The Wolf Within
by Erin
Additional Disclaimer: Werewolf material contained in this story is copyright White Wolf Games, Inc. such as Garou, Children of Gaia, Black Spiral Dancers, Gurahl, Glass Walkers, etc.
Part the Seventh

Buffy collapsed wearily in a chair that had been set down next to Willow's bed. It had been a long day, what with Chris popping in and out, giving talks to Willow on what being a Glass Walker was all about, and fussing over the new computer he bought her. Buffy didn't realize what a bundle of energy the young Garou could be. Then Nichole showed up for awhile, after having closed the magick store for the day, to check on her patient. Buffy wasn't sure what she did, or how she did it, but the upshot of it was that Willow was almost completely healed after she left.

And unfortunately Giles was little help; playing nursemaid was apparently not his strong suit, so most of the work had gone to Buffy.

Willow looked at her friend sympathetically. "Sorry I'm being such a pain."

Buffy waved it away. "Don't be silly, Will!" The Slayer moved from the chair to sit next to Willow on the bed. "I'm just glad that you're almost a hundred percent. Better, even, a hundred and ten percent."

Willow blushed, and dropped her eyes to the bedspread. "That's mathematically impossible," she said, smiling. "I bet you'll be glad not to have to play nurse for me anymore."

"Hey," Buffy said, lifting up Willow's chin until she was looking the hacker in the eyes. "Listen to me, I don't mind, ok? I'm just really glad that you're ok. That whole thing really gave me a scare, Will. If something happened to you..." Now it was Buffy's turn to look away.

Willow stared at Buffy, her eyes taking in every detail -- her delicate profile; her mouth, so expressive in either sadness or joy; her eyes... Willow could get lost in her eyes, and often did. She reached out a tentative hand, and caught a few golden strands of hair with her fingers. The light caught them, and danced across like flames. Willow was entranced.

The hacker closed her eyes for a moment, and when she opened them, she saw Buffy looking at her, her expression a mixture of wonder and puzzlement. Willow suddenly went red, all the way to her ears. She cleared her throat, and said, "Well, I think I'd better rest now, I'm getting a little light-headed, I think it must be the medication..."

Buffy smiled, and stood up to turn off the lights. "Ok, Will," she said, making her way to the door. "Sleep well." She exited the room, and shut the door behind her. The Slayer stood there for a moment, trying to keep her heart from racing. Quietly, to no one in particular, she said, "You aren't taking medication."

A short, hunched figure stood outside the door to room 214. He was rubbing his arms as if he were cold, even though the dorm hallway was climate controlled and quite warm. He reached out a tentative hand and knocked. There was no answer, and the figure couldn't smell any people inside the room either. He sighed.

The figure walked outside, and stood on a bench to try to see inside the second story room. He couldn't see much, but what he could see looked pretty much the same as it always did. Jumping off the bench, he sat down, watching the entrance to Stevenson Hall. He had time. He could wait.

Buffy woke up to the sounds, and smells, of breakfast cooking. She opened an eye experimentally, and from her vantage point on Giles' couch she saw Willow bustling around the kitchen.

The Slayer stood up, shakily, rubbing her eyes. "Just what do you think you're doing, young lady?" She asked, stumbling to the kitchen.

"Making breakfast for two of my favorite people in the world...not counting me, of course," Willow replied, cheerfully.

"Aren't you supposed to be convalescing, or something?" Buffy asked. She tried to snatch a piece of cooling bacon, but Willow chased her back with a spatula.

"I feel too good to lay around in bed. As soon as I get the word from Nichole, the last bandages are coming off." Willow flipped a pancake. "Could you go wake up Giles, please?"

"Sure... GILES! BREAKFAST!" Buffy yelled. She busied herself with pouring orange juice. "I didn't know you were so into cooking, Will."

Willow shrugged. "I like cooking, and my mom didn't really seem into it, so I did a lot of cooking at home. I kinda miss living in a place without a kitchen." The hacker even hummed a bit as she buttered the toast.

Buffy raised her eyebrows, impressed. "Gotta say, I'm loving the positive attitude. You think you'll be up for some combat lessons later?"

"Sure! A chance to learn all that punching and high-kicking stuff that you do?" Willow smiled, delighted. "Just go easy on me, ok?"

Buffy chuckled. "I'm not the one who turns into a werewolf. You're the one who should be going easy on me."

The hunched figure stared at the double doors which were the entrance to the Stevenson Hall dorm. His eyes burned from fatigue, and he ignored the curious looks he was getting from passersby. He hadn't seen her all night, hadn't seen either of them; it could only mean one thing. They weren't staying here. Not here.

Once that conclusion was reached, the figure rose and began walking away briskly.

