Title: It Already Is (2/2)
Character(s): Buffy, Oz, Willow, Giles
Author's Notes: Please see the previous chapter for summary, disclaimer, notes, etc.
"Oz, what do you mean she collapsed?" Giles shouted into the telephone.
"Buffy was taking pictures at our gig for her photography class. She decided to take some of the instruments while were between sets. I saw her water bottle down on the floor, so I offered it to her. When she reached for it, she just kept going. I caught her shoulders, so she didn't hit her head or anything, but she's out cold."
Giles stared at his phone. Silence reigned on the other end. After a moment he collected himself. "Where is she now, Oz?"
"My place. After the dorm, it's the closest."
"See if you can bring her here please. Do you need Xander to help you?"
"I can manage, Giles. Be there in fifteen."
"Good." He hung up then pulled the glasses from his face. Buffy. Collapsed? That was disturbing. And though for the most part he'd been his usual taciturn self, even Oz had sounded put off. That short synopsis he'd given Giles had been spoken with leashed emotion.
Fifteen minutes later, he and the others found out why. By the time Oz had carried Buffy to the couch, Willow, Tara, and Xander were sitting in the living room. With Joyce still in the hospital, Spike and Anya had been sent to babysit Dawn. Or Anya and Dawn were babysitting Spike. Giles didn't much care which way it was working out, so long as the two most immature members of their group were being overseen.
"So you're saying that Buffy had been lightheaded and dizzy earlier?" Xander said.
"And it didn't seem strange then?"
"It did, but Buffy brushed it off as momentary."
Giles waved his glasses in Oz's direction. "And you believed her?"
Oz leveled his gaze on the elder man. "She sat down too hard and she tripped on her feet. What's not to believe?"
"And there was no way of waking her?"
"You see I tried the glass of cold water to the face."
"Indeed." Sighing, Giles remembered the lingering dampness on Buffy's v-neck blouse and the water that had still been clinging to her hair when Oz brought her in. "Any other unusual behavior?"
Oz thought for a moment. He shook his head.
Giles turned. "What about you, Willow?"
"Um, well..." Tara, sitting beside her, leaned over to whisper in her ear. Willow smoothed her skirt. "I wasn't going to mention this but Tara thinks it's a good point."
"That Buffy sleeps a lot these days. Not just college student sleep, but, like, I-party-hearty-till-the-break-of-dawn sleep."
Frowning, Giles said, "This semester's been no bed of roses, but I don't know that it's been that bad."
"I don't think so either!"
Tara nodded in agreement. "I mean, sometimes she stays late at the photo lab, but otherwise her schedule isn't that bad, you know?" She glanced around the gathered Scoobies, scarcely willing to meet their eyes.
Visibly restraining himself from reacting to Tara's body language, Oz turned from her and said, "She mentioned trying to make sure she was home in time to have dinner with Dawn and help her with her homework when we were figuring out the dates for her to come see the band."
Giles frowned. "So it's not her schedule. We're missing something."
"Wake-up pills for Buffy," Xander muttered under his breath. Louder, he said, "Anything freaky going on with the faculty this year?"
Eyebrows drawn together, Willow said, "I'm pretty sure my lab teacher's assistant is a Karda demon." She threw up her hands as everyone started, alarmed. "Which are fairly harmless! They're perfectionists, though, so if it had done this to Buffy it would have happened in a clean-room or something equally anal."
Xander frowned. "Seriously?"
"If anyone dies in that class it'll be because they didn't wipe up the splattered water from their work area."
"When did she start looking run down?" Oz interjected.
The girls consulted. "Mid semester?" "I guess so." "But it's not even midterms yet?" "Buffy doesn't usually get crazy until just before..." "I know so..."
"So it's something else."
Giles pulled off his glasses. "Anything new happen around that time?"
Willow and Tara thought about it for a moment, sometimes looking at each other, but mostly lost in their own thoughts. "Well, except for the camera," Willow said eventually.
"What's this about a camera?"
"Buffy needed one for her photography class, a professional one, and she was all worried, y'know, because it would be an extra expense and all," Willow said. "I don't know if she mentioned it to her professor or if he overheard her or what, but he offered to let her use his."
Frowning, Oz said, "That old fashioned one she's been using?"
"Giles, an object like a camera be cursed, right?"
"Absolutely. Certainly we've dealt with our fair share of cursed items over the years. I know they've usually been something of value, but nearly any inanimate object can be cursed."
