware that he was crashing out of the chair onto the floor.

"I�m sorry, Spike," Willow said softly. "You�re not that bad, especially as vampires go, but I can�t let you talk me out of this."

The computer hacker tossed the baseball bat beside the unconscious vampire and grabbed up the objects she thought she might need. Willow bent down and groaned in pain as she moved Spike in front of the sofa where the afternoon sun couldn�t reach him through any possible opening in the curtains.

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

Buffy was pissed and getting tired. She had already dusted seven vampires who had taken refuge in some of the crypts but still hadn�t found Oz and his captives. She knew the approximate area where Oz had built a secure cell for himself for those nights of the full moon when he turned into a werewolf but not the exact location. The Slayer figured that was where he�d be most likely holding Xander and Anya and waiting for Willow.

Buffy felt her heart skip a beat when she thought about the redhead. Not only was she worried about all of them but she was also feeling guilty and mentally beating herself up about it. She had no right to even hint to Willow how she felt, not if Willow was drawn to Tara. <The other witch had been good for the computer hacker,> Buffy reflected. <Better than she had been,> she thought bitterly. She had been too hung up on Riley and the Initiative to be around when Willow really needed her after the breakup with Oz.

Buffy hadn�t been there and Willow had found someone who was. <The Slayer couldn�t even really be jealous,> she mentally kicked herself. Tara had drawn Willow back into the world and had brought back the spark in the hacker that Buffy always found adorable. Once you got past the shy exterior, Tara was cute, intelligent, and a stabilizing influence on Willow.

"Oh God, Wills," Buffy whispered as she leaned against a crypt. "I am so in love with you. I can�t come between you and Tara though."

The Slayer put on her �resolve� face and took a deep breath. <She�d worry about her love life later,> she scolded herself. <It was time to find Oz, kill the little bastard and save Xander and Anya before the insane werewolf could get his claws on her Willow.>

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

Willow almost squeaked aloud and stumbled back behind a large tombstone. The young witch cautiously looked around the stone and sighed with relief, as Buffy stood up straight and continued deeper into the graveyard. Willow was relieved that the Slayer looked determined and in fairly good health, the computer hacker just didn�t want Buffy seeing her. One thing Willow was certain of; Buffy would stop her from what she had planned.

The college student worked her way through the graveyard, surprised at how easy it was. She hadn�t been to this crypt in quite awhile, ever since that morning she found Oz naked with Veruca in his cell.

Willow hesitated outside the entrance to the crypt and glanced around, on alert for both Buffy and members of Oz� pack. She angrily wiped a tear away from her eye and opened the door.

The place was as dismal as she remembered it; Willow hated crypts. Like most of the Scooby gang, crypts meant bad guys, entrances to Hell, and usually very bad stuff in general. This crypt was living up to that reputation when Willow walked down the steps and into the den of werewolves.

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

Tara skidded to a stop next to the car just as Giles� cell phone began beeping at him. The Watcher and Joyce caught up with Tara and Giles pulled out the phone.

"What?" he snapped.

"Well, bloody �hello� to you too!" Spike growled. "Red brained me with a fucking baseball bat and split."

"You were supposed to watch her!" Giles shouted into the phone while Joyce and Tara watched him closely, trying to decipher the conversation just from his end alone.

"Sod off, Ripper!" Spike snapped back. "I didn�t expect her to whack me with a chunk of wood!"

Giles clicked off the connection with a muttered curse. He was about to start shouting when he noticed Tara�s unfocused gaze.

"Tara?" he said softly. "Where is she? Where�s Willow?"

Joyce gasped in surprise and held her breath as Giles held up his hand, cutting off any questions.

"Graveyard, in a crypt," Tara muttered. "I can see the blue."

"Blue?"

Tara shook her head and began blushing at the intense stares from Joyce and Giles. "Willow did a tracing spell, I can find her."

"Let�s go!" Giles urged.

"It�s the graveyard a few blocks away from here," Tara responding, jumping in the back seat of Joyce�s car while Giles dashed around to the passenger side.

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

"Willow," Oz said simply, jumping down from a sarcophagus as the rest of the pack got to their feet and began moving slowly out of the center of the room, almost forming a circle.

"Oz," Willow responded, her voice sounding more calm and confident than what she was really feeling inside. Her eyes glanced over to the cell area of the crypt and she wasn�t surprised to see Xander and Anya inside.