Not here, he thought. Not here.

"Oof!" Buffy hit the floor, and started rolling. A clawed foot slammed down onto the floor where her head once was. The Slayer leapt to her feet and immediately executed a flawless leg sweep, sending her opponent crashing down to the floor.

"Ohhhhhh..." Willow said, trying to stop the room from spinning. "I not do well," she said, her long snout having difficulty forming the words.

Buffy grinned down at her friend. "No, actually you did pretty well for your first time. You're strong, which is definitely a bonus, and you've got impressive natural weaponry." She walked around until she was standing above Willow's head, and then she squatted down so that she was looking the werewolf right in the eye, albeit upside-down. "Unfortunately, you're also a bit slow, and you're not sure how to move. But that's what practice is for."

Willow looked up at Buffy, from her position on the floor. "That good I think," she said. The werewolf frowned. She discovered that in Crinos it was very difficult to get her mouth to form words, so she took to talking in abbreviated sentences.

Buffy stood, and offered Willow a hand up. Willow's clawed paw engulfed the young woman's hand, but Buffy pulled her up with ease. "The best thing you could do is to change forms often, and live in those forms as much as possible. You already know how your body moves when you're human, you've been doing it for nineteen years. But your other forms..." Buffy shrugged.

"Yeah, go to movies like this," Willow pointed at herself.

Buffy got a mental image of Willow, in full Crinos form, walking into a movie theatre...followed immediately by screaming people pouring out every exit. She giggled. "Um, no, probably not. But the more you spar in your different forms, the more you'll get used to 'wearing' them."

The two took up positions facing each other, a few feet separating them. "Ok," Buffy said, "again."

To: Gregory Hartwell (
From: Christopher Maxwell (
Subject: Newest project - Rosenberg
X-Encryption: PGP 6.5.1
Date: February 23, 2000 12:15 PST

Mr. Hartwell,

I am writing to update you on recent events regarding the Lost Cub Willow Rosenberg.

Contact was made with the Cub at 8:35 PM on 02/21/2000. She had suffered serious injuries due to a recent fight with two Black Spiral Dancers, a fight that she would not have survived if it were not for her companion, a Slayer by the name of Buffy Summers. I will include my impressions on the Slayer below.

The Cub was taken for emergency medical care to a Child of Gaia Theurge by the name of Nichole Thompson. Our research did not turn up the fact that she was in Sunnydale; I believe that adjustments should be made to ensure that such important intelligence is not overlooked again. The Theurge was able to call on spirits to aid her in healing the Cub, and as of this writing, the Cub is completely healed from her previously grave injuries.

I have begun Glass Walker orientation with the Cub, in preparation for her coming to Los Angeles to become a full Tribe member, with all benefits that it entails. She has shown great adeptness for computers and modern technology, as well as a quick intelligence and a curiosity to learn about Garou customs.

Her companion, Buffy Summers, is one of the Slayers that we have read about in Human lore. She is a formidable fighter, which is proved by the fact that she killed two attacking Black Spiral Dancers, unaided and unarmed. She is a close friend to Cub Rosenberg, and defends her from any possible harm. It is my estimation that she should be cultivated as an ally, since she is already aware of the existence of Garou, and she can be a formidable ally against the Wyrm.

It is my recommendation that Cub Rosenberg be kept here, in Sunnydale, until such time as the Black Spiral threat is diminished.

I am investigating the possibility of setting up a Glass Walker contingent in Sunnydale, to deal with Wyrm activity and potential Lost Cubs. I would like to ensure that the recent incidents surrounding Cub Rosenberg do not happen again.

I look forward to your response.


Christopher Maxwell
Glass Walker Philodox
Vice-President of Software Development, Hartwell Technologies

To: Christopher Maxwell (
From: Gregory Hartwell (
Subject: Re: Newest project - Rosenberg
X-Encryption: PGP 6.5.1
Date: February 23, 2000 2:37 PST

Mr. Maxwell,

I read with interest your report on this Lost Cub. I am glad to hear that she was delivered from the Black Spiral Dancers, and that she is now recovering nicely.

Her companion troubles me, but if I have your assurance that she is not Wyrm-tainted, then it will put my fears to rest. I have read many legends about the Slayer, and that their primary purpose is to destroy the Wyrm's minions; I trust that this is not myth, but truth.

Continue with your lessons to Cub Rosenberg. Unfortunately, at this moment, we are involved in a conflict with Environ Oil, both in the physical world, the financial world, and the spirit world. Their Wyrm-taint reached farther than any of us realized, perhaps even back to Pentex itself. Your skills will be missed, and unfortunately we cannot send you any assistance in your mission. All of our resources, however, financial and otherwise are at your disposal, as always.