"Lots of animate ones, too."
All eyes turned to Willow.
She colored. "What? It's true!"
Xander spoke for all of them when he said, "But not what we were expecting hear, Wills."
"Children! Can we focus on Buffy?" Grim-faced, Giles eyed Willow and Xander in turn. "So it sounds like we believe it was the camera. Yes? There's no evidence pointing to an alternative source?"
A look was passed around the young people. Willow said, "It looks that way. She's my roomie, and other than the camera nothing especially strange or special has happened lately. Just, y'know, regular spooky."
Tentatively raising her hand, Tara said, "But why would her professor give Buffy a cursed camera?"
Giles shrugged. "It's always possible he didn't know."
"We should ask him," Oz said. He turned to Willow. "Do you know who her photography prof is?"
She nodded. "Sure. I've picked her up from class a few times, and Buffy's always said his office is nearby. It's pretty late now. Wanna go by there tomorrow?"
He wanted to find the man now, but said nothing, nodding instead. "What do we do about Buffy in the meantime?"
Giles sighed. "She seems stable enough. If it were one of you, I'd have rushed her to hospital by now. I say we give it a few more hours and take it from there."
Willow pointed at the next corner. "Uh, that left there, to the interior of the building. His office is at the end of that hall. So that was really nice of you, staying with Giles until Buffy woke up."
Oz shrugged. "Woulda done it for anyone."
"I know. But still..." She bumped his shoulder with her own, and was pleased when a small smile crossed his face. "So she was looking pretty good when you left her?"
He nodded. "For the most part. Not at all ready to slay yet, though."
Willow bit her lower lip. "That's kinda worrying."
They hit the corner and made the left. The hallway dead-ended there, branched to the left and right. "It's somewhere down one of those corridors." Willow pointed with her chin, tugging on the hem of her denim jacket. "They're both short and they dead-end in rooms, so at least it won't take long to figure out."
"Oh, you must be way tired, Oz! This is monosyllabic, even for you. I wish I'd thought about it. I would have brought you some of the coffee Tara made for me."
That got her a grunt.
"You're... You're not still..."
"Mad about Tara?" He glanced at Willow—who was worrying her lip. Oz shrugged. "Part of me will never be glad about it. There's a part of me that will always belong to you."
"That's...not really an answer, Oz."
"I know. I'll take this end-" He indicated the right. "You take the other, okay?"
"Yeah. Sure." Willow's was the correct end of the hall, and she called out to Oz to join her. "Look! Office hours!" She pointed at a printed sign taped to the door for a Professor Grundley. "And he's in." She was beaming until she noticed Oz's frown. "What?"
"No one's in there."
"Uh, bathroom break?"
Oz sniffed in a very obvious, noisy way that Willow might have found strange if she hadn't known he was a werewolf. He shook his head. "I don't think so. We're not the first people to be in this hallway, but none of the scents are recent. And I'm pretty sure none of them are his."
Now Willow frowned. "But you've never met him. How do you know what he smells like?"
"I don't. Not for sure. I'm guessing that Buffy's camera smells like him. At least a little. So I'm going off that."
"No, there's some scent here." Oz sniffed again. "But it's old."
Willow's eyebrows drew together in speculation. "Just how old?"
He met her eyes. "Day and a half?"
"Let's go talk to Giles."
"I think we should take a look in his office first. Or maybe the dark room."
About to turn and go back down the hall, Willow paused. "Do you think there'll be some evidence that he's low-down and dirty?"
Oz shrugged. "One way to find out." He grabbed the professor's door handle and twisted the hardware out of the wood.
Willow beamed. "Buffy would be so proud."
The door swung open to reveal an average sized office, full to bursting with books, papers, trays and glass bottles sitting on top of two tables that would have looked more at home in a one of the science labs. Oz took a tentative step inside, Willow following closely behind. A few more steps in without incident and they weren't so cautious. Stopping suddenly, Oz closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Held it. Took another.
"Whatcha got there, boy?"
Oz tossed Willow a dirty look.
She winced. "Sorry! Sorry. But...well..."
He nodded. "This way." Moving confidently, despite the mess, he led her further into the cramped room.
Willow gasped when Oz placed his hand on the handle of another door. "Where'd that come from?"
"What do you mean?"
"That door. That wasn't there a minute ago."