Xander was on the stone floor and leaning back against the wall with Anya in his arms. At the sound of Willow�s name and voice, both of them opened their eyes slowly. Xander�s eyes widened when he saw his best friend walking slowly down the stairs.

He got to his feet and rushed to the bars. "Willow, no!" he screamed as Anya joined him, trying to rattle the door open. "Run, get out of here! Don�t do this!"

"Willow! Get out!" Anya screamed with her lover.

Willow gritted her teeth as Oz merely grinned at their shouting and struggles with the bars. She risked another glance in their direction and tried not to gasp aloud.

Both of Xander�s eyes were black and his nose swollen and Anya had a bad cut on her forehead, above her left eye. Their wrists were raw from being chained or tied up and bruises and scratches showed faintly through the ripped cloth of Xander�s shirt. Willow didn�t like the way Anya was holding her right arm either.

"Make you feel better by beating them up?" Willow snapped.

"Actually it wasn�t me or my pack," Oz shrugged, keeping his eyes on his ex girlfriend. "I had to pay the surviving vampires who helped us."

"No," Willow whispered and she almost dropped the pistol she was carrying when her eyes spotted the fang marks on both Anya and Xander.

"Its okay, Willow!" Xander shouted. "They didn�t take enough to turn us."

"They will tonight if Willow doesn�t drop that gun," Oz countered.

"You know I�ve got silver bullets in here, right?" Willow questioned and was pleased when the pack hesitated and didn�t get any closer to her. She reached the bottom of the stairs and put the stones to her back, giving her a clear shot at anything or anyone approaching her.

"I figured that much," Oz agreed. "Put the gun down already, it�s over."

"Not until they are safely outside and I have your word you won�t touch them or any of my other friends if I drop the gun," Willow snapped.

"Just give it up!" Oz growled, his scruffy beard becoming thicker and his voice harsher. "You�ve lost!"

"Yes, after they�re released," Willow said firmly.

The werewolf hesitated, feeling the questioning looks from his pack as they began to shift from human to wolf. Willow tried to ignore the sounds of breaking bones, stretching and ripping muscles and the whimpers of pain. One of the werewolves screamed and doubled over.

Oz finally nodded and one of the werewolves, still in human form, went to the cell door and punched in the code to the button key lock mechanism.

"I�m not leaving you, Willow!" Xander said firmly.

"Get Anya safe, Xander, please!" Willow begged, not daring to look in her friend�s eyes. She kept the gun at eye level and moving slightly back and forth, keeping the werewolves where they were. "Please!"

"No!"

"Xander, we must leave! We can�t fight all of them!" Anya pleaded. "Buffy will return and kill him and we�ll save Willow."

"He�s going to bite her!" Xander protested. "You heard what he wants! Fucking bastard!"

The werewolf who had opened the cell grabbed Xander�s arms from behind and held the young man back from attacking the smaller werewolf in question. Oz merely grinned as his eyes shifted from green to wolf yellow.

"She�s mine in the end, Xan man," he taunted. "Get them out of here!"

Xander was dragged up the stairs, kicking and protesting with Anya stumbling behind him as the two werewolves hauled him out of the crypt.

Willow flinched when the crypt door slammed shut and she could hear Xander screaming and pounding on it.

"Your turn, Willow," Oz growled, his eyes brightening. "Now, we can do it the pleasant way or the hard way, which do you want?"

"I� I�d prefer neither, actually," Willow admitted. "What�s the easy way?"

"We go into the cell for a little privacy, have fantastic sex and I bite you," Oz grinned a grin that sent a chill down Willow�s spine.

"The hard way?" she whispered.

"We grab you, throw you over that stone coffin and I let the males have a run at you before I claim you for mine. Then I bite you," Oz growled.

Willow fought back the urge to be sick but couldn�t help the tears escaping from her eyes as she looked at Oz.

"Oz, what happened?" she asked softly. "The boy I loved could never have thought of that for anyone, especially me. How can you say you still love me if you can do this?"

"Things change and I changed," Oz shrugged. "Hell, you�ve changed! Figure out yet that you�ve been in love with Buffy all this time? Or is it that new chick I saw you with?"

"Neither and both?" Willow shrugged. "What happened?" she repeated.

"I discovered a pack up north," he began to explain. "A group of werewolves who have given into the beast and let it rule their lives. We give into the change and learn to control it by living with it most of the time. We typically stay away from humans unless we feel like having some fun."