I agree with your position about a Glass Walker contingent in Sunnydale. Please keep me informed as to the results of your investigation.

Also keep me posted, Chris, as to when you can bring the Cub back here, to L.A.


Gregory Hartwell
Glass Walker Philodox
Sept Leader
Chief Executive Officer, Hartwell Technologies

Buffy and Willow sat on the couch, watching Giles' little TV. The Watcher himself had left after dinner to go to the store, muttering something about werewolves eating him out of house and home. Buffy pointed out that it was better than werewolves eating him, period, and he was unable to argue.

Willow was very apologetic about eating so much, but everyone realized that it was just a matter of her metabolism getting back into shape from all that healing. When it was all said and done, Buffy and Giles were very glad to have had Willow healed up in a matter of days for wounds that, previously, would have taken weeks to heal, if her body could heal them at all.

So the two friends were stuck at home, watching reruns of some inane sitcom.

"You know, it never fails," Buffy said, disgustedly. "I've only seen this show twice, ever, and each time it's the exact same episode."

"I think they plan it that way," Willow said, nodding sympathetically. "TV schedules do funny things. Like you know that show, 'To Be Announced'? Well, I've always tried to see what that show is about, but when I tune in, it's always some other show." She smiled at the Slayer.

Buffy grinned back. She didn't know what it was, but Willow always had the ability to cheer her up, to make her forget all the bad things lurking out there. For a Slayer, whose job was to confront all those bad things, a friend like Willow was a godsend. "You're amazing, you know that?" She asked.

"Me, amazing?" Willow said. "Nah, I'm the most unamazing person out there, pretty normal, pretty boring. Well, except for the werewolf thing. And the witch thing. And the 'my best friend is a Slayer' thing." She grinned. "Other than that, I'm stuck solidly in mediocrity."

"Never," Buffy said softly, her eyes shining. "All those other things aside, you're exceptionally smart, exceptionally witty, and exceptionally beautiful."

Willow blushed. " think I'm beautiful?" She tried to look away, to look down, but couldn't. She was captured by those eyes.

"I do," Buffy replied, slowly inching closer. Her face was a mere few inches away from Willow's, now, and the gap was closing. "And I ought to know."

"Why...why is that?" Willow asked, her voice dropping to a whisper.

"Because I can't stop looking at you," Buffy replied. She licked her lips slightly and began to lean in, prepared to make vanish those last few inches that kept her lips from meeting perfection.

And then it happened.

There was a knock at the door.

DAMN! Buffy thought, as both she and Willow froze. I will tear this person in half if they don't have a good reason for being here, she thought, viciously. The Slayer stood, and made her way around the couch to the front door. Opening it, she froze.

"Who is it, Buffy?" Willow called out, from the couch.

Buffy's jaw clenched.


Part the Eighth

Oz stood on Giles' front step, his shoulders hunched and his hands shoved in the pockets of his dusty leather jacket. "Hi Buffy," he said, in his soft, expressionless way. "Is Willow here?"

Buffy glared at the young man. "Why don't you just go, Oz," she said in a low voice. "Haven't you hurt Willow enough for one lifetime?"

Willow came up behind Buffy, and touched her gently on the arm. "It's ok, Buffy. C'mon in, Oz." Her face was carefully kept neutral, as was her tone.

Oz walked inside, carefully stepping around Buffy, who was still glaring. "I need to talk to you, Will." He afforded Buffy just the barest of glances before he said, "Alone."

Buffy bristled. "There's no way in Hell, Oz..." she began, before Willow intervened.

"It'll be fine," she said, turning to face the Slayer. "Go ahead and go into the back room. I'll call if I need anything."

"But, Will," Buffy protested. "I don't--"

"Buffy, please," Willow interrupted. "I need to do this. Everything will be ok." She brushed a stray strand of hair back from Buffy's forehead, her touch amazingly gentle. "Please do this for me."

The Slayer couldn't refuse. "Ok. If you need anything, yell." With one last glare in Oz's direction, she retreated to the back room.

Willow turned to face Oz. "Why did you come back?" she said, her tone flat. Her eyes were cold, and Oz knew that she wasn't willing to give even an inch.

"I came back for you," he said, looking up at her. His eyes were more expressive than Willow could ever remember seeing, full of pain and sorrow. Willow realized with a start that they were also bloodshot, and underlined with dark circles. A worried look, manifesting as the barest of lines between her eyebrows, began to appear on her face.

"If I were that important to you, you'd have never left in the first place," Willow replied, more harshly than she'd intended.

Oz dropped his eyes, guiltily. "I...I had to get away."

"Away from me."