Oz frowned. "Sure it was."
"Nuh uh. I may occasionally suffer from foot-in-mouth disease, but I passed my last vision test with flying letters over a very small red house." Willow gestured to the door with her chin. "That was just another wall. It even had sticky notes on it!"
"Yes, really! Didn't you see it?"
Oz shook his head. "I had my eyes closed."
"Wonder what happens if I..." Oz released the round knob and stepped back from the door.
"Henh." Where there had been a door was another dingy white wall with Willow's sticky notes. Oz reached for the door handle again. The door reappeared. He looked back at Willow. "What do you think?"
"Might not have anything to do with Buffy, but it doesn't look good, does it?"
He shook his head.
"Think we should check it out?"
"Unless you want to go back for reinforcements."
"Nah. I'm sure we'll be fine."
"Willow, it's okay-"
"Pfft! What's he going to do, bite our heads off? That kind of stuff only happens to Xander."
Oz frowned. "Good point." He pushed open the door.
And went down to his knees when a light boom connected with his skull.
"Who are you!" the boom wielder shouted. He was young. Maybe only a couple of years older then they were. "You can't have it! I won't give her up!
"What are you-"
Oz was on his feet and snarling before Willow could finish. He rushed the shouter, pushing him back and back and back until they rammed into a far wall.
"What are you?" The man's voice trembled.
"I should ask you that." Oz's voice was dark and thick with too many teeth. When Willow finally made it to their side, she could see how black his eyes had become. She started to reach for him, but pulled back.
He slammed the man into the wall again. Plaster and paint chips rained down on them all. "Who are you?"
"P-professor Grundley's s-son. I'm his son!"
"You're the only person that's been here for two days-"
"How do you know that?"
"-who are you?"
"I told you-"
Oz slammed him into the wall again. "You're lying."
"Oz!" Willow did reach for him. "Don't kill him."
Wide-eyed, the man looked at Willow.
"What? I don't mind if he hurts you some." She crossed her arms under her breasts. "Apparently you're a liar."
"What did you do to Buffy?" Oz asked, snarling.
This time chunks of the wall came down. Oz turned to look at Willow. "That should be hurting him more than it is."
Willow nodded, eyes narrowed. "A lot more." But the man only winced. "What are you?"
"Tell me what your boyfriend is and maybe I'll share."
"He's not my boyfriend." "We're not dating." Willow and Oz answered simultaneously. The question seemed to make Oz angrier. "What. Did you do. To Buffy Summers?" He took his time to enunciate, applying more pressure with each word he spoke.
Now the man turned red. Now he cried out. "I don't know who you're talking about."
Something in his shoulder creaked. He screamed.
Willow took in a sharp breath. "Oz..."
"Tell me," he pressed as if she hadn't spoken.
"I just gave her the camera! I gave her the camera."
"But," Willow began, "Buffy said her professor gave it to her."
"I am her professor, you idi—Aaah!"
"Oz! Oz, don't hurt him that much!" Willow flitted around the two men. "Oz, if he passes out he can't tell us what happened with Buffy."
That at least seemed to get through. Oz released the pressure and the man, Professor Grundley, dropped to the floor. He curled into a ball, trying to protect his wounded shoulder. "What did you do! Do you know how much energy this one took? I never thought I'd get someone so strong and you've gone and broken my shoulder!" he screamed.
Willow grabbed his arm, surprised and scared of the coiled muscle she found there. "We need him. We need him."
When he turned to look at her, his eyes were still black, but the extra teeth were gone. Grim-faced, he nodded. Oz bent down and grabbed Professor Grundley by his good arm. "What did you do to Buffy and how do we fix it."
"I told you. I... Ah this hurts... I gave her the camera."
"And what does the camera do?"
"It transfers the energy of the user to another source, like the picture or a location."
"Or to you."
"Yes, to me."
"How do we fix it?"
"Oz. Oz, where are you—? Willow! W-what's going on?" Giles demanded as both Willow and Oz barreled past him and into the living room. "Where is Oz going? What are you two doing?"
"I've got it!" Willow help up the old-fashioned camera. She wrestled it out of its carrying bag. "Where do you wanna do it?"
Oz shook his head. "Don't think it matters."
"Use the van?"
He nodded. "Sounds good."
They sprinted back out again.
"What in the name of all..." Shaking his head, Giles followed them out.