"Fun? You hunt and kill for sport? I thought only humans did that," Willow said bitterly.

"We�re still partly human. I became the Alpha male and I want you as my alpha female. Once you�re bitten and have changed a few times, your old life won�t matter any more."

"You�ll never destroy my love for Buffy and Tara," Willow said firmly.

"No, but you won�t be able to get near them again," Oz taunted. "You�ll be mine. Drop the gun, Willow, you swore."

"Oz, I loved you once," Willow said softly, her tears flowing heavier. "It killed me when you left but this hurts even worse."

The young witch lowered the gun slightly and Oz moved towards her a couple of feet, motioning the other werewolves to stay back.

Willow�s head and gun dropped in defeat. "I can�t live with what you want, Oz, and I can�t let your obsession with me hurt my friends."

Oz screamed as Willow reached inside her sling and drew something shiny out. In a moment his scream turned to one of rage.

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

"Willow!" Tara and Buffy screamed at the same time and fell to their knees.

Xander and Anya turned and saw the Slayer a few rows over from them and rushed to Buffy�s side as fast as they could.

"Xander? Anya? Where�s Willow?" Buffy whispered as they pulled the Slayer to her feet.

"Inside that crypt!" Xander snapped, pointing at the crypt door he had just been pounding on, attracting the notice of Buffy. "She traded herself for us!"

"Buffy!"

The small group turned and saw Giles and Joyce helping a groggy Tara towards them.

"We heard you scream," Giles said. "We�ve been following a spell Willow cast for Tara."

"She�s in there!" Xander again pointed to the crypt.

"Let�s go!" Buffy urged and was surprised when Giles slammed his hand down on her shoulder, stopping her.

"Buffy," he stammered. "I can�t let you go in."

"What?" she demanded. "That�s Willow in there! Willow, best friend, best bud, as in �I don�t want to live without her� Willow."

"I know that but you�ve been bitten by a werewolf and we don�t know if you were infected or not," Giles tried to explain. Joyce hugged her daughter from behind as Buffy struggled with confusion and turmoil. "If you face a pack after being bitten by the Alpha male, you�ll be under his control. The only way to break that is to challenge him to alpha status over the pack on a full moon."

"You mean like if I was turned by a vampire I�d be servant to my Sire?" Buffy questioned.

"Yes, I can�t let you go down there and be used against the rest of us," Giles said firmly, hating the situation.

"Against you?" Buffy said softly.

"If Oz ordered it, you might have to attack us," Giles choked.

"We�re wasting time!" Xander yelled, grabbing the crossbow from Buffy�s hands.

"Stay here, we�ll get her," Giles instructed his young Slayer. "Joyce, stay with her."

"Anya�s hurt, she stays," Xander suggested and the Watcher nodded, reluctantly agreeing to let Joyce accompany them into the dusty crypt.

"Hurry!" Tara and Buffy both urged at the same time.

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

Giles felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand straight up and out when an enraged howl sounded through the door. The Watcher steeled himself and shot the lock to the crypt door, thanking the fates that he didn�t get hit with any flying wood fragments.

Xander and Tara shoved past the Watcher before the smoke had cleared from the pistol and were dashing down the stairs, ignoring the lack of light to guide their hurried progress.

Giles and Joyce followed quickly behind, Joyce carrying a flashlight and trying to shine it in front of the two students ahead of them before they hit the lighted area of the inner crypt below.

The two older adults almost ran into the backs of Tara and Xander as they stood at the top of the stairs leading to the inner crypt looking down.

Giles felt the pistol almost slip from his hand as he looked down and saw Willow.

"No!" Tara screamed and rushed half way down the stairs and then jumped the rest of the way to the stone floor of the crypt, Xander a moment behind her.

Giles closed his eyes, trying to shut out the sight of his kids.

Willow was lying on the stone floor with a pool of blood spreading around her. The computer hacker�s skin quickly turning deathly pale. Xander and Tara knelt beside her, trying to decide what to do about the silver knife sticking out of the young woman�s chest.

Tara gently raised Willow�s head into her lap and wiped at the blood flowing from Willow�s mouth as tears began to flow.

"No, please!" she begged quietly as Xander reluctantly felt for a pulse at Willow�s wrist and then her neck.

