Making with the Machiavellian Manipulation

Dread spread slowly through her body like warm molasses as she stood, transfixed, at the sight of blood on Buffy's bed. Quickly she shook herself free of her stupor and rushed towards the bed shouting Buffy's name. First her index and middle finger swept towards the side of her neck as she felt for a pulse. After one minute she pulled back her fingers, now wet and sticky with cold blood, and stared open-mouthed at the body in shock.

There had been no pulse. Buffy was… dead?

Eyes brimming with tears, Willow moved listlessly to grab the phone. However, her action was interrupted by the most unlikely person.

"Whatcha doin', Will?"

Willow froze at the sound and slowly pivoted to face the voice. The phone slipped from her fingers where it crashed loudly against the floor as she stared in shock. "Buff-Buffy?" she rasped, her words barely escaping the confines of her mouth due to an overwhelming amount of grief, shock, and rising hope.

"Willow, what's wrong? Why are you crying?" Buffy asked in concern as she rushed over towards her. The blond was wearing jeans, calf-high boots, and a black top – patrolling clothes, Willow realized.

"Did Laura scare you? When I left about three I found her in the hallway locked out of her room and told her that she could crash here since I knew I'd be out late with this nest I was looking for." Buffy's eyes were drawn to the subject of her words and the slayer's eyes widened in surprise. With a sudden movement she went to the bed and rolled the girl over before jumping back in surprise. Laura, their across the hall neighbor, had her throat ripped out on Buffy's bed.

"What happened?" Buffy asked Willow in alarm.

"I don't know," Willow shook her head. "I just got back. I-I thought it was you," she gave Buffy a mournful look that was tinged with relief.

Buffy swallowed heavily as she squeezed her best friend's hand. "I'll call the police," she informed her in a voice deadened by guilt. After all, it did not take a detective to see that the murder in Buffy's bed had not been meant for Laura.

MissKF-IfYourNasty MissKF-IfYourNasty MissKF-IfYourNasty

Miss Kitty Fantastico played comically with a ball of string that managed to wrapped itself loosely around her body as she swatted at it on the floor of Tara's room. Her carefree antics covered up dark and malevolent thoughts as she listened intensely to Willow and Tara's low voices.

"And you say her throat was ripped out?"

"Yeah," Willow informed her glumly. "But the weird part is the door was still locked."

Tara rested her head on Willow's shoulder in a sign of comfort. "Does Buffy know what did it?"

Willow paused. "Well, she doesn't know but she," Willow's eyes glanced at Miss Kitty Fantastico before she met Tara's. "She thinks it's Miss Kitty Fantastico."

"What?" Tara exclaimed in a hushed whisper of surprise.

Willow nodded her head fervently. "I know, crazy! I mean, sure she has claws but they are just cute kitty cat claws – I can't see them doing that kind of damage. Plus, she's our kitty! Totally normal and loveable – no way would she try to kill Buffy. And she was locked in our room last night!"

Miss Kitty Fantastico felt the unwelcome warmth of two sets of eyes watching her every cute move.

"Well, she did try to attack Buffy at Mr. Giles' house," Tara said after a thoughtful moment.

"Tara! Don't tell me you agree with Buffy? That's crazy. She was just angry at being cooped up, nothing more," Willow countered passionately.

Tara nibbled delicately on her lower lip. "I don't know, Will. Maybe we should, um, do a diagnostic spell and just double check that she's only a cat."

Using a well-practiced move, Miss Kitty Fantastico caught Willow's eyes and pushed a thought at her before returning to her game of unravel the ball of string.

"No, Tara. She's just an innocent 'lil kitty. We don't need to do a spell on her," Willow stated with a resolute 'Resolve Face'.

Tara's long lashes brushed her skin as she blinked in surprise. "But Will, it really won't be too hard. I'm sure there is something we can find at the Magic Shop to help us."

"No, Tara. No spells, okay?" Willow stated strongly.

Her head lowered, Tara frowned as Miss Kitty Fantastico leapt into Willow's lap and began rubbing her face against the girl's hand and purring. As she gazed at their cat something felt wrong to Tara… Because the cat was giving her a Cheshire grin that made the hair on her arms stand up straight.