"Away from everything!" He ran a hand through his hair, irritably. "After what happened with Veruca, I didn't know who I was anymore. I didn't know what I was. All I knew was that I couldn't do that forever. Chained up three nights a month, month after month for the rest of my life. I escaped more times than I care to remember, and I had only been a werewolf for a couple of years! Can you even imagine what I was thinking the rest of my life would be like?"

"I have some idea..." Willow said, softly.

"So I had to get away. See if I could find some cure, or some way to help myself. I knew I couldn't stay around here, and keep hurting the people I loved." Oz looked up at the ceiling, his carefully expressionless facade breaking under the stress.

Willow looked at him with concern. "So where did you go?"

"Lots of places," Oz replied, wiping a hand across his sweating brow. "First to L.A. Thought I could lose myself there, but it was too hard. Too many eyes in the city. I ended up driving out to the desert, all the way to New Mexico. I guess I was on my way east, maybe Texas, or New Orleans. I never got that far, though." His eyes got very distant. "I picked up a hitchhiker in the desert, someone who recognized me as a werewolf. He told me...he told me that they could help me. That I'd never have to be chained up again." Oz swallowed around a lump in his throat.

"And he taught you?" Willow said, quietly.

Oz nodded. "He brought me back to his group, taught me what being a werewolf was all about." Oz met Willow's eyes with an intent gaze. "When I felt I knew enough, I knew I had to come back for you." He moved swiftly, and caught Willow's arm in a firm but gentle grip. "I have to go back soon. Come with me, Willow. Back to the Caern, back to the people who have taught me so much." He pleaded with her now; his voice was earnest and his body started to shake.

Willow shook her head; she was disquieted by the intense look he was giving her. "Oz, I can't. I belong here, there's so much for me to learn here, and so much good I can do. I'm sorry." She dropped her gaze, rather than see the pain in his eyes.

"You can't..." He bit the words off abruptly. "It's Buffy, isn't it?" Willow looked up at him in surprise. His face had hardened to anger, and he spat out the Slayer's name like it was a curse. "She's the reason why you won't come with me."

"No, Oz," Willow said, shaking her head. "That's not the reason. I have things I need to learn here--"

"Forget about Buffy. You have to come with me, Willow. I can't be apart from you any more," Oz said. His hand had been steadily tightening around her wrist until it felt like a vise; it felt like it was burning her, his hand was so hot and feverish.

"Oz, stop," Willow said, trying to pull her arm away from his grasp. This whole thing was too much to handle all at once; first Oz returning, and then this manic need he had to be with her again, she didn't understand it. "Oz, stop, you're hurting me!"

Buffy was at her side in a flash, causing Willow to wonder briefly if she had been listening the whole time. She grabbed Oz's arm, and said fiercely, "Let go or lose it, it's your choice."

The young man was taken aback for a moment, as if he had forgotten she was there. He stared at her, bloodshot eyes meeting a cold gaze which told him she meant business -- and then some. He dropped his gaze and let go of Willow's arm.

"I think you'd better leave. Now," Buffy said, already steering him toward the door.

Instead of answering, Oz just looked Willow in the eyes. "I'll come back for you, Will. We're meant to be together. You know that."

Buffy didn't wait for her answer. She pushed him outside, not at all gently, and shut the door. Looking back at Willow, she noticed the redhead rubbing the arm that Oz had held. "You ok, Will?"

Willow sighed raggedly. A brief glance at the clock told her that the entire exchange had taken just under ten minutes. Ten minutes, she thought, it felt like ten hours. She smiled at Buffy, and said, "Yeah, I guess I'm ok. I think he just bruised me." She looked down at the red marks on her arm from his grip.

Buffy looked at the marks and frowned. Stepping forward, she lifted Willow's arm so she could see the bruise in a better light. "Will, these aren't bruises. These are burns."

Oz walked away from the welcoming light streaming out of the windows where Willow was staying. There'd be another time. The Slayer couldn't be around all the time. And then he'd make her see. He'd make her see how much he loved her, how much they were meant to be together. She already knew; she just didn't want to admit it. He'd make her see.

Buffy spread some burn salve on Willow's arm. Things between them had been subdued, to say the least, after the incident with Oz. I guess she doesn't feel like talking much, Buffy thought. Though, I can't say as I blame her.

Willow, meanwhile, had been having a hard time focusing her thoughts. Things had finally started looking up for her; sure, she had some strange stuff to deal with lately, but it was all going really well. She made two great friends, both of whom were teaching her new stuff about who she was and what she could do. And Buffy, who never liked to leave her side, was teaching her how to defend herself. And...she was teaching her something else, too, Willow realized. About what best friends mean to one another. About how deep their feelings for each other really seem to go. It was nice, and something that Willow certainly wouldn't mind looking into further.