"She doesn�t have one at the wrist and the one at her neck is faint," he said softly.

"Giles, what can we do?" Joyce asked, causing the Watcher to open his eyes again.

"She stabbed herself in the heart with a silver dagger so Oz couldn�t touch her," he muttered. "If we pull the knife out, she�ll die instantly. Another minute or two and she�ll bleed to death anyway."

Rupert "Ripper" Giles knew about wounds, it came with the territory of being involved in the Dark Arts and then with being a Watcher. He knew the different colors of blood and what parts of the body they came from. He knew a heart wound when he saw it and knew even a full Operation room staff of surgeons, nurses, and blood couldn�t save his young Willow.

"Go get Buffy," he said softly, glancing around and noting for certain that all the werewolves were gone, probably through one of the many underground tunnels under the city.

Joyce sobbed and ran for the stairs leading to the top of the crypt while Giles began walking slowly down the stairs.

"Tara, can�t we help her?" Xander asked, tears flowing down his face unashamedly.

"I don�t know," Tara whispered. "Willow, please don�t leave me!" she begged.

Xander kept his finger on Willow�s pulse and whimpered, as it got weaker and faster. "Giles, please!" he begged.

The Watcher knelt by the young adults he considered his children and looked at the wound carefully and felt Willow�s pulse as well.

"No!" Xander screamed when the Watcher shook his head, his own tears beginning to escape his eyes.

"Willow!" Buffy�s voice caused them all to look up in time to see the Slayer launch herself from the top of the stairs, somersault in midair and land next to the small group. Xander moved aside as Buffy knelt beside Willow and assessed the amount of blood on Willow�s clothes, her mouth and the floor as well as the look on Giles� face.

"She used a silver knife so Oz couldn�t touch her and change her," he said softly.

"Buffy?" Tara questioned and the blonde looked at the mouse-brown blonde witch, both pairs of eyes tormented. "Do you love her?"

"Of course I love her, she�s my best friend," Buffy snapped.

"No, do you love her?" Tara pressed.

"Yes," Buffy whispered. "But, I�"

Tara shook her head and laid Willow back onto the stone floor and reached out her hands to Buffy. The Slayer interlaced her fingers with the witch without a thought or hesitation.

"Willow, think of Willow," Tara muttered, closing her eyes and letting her head drop back.

Buffy shut her eyes and began to think of Willow, not as she was lying in a pool of her own blood on a cold stone floor, but as she always thought of Willow: <the red head glancing up from a computer keyboard, shouting with joy when she discovered something new in an old book, Willow concentrating on a candle flame as she began casting a simple spell to help Buffy with Slayer duties, Willow sleeping peacefully only a few feet away from Buffy.>

Somehow Buffy knew that the hand suddenly resting on her left shoulder was Xander and the one on her right was her mom�s. She knew intuitively that Giles and Anya had their hands on Tara�s shoulders and they were completing a circle of love.

Absolute and unconditional love for the young woman dying in their midst.

Buffy felt tears of sadness and joy flow down her face as the emotion became almost solid, like a cloud flowing from all of them. Each of them would give their lives for Willow and each of them felt that depth of love flowing from each other. Buffy realized that Tara loved Willow as deeply as she did. The Slayer also felt a new emotion enter into the whirlwind they were creating, a new realization that startled her and almost snapped her out of the trance.

Tara loved Buffy as well.

Buffy felt the energy waver and eased her mind back into concentrating on Willow and felt it build again.

"Channel what you�re feeling to Buffy and Tara," Giles instructed softly. "At the countdown from three to one, send it all to Buffy and Tara."

Buffy cried out slightly at the intensity of the building energy and felt Tara tighten her hold on Buffy�s hands and the Slayer squeezed lightly to reassure the witch.

"Three� two� one!" Giles whispered firmly.

Buffy and Tara dropped their hands at the same time, laying them on Willow�s ribs. A moment later, both were shaking their heads, having been tossed back into the legs of the others behind them.

"What?" Buffy whispered and quickly regained her balance, on her knees next to Willow, as Tara quickly began checking the red-haired witch.

"Oh my," Giles whispered and pointed to the silver knife that was no longer buried up to the hilt in Willow�s chest, now it was lying on the young woman. He quickly bent down, pulled it away and ripped away Willow�s shirt.

Instead of a gaping wound that pierced through the heart, there was only a slight wound that was bleeding lightly.