MissKF-IfYourNasty MissKF-IfYourNasty MissKF-IfYourNasty

Several days later an upset Tara was browsing the various dishes in the dining hall as she searched for some comfort food that would calm her nerves. Grimacing to herself she quickly picked up some fried chicken and an extra big slice of chocolate cake before heading to the register. As she looked for a place to sit she saw Buffy waving her hand wildly as she sat at a table with her boyfriend, Riley. Surprised, Tara glanced behind her before she realized that Buffy was trying to get her attention. Suddenly feeling like a little girl on the first day of school, Tara walked slowly over towards their table as an overwhelming amount of shyness crashed within her like a troubled sea.

"Hey Tara! You've met my boyfriend Riley, right?" Buffy greeted her cheerfully.

"Hi Tara," Riley said with a small wave.

"He-hey," Tara said to them both with a small smile. "How are you guys?" Being around Willow's friends was always nerve wracking. Tara was always afraid of making a bad impression because she knew how much they meant to Willow. Plus, Tara was always afraid that if they knew the truth about her and Willow they would hate and judge her.

"So, how are you? You looked kinda glum up there," Buffy inquired as she took a bite of her apple. Although she spoke lightly, Tara could feel here eyes studying her intensely.

"Oh, um, well, I'm okay."

"Just okay? If I gave you a penny for your thoughts I bet I could send you to a shopping spree in Beverly Hills," Buffy said with a raised brow.

"It's just, well, have you seen Willow lately?"

"No," Buffy frowned. "Since our room is a crime scene the university had to move us and we wound up in separate rooms in Stevenson. 'Course, they are both single rooms so that is kinda neat – after Kathy I'm so over random roomies."

"Oh, okay." Tara was nervous about discussing her thoughts with Buffy. After all, she was the slayer. What if it was all her imagination and she needlessly involved Buffy?

"Tara?" Buffy said softly. "What's wrong?"

"I don't know, you might think I'm crazy," she began nervously.

"Tara," Buffy said with a smile and a laugh. "You know what Riley and I do for a living – we're kinda hard to surprise."

"Very true," Riley added with a grin.

"Right, well." Tara wasn't sure where to start. "You know Miss Kitty Fantastico?"

"Oh, you mean Miss Kitty Bitchy who tried to claw my eyes out?" Buffy asked with a wry smile. "What about her?"

"I feel like something's different with her. She's normally really sweet but she's been kind of cold and uncaring towards me lately. Like, she never lets me pet her or anything. And I think she's," and Tara paused because this was the 'crazy' part, "I think she's manipulating Willow. In fact, now Willow is keeping Miss Kitty Fantastico with her in her new room. Plus, Willow's been acting really different towards me lately too; she hasn't been answering my phone calls."

"Well that is strange," Buffy frowned. "Especially because Willow hasn't been hanging out with us since we had to move rooms. I just assumed she was with you a lot doing Wiccan things. Why do you think that she's manipulating Willow?"

"I don't know," Tara chewed on her lip. "It's just weird to even think it possible that a cat could suddenly transform into this mean little thing but I just feel like Willow won't listen to any of my concerns. Every time I bring it up she ignores it and then Miss Kitty Fantastico is off purring in her lap."

"I had barn cats on our farm in Iowa. They're odd animals and it really isn't that weird for them to be kind of bitchy, to be honest," Riley inputted thoughtfully.

"Yes, but then again your cats were in Iowa and this is the Hellmouth," Buffy said as a look of comprehension dawned on her face. She turned to Tara. "There is definitely something wrong with that cat, I bet. Maybe she is making with the Machiavellian manipulation and messing with Willow."

Tara raised her eyebrows at the use of such a typical 'college phrase'. Willow always said that Buffy was smart on top of her Valley Girl image – apparently she did pay attention in class.

"Plus, some animal killed Laura and even though the morgue dude said it looked more like a cougar attack – like that would happen," she rolled her eyes, "maybe it was a smaller cousin. So," Buffy added with a look in Tara's direction, "we should take her to Giles and he can examine her?"

"Just as long as you don't slay her. I mean, what if she is just an innocent but bratty kitty? I would hate to do anything ha-hasty," Tara quickly said.

"Gotcha. No kitty slayage until we know for sure if she's evil or not," Buffy nodded with a grim smile. "Now let's go find Willow."

To Be Continued…