Oz had already climbed into his van, but Willow was crouched near the front tires. She popped up and gave Oz the okay. He turned the key in the ignition, shifted into Drive, and very deliberately rolled forward.
The crunch and crack of glass, wood and metal was loud on Giles' quiet street. He turned to Willow. "Did Oz just crush Buffy's camera."
"I take it then that our earlier conjecture was right. It was the camera."
Willow nodded sharply. "Yup."
"And did the professor know?"
Willow rocked back on her heels. "Unfortunately. Seems like he uses it to steal the vitality from the people he lends it to. He kinda hit the jackpot with Buffy."
Giles snorted. "I just bet he did. How did you stop him? Why didn't you return for reinforcement?"
"Uh...Oz was kinda able to persuade him."
Frowning, Giles looked down at Willow who was very attentively watching Oz roll back and forth over the already flat camera. "Should I ask...?"
"Oh! He's alive. He may never use his right shoulder again, but, uh, I'm sure it's nothing a doctor can't fix."
"He's alright, Giles. I swear. Would I lie to you. About this!" she quickly tacked on.
Giles' frown remained in place, but eventually he sighed, his shoulder slumping. "I shall check on Buffy then. Seeing as the destruction of that camera should help to alleviate her illness, please make certain that no part of it survives?"
"On it!" The last thing Giles saw before he turned to go inside was Willow striding forward, purple and gold skirt twining around her calves as she called out to Oz. "Hey, how many was that?"
Gesturing for him to stop, Willow waited until the van stopped moving before hopping inside. "What say we make it an even ten?"
"Sounds good." Oz put the van into gear.
"That was kinda scary. Back in Grundley's office."
Oz took his eyes off the road to look at her. "Didn't mean to scare you. Guess I was more concerned than I realized."
"Yeah. Tell me about it." She studied her hands for a couple of passes, before saying, "So, like, everything's under control, right? That wasn't a sign of impending wolfiness, was it?"
Oz put the van in Park. "Well...we are about a week from the full moon. So my control is less than ideal. But I don't expect to get into anymore situations quite like this any time soon either."
Willow nodded. "Yeah. I mean how often do people try to kill Buffy anyway?" She scrunched up her nose. "Maybe that wasn't a good question."
Oz smiled, putting the car back into Drive. He rolled forward. "It wasn't the kill so much as hurt. Buffy's life is on the line a lot. Mostly, though, they just want her dead. There's usually less usury involved."
"And that makes ten."
"Oh. Yay." Willow did a little chair-dance. "Um, so...do you still...do you still worry about me like that?"
Oz turned to face Willow. "You mean enough to go wolfy at inappropriate times?"
He didn't answer. He stared and he stared and he stared at her. But he said nothing.
Oz righted himself in his seat and parked the van. "Let's go see how Buffy's doing."
Walking to her house, the late afternoon sun sifting through the bright green of spring leaves, Buffy bumped her hip against Oz's. "So thanks for not only rescuing me from a nasty goose-egg when I collapsed, but also from the clutches of an evil professor."
He shrugged. "No big."
"Ha! No big he says. Ha! Ha ha ha." Buffy spun on her heel, walking backwards so she could face Oz. "I appreciate it. Especially the goose-egg part." She touched the back of skull as if the wound had formed after all. "Do you know how hard it is to sleep with one of those things growing back there?"
"It's a shame about Professor Grundley, though. I mean, not just the evil soul-stealing stuff. 'Cause that's always not-a-good-time, but now, like, all those awesome pictures I took of the band. Nowheresville. I'll never be able to make it up to Kyle." She turned around to walk right again.
"Kyle won't mind. Much."
Buffy snorted. "Uh huh, sure. I just bet." They stopped in front of the house, dark and quiet and obviously unoccupied. "Dawnie must still be with Anya and Spike at the Magic Box. She didn't go to a friend's after school, did she?"
"Not that I know of." Oz shrugged. "Doubtful, all things considered. Likely Giles didn't have a chance to tell them you were okay before we left his place."
"Yeah, he was all let's-research-evil-artifact happy last time I saw him."
"Wanna grab something? My treat."
Buffy's face lit up. "After the last two days, I could definitely eat. Especially now that I'm so well rested. But you don't have to pay. I've got money. Somewhere."
Oz shrugged. "Just...feel like treating."
"Yay!" Buffy grinned, and Oz couldn't help but smile, too.