And then...Oz. Like a bolt out of the blue, he showed up just as quickly as he had left before -- with no warning, no regard for her feelings. She had loved him once, as deeply as she thought it was possible to love someone. But when he showed up, she didn't feel that same, familiar heartache. She hoped they could be friends, but...

"All done," Buffy said, re-capping the salve jar. "By tomorrow, that should look a lot better."

"I still don't know why it happened in the first place," Willow said, worriedly. "I mean, his hand felt hot, like he was running a fever, but..." She shrugged.

Buffy looked at her friend sympathetically. "Well, maybe it's some kind of werewolf thing. We can ask Nichole about it tomorrow morning, when she and Chris stop by."

Willow jumped at the change of subject, grateful for the opportunity to lighten the mood. "What's the deal with those two, anyway?"

Buffy grinned. "Well, it sure looks like they love each other. I've been subtly trying to get them to realize it, but it looks like they're more interested in fighting."

Willow gave Buffy a worried look. "But...they're both Garou. I don't think they're supposed to fall in love with each other."

"Why not?" Buffy asked, puzzled. "Is it the whole two different tribes, Romeo-and-Juliet thing? That's been done to death. No pun intended."

"No," Willow said, "I think there's some rule about Garou know... 'mating' with other Garou."

"Hmm." Buffy looked thoughtful. "Well, I've never been keen on the rules anyway. We'll see what happens. Now, young lady," Buffy said, steering Willow toward the back room, "You should get to bed. Long day tomorrow."

Willow smiled at Buffy, a smile which didn't touch the sadness in her eyes. "Um, Buffy? Could I ask you a favor?"

"Sure, Will, anything."

"Could you stay with me tonight? That whole kinda shook me up. I'd rather not be alone." Willow blushed, although whether it was from embarrassment at her weakness, or excitement, she wasn't sure.

Buffy threw an arm around Willow's shoulders. "Sure, Will. I think I can do that."

Nichole knocked on Giles' door promptly at eight o'clock the next morning. Giles answered, holding a steaming cup of tea. "Oh, hello Nichole, hello Christopher. Won't you come in?" He stepped back, and allowed the two Garou to enter.

"Hello, Giles. Is the patient up yet?" Nichole asked, cheerfully.

"Well, no, she isn't. I was about to check on her in a few minutes, make sure everything is all right. I'm not sure where Buffy is, perhaps she had an early errand to run."

"Ok, well, I'd better wake her up," Nichole said, heading off for the back room.

Chris sniffed. "Is that coffee?"

Giles frowned, and looked at his cup. "No, it's tea."

"Could it be coffee?"

Giles sighed, and went to the kitchen to brew a pot.

Buffy woke up to the sound of voices in the living room. She looked around groggily, taking stock of her surroundings. Ok, window, bed, door, Willow lying with her head resting on my shoulder...


She looked down at the peacefully sleeping form, and remembered the events of the previous night. All-in-all, it hadn't turned out too bad, she thought, smiling. She heard the door open slowly, and saw Nichole poke her head in. One look at the sleeping couple, and Nichole was grinning like a Cheshire Cat.

Buffy frowned, and motioned Nichole out of the room with mock ferocity. "We'll be right out," she whispered, and was relieved when Nichole nodded and shut the door.

Buffy looked down at Willow. She hated to disturb her, but some things couldn't wait. "Hey, sleepyhead," she said, giving the redhead a gentle shake.

Willow groaned sleepily, and rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand. "Wha' 'me 's 't?" She asked...sort of.

"Eight o'clock." Buffy smiled. "Time to get up, Nichole and Chris are here."

Willow let out a tremendous yawn, and snuggled down onto Buffy's shoulder. "Don't wanna."

Ah, you're killing me here, Red, Buffy thought. Out loud, she said, "As much as I hate to say it, and believe me I do, it is time to get up. C'mon, we can do this more tonight."

"Promise?" Willow looked up at Buffy, an eagerness in her eyes that went straight to Buffy's heart and lodged there, firmly.

"Promise," Buffy answered, somewhat breathlessly.

"Ok, then," Willow said, jumping up out of bed. "I get first dibs on the bathroom!"

Buffy stared after Willow for a moment, and then groaned and covered her eyes with both hands. Shaking her head slightly, she whispered, "Oh yeah, you're definitely killing me, here."

Several minutes later, both young women emerged from the back and greeted Giles, Chris, and Nichole. Nichole was smirking, Buffy noticed, but it was a pleased, happy smirk. The Slayer shook her head. Weird.

"Well, I'm glad to see you two look so...well rested," Nichole said, barely suppressing a smile.

"Yes, there is something we are and it's well rested," Buffy responded, pouring some orange juice for Willow and herself. If Nichole could play this game, so can I, she thought.