Xander knelt beside Buffy, one hand on her shoulder and the other checking Willow�s pulse.

Giles had a strange urge to hug the frequently annoying young man when he saw the familiar goofy grin on Xander�s face.

"It�s stronger," Xander said softly and drew Anya into his arms as she began crying with relief.

"Giles, call for an ambulance," Joyce said softly, wrapping her arms around him as she leaned over.

"Yes, of course," he mumbled.

Buffy and Tara both held Willow�s good hand and were smiling at each other.

"Thank you, Tara," Buffy said softly, feeling exhausted but calm and hopeful.

"For both of us," Tara responded and began blushing, her normal shy reaction.

"All of us," Buffy corrected with a smile.

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

Willow opened her eyes slowly and moaned when she tried to move. <It felt like everything hurt!> She frowned as she tried to remember what had been happening and then her green eyes widened when she did.

The computer geek felt through the hospital gown and wasn�t surprised to feel a large bandage on her chest. Her hand still hurt as well.

"Hey," a voice said softly and Willow turned to see Buffy and Tara both standing in the doorway. "Thought we sensed you waking up," Buffy grinned.

"Sensed it?" Willow questioned, her voice sounding very harsh. The two young women entered the room and Tara moved to grab a plastic cup and began filling it with water from a pitcher while Buffy worked the controls on Willow�s bed and slowly raised the witch to a sitting position.

Tara held the cup to Willow�s lips while she drank slowly.

"What happened? I feel so weak," Willow asked softly. "I remember the knife, it felt so strange. Like a coldness filling me, and the look of rage on Oz�s face when he grabbed the knife and it burned him."

"He and the pack were gone when we got to you," Buffy explained, taking up a chair on one side and Tara took one on the other side of Willow�s bed. "Wills, you� you were�" Buffy suddenly mentally cursed the tears trying to escape as she felt her head drop, overcome with the emotion and the memory of seeing Willow on the crypt floor.

"I was dying," Willow said gently, wishing she had both hands so she could touch Buffy and Tara�s hands at the same time.

"Yes, we couldn�t do anything," Tara agreed and moved Willow�s hand to her stomach and then reached for Buffy�s hand to join her in holding Willow�s.

"What happened?" Willow asked again. "Not that I�m complaining that I�m here and you�re both here and I don�t think I�m dead. No, that would be a bad thing because that would mean you were both dead. No, I wouldn�t like that, that would be bad thing�"

Both Buffy and Tara looked at each other and grinned. Willow catching the amused look on both their faces began blushing as she stopped a trademark ramble.

"Tara did something and saved you," Buffy answered.

Tara�s blush grew bright red as Willow turned to look at her. "It was all of us, somehow. I didn�t know what I was doing."

"What did you do?" Willow asked.

"We joined hands and everyone else formed a circle with us, a hand on each shoulder and we thought about how much we love you," Buffy explained.

"We joined hands after I got Buffy to admit that she is IN love with you," Tara clarified and Buffy suddenly wanted to crawl under Willow�s bed.

"I, uh, look," she stammered as both witches looked at her. "I know you two are working on the couple thing and I would never come between that. Forget anything was said, okay?" she pleaded.

"I don�t think so," Tara said gently. "It was our love for Willow that was the focus of the energy. Neither of us could have done that alone, I don�t think."

"What do you mean, Tara?" Willow asked, keeping a firm grip on Buffy�s hand as well as Tara�s.

"Somehow it just felt like what was needed. We needed total honesty, no hesitation and Buffy was holding back on admitting her feelings," Tara said softly. "Everyone loves you so much; we poured that love into you."

"Thank you," Willow said softly, her own tears streaking her face. "I don�t know what to say. I love you both."

"We�ve got a lot to figure out when you get out of here," Buffy said softly.

Willow pulled her hand loose and began wiping her face when the door to her room opened again.

Brad Santiago walked into the room slowly with a smile on his handsome and rugged features.

"Evening, Ms. Rosenburg," he said easily.

"Evening?" Willow squeaked. "How long was I out of it?"

"Uh, Wills," Buffy stammered and looked away.

"Buffy? Tara?"

"You were in a coma for four days because of the loss of blood and the injury to your heart," Tara answered. "That�s why you feel so weak."

"Four days?"

"Yup, and I�ve been waiting patiently," Brad grinned.

"And you are?" Willow smiled slightly back at him.