Nichole decided to let it go for the moment. Turning to Willow, she said, "How are you feeling today?"

"Good." Willow pressed against the wounds which were now just fading scars. "Seems like everything healed up just fine."

"Glad to hear it," Nichole said, walking over. She pressed against Willow's side to make sure the wounds had healed internally, as well as externally. Nodding in satisfaction, she said, "I see no reason not to give you a clean bill of heal--" She cut herself off, staring down at Willow's burned arm. "What's that?"

Willow followed her gaze, and lifted her arm a little. "Oh, that. I just got a little burn last night..."

Nichole grabbed her arm, and looked at it more closely. "How did this happen?" Her voice was tightly controlled, but rage burned in her eyes.

"It's a long story," Willow said, bewildered at the peaceful Garou's reaction. "Why?"

"You'd better tell me," Nichole said. "This burn is Wyrm-tainted."

Part the Ninth

Willow looked as if she had been struck. "Wha...No, that's not possible." She looked at Buffy for support, and Buffy just looked back at her, sadly.

"How did this happen, Willow?" Nichole asked, her voice deathly quiet.

" was Oz, my ex-boyfriend." She felt numb, and stared at the burn as if she could make it disappear through willpower alone.

"What happened?" Nichole asked, looking to Buffy for help.

"Oz showed up last night," Buffy began, in a hushed voice. "He had been gone for a long time, he was off trying to deal with his werewolf side, and yesterday he showed up on the doorstep. He and Willow talked for a while, and then I heard Willow calling out that he was hurting her. I ran out here, and he had grabbed her forearm and was holding onto it. So I got him to let go, and threw him out."

"If he's Wyrm-tainted..." Chris trailed off, ominously.

"No!" Willow yelled, snatching her arm from Nichole's grasp. "He's not a bad person! He was just confused, he just needed help... He said he met someone, a hitchhiker in the New Mexico desert. That person took him back to some place called Caern, where he taught him how to control the change." Just like you taught me, Willow thought silently.

"A Caern," Nichole corrected, gently. "A place of spiritual power." She and Chris exchanged glances. "Only two tribes have Caerns in that area: Wendigo, who do not allow any non-Native Americans to join their tribe, and..."

"And Black Spiral Dancers," Chris finished.

"We've got to help him," Willow said, eyes filling with tears. "We can't just let him go on with them, we've got to find some way to help him."

Nichole looked at Willow, compassion and sadness evident in her eyes. "Willow," she said quietly, "there's only one way to help him, and that's to free him from his torment. Release him from this life, so he can go on to the next."

"You mean kill him," Willow said, flatly. She wiped her eyes, and stared at Nichole angrily. "I can't do that, and I won't let you do it, either."

Buffy stepped forward. "Will, we can't let him go if he's going to go on to hurt other people..."

"He won't," Willow said, drawing back. "He's not a bad person, he was just confused. There's got to be a cure." She looked at Chris, and pointed a finger at him accusingly. "You said that Garou can renounce their tribe. Choose another one. Well, we'll just give him the chance to do that."

Chris shook his head. "Willow, it isn't that easy in this case. When a werewolf becomes a Black Spiral, voluntarily or not, they're forced to go through a ritual which breaks their mind. It makes them insane, and makes them want to serve the Wyrm. Even if we could get through to him, he wouldn't want to change tribes, and his Wyrm-taint is so great that no tribe would have him anyway."

"So are you going to kill me?" Willow asked, brokenly. She held up her burned arm. "I have Wyrm-taint on me, too."

"No," Chris replied slowly, "We can cure that."

"So why can't you cure Oz?" Willow was starting to shake now, but whether it was from remorse, fear, or anger no one could tell.

"Because there's no way to remove the Wyrm-taint from a Black Spiral Dancer," Chris replied, losing his patience. "Even if we wanted to, we just can't cure them!"

"We can't," Nichole interrupted, softly. "But there might be beings that can."

Chris looked at Nichole, sharply. "That's insane, you're talking about..." He threw his hands up in the air in disgust.

"I'm talking about the Gurahl," Nichole finished.

Willow looked from Nichole, to Chris, and back again. "You know someone who can help us?"

Nichole shrugged. "I don't know, but if anyone can, they can."

"This is ludicrous!" Chris exclaimed. "Even if we can find a Gurahl, and even if we can get them to talk to us, there's no guarantee that they'll actually help us."

Buffy looked at the Garou, puzzled by the conversation. "What's a Gurahl?"

Nichole sighed. "Everyone should take a seat. This is a long story."

"A long time ago, long before the Wyrm was corrupted, all beings lived in peace with one another. There were many different kinds of were-folk back then. The Garou, or werewolves, were not the only members of the Changing Breeds; many other races straddled the line between animal and human.

"There were the Nuwisha, or Werecoyotes. Tricksters all, they forced us to question our ways through the use of pranks and practical jokes.

"There were the Corax, or Wereravens. They were the spies and messengers of the Changing Breeds.

"There were the Bastet, or Werecats. As cats do, they watch and protect, and have an insatiable curiosity for knowledge and secrets.

"There were the Ratkin, or Wererats. They were the shepherds of mankind, both protecting the cities from the Wyrm, and holding check on the human population to make sure it didn't get out of control.

"There were the Moloke, or Werealligators. They protected the swamps and deepest jungles from harm.

"There were the Rokea, or Weresharks. As the Moloke did in the swamps, the Rokea protected the deep oceans from harm.

"There were the Anasasi, or Werespiders. Servants of the Weaver, they were the builders of the Changing Breeds.

"And there were the Gurahl, or Werebears. Perhaps the Changing Breed that was closest to Gaia, the Gurahl were peaceful folk who grew adept at healing the land, the other Breeds, and each other. Their skill grew so great that it was said that they knew the secrets of life and death, and could raise creatures from the dead using their Spirit Gifts.

"There were many other Changing Breeds as well, and all lived together in peace.

"Then the Wyrm became Corrupted, and began sending His minions out to destroy life, to bring it under His dominion. The Changing Breeds worked together for awhile, and enjoyed great success in their fight against the Wyrm. The Garou were Gaia's warriors, the Corax were Her spies, the Bastet were Her guardians, and the Gurahl were Her healers.

"And then came the War of Rage.

"Few know how it started. Legend has it that the Garou, particularly the Silver Fang Tribe which ruled over the others, demanded that the other were-breeds bow to them, and obey their orders in the war against the Wyrm. After all, the Garou were Gaia's chosen warriors, it seemed only right that the other breeds obey.

"But they didn't see it that way, of course. The other breeds refused, and the Garou, believing that if the other breeds turned against them they must be allies with the Wyrm, began to war against the other were-folk.

"It was our darkest time. We lost many of the advantages and gifts that we had received from our peaceful co-existence with the other breeds, and many innocent were-folk on all sides were needlessly slaughtered. All because the Garou could not contain their Rage, nor their vanity."

Nichole fell silent; the others sat stock-still. Finally, Buffy broke the silence. "I guess the Garou haven't always been the happy-go-lucky pups you are now, huh?"

Chris snorted. "Still aren't. There are still a lot of us that can think of nothing else than building up their own renown, or capturing power however they can, even if it means flirting dangerously close to the Wyrm. The Garou have made a lot of stupid moves over the years, and the War of Rage was just one of them."

"So these Gurahl, these werebears, can help us?" Willow said, quietly.

Nichole shrugged. "It's possible. After the War of Rage, the Gurahl withdrew from the world, hiding themselves away in remote locations where they wouldn't be bothered by man or Garou. They are peaceful, though, and I doubt they would hurt you if you went looking for one. I can't tell if they'd help you or not, but they probably wouldn't hurt you."

"Forget it." Chris shook his head, vehemently. "There's no way. Willow is far too young and untested a pup to go searching for a Gurahl. And what if the Black Spiral comes back? Are we supposed to tell him, 'Oh, just take a seat there, Willow will be back shortly to make everything better.' He'll try to kill us. The only thing we can do is put him down--"

"Listen, you bastard," Willow said, teeth clenched. "You're talking about my friend, the person who at one time I was in love with. If there's anything at all I can do to help him, I'm going to do it. And if you try to stop me, it will be your tribe that I'm going to renounce." Ignoring Chris's shocked look, she sat back, arms folded across her chest.

Nichole stepped between the two before Chris's Rage could kick in. "Ok, listen. Chris, you know as well as I do that every pup has to undergo a quest before they receive the Rite of Passage and become a full member of the tribe. I can't think of a better or more useful quest right now, to be perfectly honest."

Chris opened his mouth to speak, and then closed it again. He couldn't argue with the truthfulness of her words.

Nichole relaxed a bit. "I can speak with the Wyld-spirits in the area, see if I can get a general location on the closest Gurahl. After that, it will be up to Willow." She turned to face the young redhead. "Generally, the quest is given to an entire pack of Garou, but you are just one lone person. I don't think it's unreasonable for you to take at least one other person with you, for assistance." She shot Chris a look, but the Glass Walker just nodded.

Willow glanced at her best friend. "Buffy?"

Buffy nodded immediately. "I'd go anywhere with you, Will." She glanced over at Giles. "Think you could handle patrol for a couple weeks?"