"I�m Brad Santiago, Detective Santiago," he said, shaking her hand. "I�m investigating the kidnapping of your friends Xander Harris and Anya Smyth and the attack on you by Daniel Oswald."

"Xander and Anya!" Willow exclaimed, attempting to sit up and falling back, gasping for air as Buffy and Tara both held her back.

"Both of them are fine!" Buffy said quickly. "Xander has a broken nose and Anya has a broken arm but they�re both okay. Nothing permanent, not even the RAT bites were infected, they�ll be fine."

Willow caught the emphasis on the word "rat" and realized Buffy meant the vampire bites hadn�t hurt them too badly and sighed with relief.

"Now that Ms. Rosenburg is awake, can I get my statements?" Detective Santiago asked, noting the look of pain on Willow�s face and the rapid breathing as she attempted to deal with it.

"Easy, Willow," Tara said softly. "You had a knife in your heart. It�s going to take a little while to recover."

Buffy turned to the Detective.

"Giles, my Mom, Tara and I received a call from Oz saying he left Xander and Anya tied up in the graveyard. We left Willow behind because of her arm and we didn�t want Oz to see her if he was watching."

"Why didn�t you call the police," Brad growled.

"We should have but he warned us not to," Buffy agreed.

"Go on," Brad instructed, pulling out a notebook and writing in it.

"Oz called� me, right after they left," Willow said, gasping for breath still. "Said� he lied to them� he was going to kill Xan and Anya if I� if I didn�t� come to him."

Tara frowned and held onto Willow�s hand as Buffy touched her arm where the cast ended.

"So you didn�t call the police either and ran off to meet him?" Brad asked, his voice expressing his disapproval.

"Yeah�" Willow said, closing her eyes. "I�m sorry� I know I should have�"

"Let your friends talk to me for a bit," Brad instructed softly.

"We were in the graveyard," Buffy said, continuing the story. "We heard Xander and Anya yelling. They were pounding on a crypt door."

"They said Willow had gone to Oz and he forced them out of the crypt at gunpoint," Tara continued. "He locked the door. Giles broke in the door and we found Willow hurt on the floor. Oz was hiding and ran out when we went to help Willow."

Willow opened her eyes and smiled at Buffy and Tara.

"Oz and I fought, I wouldn�t go back to him and he got angry," Willow continued the tale that was now deviating from the truth a bit. "He put the gun down but he had a� he had this� he stabbed me."

Both Tara and Buffy whimpered slightly.

"Okay, that�s all I need for now," Brad smiled as Willow closed her eyes again.

"Doctors said she�d be weak for awhile," Buffy whispered.

"She�s going to be okay though?" Detective Santiago frowned. He wanted Daniel Oswald very badly and he especially didn�t want young Ms. Rosenburg or any of her friends hurt.

"Eventually," Tara responded.

"If any of you hear from Oz again, I want your word that you�ll call me instead of playing heroes!" Brad growled.

"You got it," Buffy said easily. "I don�t think he�ll be back, he was screaming that Willow was dead. If he goes on thinking she�s dead then he won�t have to come back, right?"

"I hope so, also the fact that he�s wanted for kidnapping, first degree assault, attempted murder, and whatever else I can think of charging him with," Brad tried reassuring the young women and handed them his card. "Call me if you need anything, hear or see him, or remember anything else that might be useful."

"Thank you, Detective Santiago," Tara said softly and Brad nodded with a slight smile as he left the room.

Buffy reached up and brushed a lock of red hair from Willow�s forehead as the computer geek dozed. She looked over at Tara and was surprised that she didn�t see any hint of jealousy, only warmth.

"We�ve got a lot to figure out, don�t we?" Buffy asked softly and reached across the sleeping Willow to gently stroke Tara�s cheek. "I felt something in that connection, something you didn�t admit to out loud."

Tara leaned her face into Buffy�s hand and nodded.

"This is going to get complicated," Buffy muttered, looking down at Willow, unaware of Giles closing the door to Willow�s room.

"Very complicated and we still have three weeks before we know if we have another problem, Buffy," he said softly, to no one in general. "Another three weeks to the Full Moon and a very big problem if you were infected."

He tried to smile at the sight of Joyce, Xander and Anya walking down the hall towards him.

<The thought of a werewolf Slayer wasn�t a pleasant thought

.>

Continue to Part 4

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