"I think so, yes," Giles answered. "I'll get Xander and Spike to help me."

"Well, then, it's settled," Nichole said, with some satisfaction.

"Not so fast," Chris said, sourly. "What happens if laughing boy shows up?"

"We're going to have to capture him until we return," Buffy said, matter-of-factly. "How do you deal with prisoners among your kind? I'm assuming you don't kill them all."

Chris gave Buffy a sarcastic look. "We use a fetish, which is a magical talisman that has had a spirit bound within it. It's a pair of manacles which traps the wearer in Homid form, making him both weaker and easier to manage. I could, presumably, have a pair here by tomorrow morning if I tell them to FedEx it Priority."

"Modern technology, gotta love it," Buffy remarked. "Ok, then, sounds like we've all got a plan."

Buffy sighed, closing the door behind Nichole after she left. "Well, that was a lot of fun," she remarked.

Willow smiled crookedly, rubbing a pink spot on her arm. That was the only evidence left that there had once been a bad burn there; Nichole had healed the Wyrm-taint, and new skin began to grow in its place.

"Will, I gotta ask you," Buffy said, slowly walking toward her friend. "This whole thing with Oz...Is it really worth it?"

"Don't, Buffy." Willow shook her head. "You of all people should understand. Oz is our friend..."

"Yeah, but he's evil now. He doesn't even remember our friendship, or he doesn't care. He doesn't want to be helped, and we may not even be able to help him."

"Maybe we can't," Willow said, earnestly. "But we can't sit here and do nothing. He needs our help whether he asks for it or not... Whether he knows it or not."

"But, Will, we may have no choice--"

"If we don't have a choice, then we'll kill him!" Willow said, looking Buffy in the eye, her expression angry. "Or have you forgotten Angel? We didn't stop looking for a way to give him back his soul, even though we thought maybe it wasn't possible. Even though he killed the people we loved, and sent some of us to the hospital."

Buffy winced, Willow's harsh words opening up old wounds. She dropped her head, and said quietly, "I know, Will. I'm the one who tried to kill him, who sent him to Hell even after he got his soul back, remember?" She turned abruptly and walked to the window, looking out on the sunlit lawn beyond, her expression unreadable.

Oh, God, Willow thought, that was uncalled for. She walked up behind the Slayer, and gently rested her hands on Buffy's shoulders. Her friend immediately stiffened under her touch. "I'm sorry, Buffy. I...I didn't mean for it to sound like that. I'm scared." Her head drooped, and she rested her forehead against Buffy's shoulder. "A part of me wishes that Oz hadn't come back, that I could go on thinking he was ok, that he was just out there, somewhere, doing his own thing. But he did come back, and I have to help him. I don't love him anymore, but he is a part of my life, and rightly or wrongly I feel some responsibility."

Buffy turned and wrapped her arms around Willow, drawing her into a close hug. The redhead, not expecting this act of forgiveness, of love, began crying with relief. Shoulders shaking, she allowed Buffy to tighten her grip around her.

"Shhh, it's ok, Will," Buffy said, quietly. "I understand. And don't worry, I'll help you no matter what happens."

Willow smiled, and wrapped her arms around the Slayer. "Thank you," she whispered.

Buffy kissed the top of Willow's head, and said, "Guess we got some planning to do, huh? I'm not sure what to pack, I've never been the outdoorsy type." She moved one hand up under Willow's chin and lifted her head up so she could see her face. Gently brushing away her tears, Buffy swallowed around the lump in her throat that had formed from seeing her friend's beautiful, tear-stained face.

Willow looked up and met Buffy's eyes with her own. Those eyes... they mesmerized her, made it impossible for her to feel sad, or alone. They were eyes that said, you have nothing to fear, I'll always be here for you. "You always support me, Buffy," she whispered. "Even though I don't always deserve it. You've always been there for me." She reached up a tentative hand, to cup Buffy's cheek. Buffy's eyelids closed slowly, and the Slayer leaned into the caress. "I love you, Buffy."

Buffy opened her eyes, and looked down at her best friend, the person she loved more than any other. "I love you too, Willow." Whether she leaned down or Willow reached up, no one could tell, but at that moment their lips met.

The kiss was gentle and tentative, as if neither one were sure that this is what the other wanted. Willow brought her hands up, cupping the back of Buffy's head, deepening the kiss. Buffy, in turn, brought her arms around Willow's waist, holding her closely to her. Long moments went by, moments where nothing else in the world existed for the pair except each other.

Finally, they broke the kiss. Foreheads touching, each young woman noticed the labored breathing of the other. As one, they smiled. Speech became unnecessary, and superfluous.

Willow took Buffy's hands in her own, led her into the back bedroom, and closed the door.

Forward to chapter 10
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