Chapter Eleven: Killing Things

"Hello, my name is Willow Rosenberg, and I'm a magic addict."

"Hi Willow." The circle greeted her. There were three men and four women of various ages in the group, as well as what Willow was fairly certain was some kind of ghost. After three sessions she was starting to feel more at ease opening up to the odd hodge-podge of spellcasters. It was comforting to know that she wasn't alone in her struggles against the lure of casting.

"It's been thirty days since my last spell." She shuddered at the thought before composing herself. "It hasn't all been easy. There have been things, dangerous things like mad scientists and demons… no offense." Willow said to the hunched over baby faced blonde 'woman' across from her.

"None taken." The demon woman said holding her speech enabler to her tracheotomy hole.

"Anyway, there have been things that I wished I could use my magic for, but I've been trying to do things the right way, the hard way. It feels weird going back to forensic chemistry and hacking after just doing things lickety split with a spell. After we raided the mad scientist's lair we found all these artifacts and spell scrolls, and I had to practically tie myself up not to tear into them."

"I've been there." A man in green nodded. "A new grimoire comes out and I just have to get it."

"I'm lucky I've got a good support network. My best friend helped clear out the all the magic stuff in our house. She really gets what I'm going through, and she's been way more forgiving than I deserve." Some of the others smiled at Willow's good fortune, but a couple looked jealous.

"My other best friend's fiancée wanted me to stop for a long time, and she's still really upset I let it get this far. Mostly because I promised to do the decorating for their wedding reception and now I can't. And she's mad on behalf of my girl… ex-girlfriend. I really hurt her most of all. Well, next to my best friend's little sister. It feels like she's coming around though, like she believes I want to get better. I think I'm going to be making it up to her for the rest of my life, but I've got to."

"I almost had a relapse a couple days ago. A witch friend of mine found out I was trying to quit and juiced me with her power. It was so difficult not to give in, like I was fighting with my own body. To make it worse, that night my best friend was fighting a demon that was eating workers at the Doublemeat Palace and she got paralyzed by its saliva. It took all my willpower not to unleash my mojo on it. I get worried, you know. Like what if things get bad, really bad and there's no way out but magic?"

"I'm hearing a lot of guilt Willow," the rather rotund woman leading the group said, "It's understandable that you feel guilt for the mistakes you've made. But you're just setting yourself up for failure if you start feeling guilty for things that might happen."

There were murmurs of agreement from around the circle.

"What would you have done about the demon before you learned magic?" A tall woman in a trench coat asked her.

"What I ended up doing, knocking it out and stuffing it into the meat grinder." Willow said. "I'm just not so good with the hand to hand combat stuff. It's why I started learning witchcraft in the first place."

"Do you feel like you don't have anything to contribute without the magic? I know I feel like that a lot." The man in green shared.

"Absolutely." Willow said. "But I have to remind myself that I'm good at other things, like computers and chemistry. I'm just kind of rusty after using magic as a crutch for so long."

"And those things don't have that rush." A short dark haired man grumbled in a quiet voice. His neighbors shifted uncomfortably.

"Well, now that we've all done individual sharing, let's get to group topics." The group leader said, pulling over her clipboard. "Do we have any suggestions for a name to replace 'Spellcasters Anonymous'?"

Elsewhere Spike and Buffy had missed the bed again and ended up beneath the rugs. They bantered for a bit before the Slayer remembered the time.

"You know, it's late. I should get home before Dawn goes to sleep. Have you seen my underwear?"

Spike leaned over to check the floor to their right, and Buffy saw imprints from her teeth in his shoulder. It sent a shiver through her, and not one of arousal. It scared her to see evidence of how animalistic she was behaving. She found her underwear after a search beneath the carpet and excused herself, somewhat anxious.

Buffy was left alone with her thoughts on her way home. She was still shaken by the sight of the bite marks. It wasn't like her; at least it wasn't like the way she wanted to see herself. Being aggressively sexual and just plain aggressive with a vampire she wasn't even willing to call her boyfriend, what kind of sicko freak did that?

Taken on its own that was worrying enough, but coupled with her near death wish it was frightening. What Spike had said last year about Slayers and their desire for an end had resonated with her, and despite what Kendra had said she knew it was something all her predecessors that had lived any appreciable length of time had felt as well. But her own longing for death had been coupled with months of intense revulsion for her closest friends, and all from something that hadn't even happened to her properly, just to a her in another reality. That wasn't something she thought all Slayers or even any decent people felt.

Losing herself in mauling demons, having sex without love and being violent her partner, getting angry at people who just wanted to help her, and engaging in self-destructive behavior; that didn't sound like her. It sounded like Faith.

Faith had been the one to agree with her bleak outlook on continuing to live. Something had gone terribly wrong with Faith and left her twisted. Angel had told them she was working on redeeming herself and made regular visits to her to prison, but she was still a murderer who had tried to commit suicide by vampire. Examining her own feelings and actions this past year it wasn't hard for Buffy to conclude that she was headed down the same path.

She wasn't sure if it was a corruption common to all Slayers who lasted longer than a few months, or if it was just her and Faith. Giles wasn't around for her to ask. But there was another person she could ask, a person who had been able to tell her apart from Faith by their auras without having ever met them before. After greeting Dawn, Buffy gave that person a call and set up a meeting.

Tara met Buffy at a secluded table on a pathway leading off the main quad of UC Sunnydale.

"Thanks for coming by." Buffy said as they sat down across from each other.

"Is it bad?" Tara asked gravely.

"I was sort of hoping you could tell me." The shorter blonde said softly.

The witch looked down, shaking her head. "I knew this was gonna happen." She turned her gaze up at Buffy. "What did Willow do now? Did she-she hurt anyone?"

"What?" Buffy said, realizing how vague she'd been the night before. "Uh, no, no. Um, Tara, this isn't about Willow."

"I-I thought that's why you didn't want to meet at the house." Tara explained.

"Uh, sorry. It's um… Willow's fine. She's been doing really well. You'd be proud of her." She assured her.

Tara bit her lip and nodded, looking down again. She had been scared to ask about Willow over the past month. After what had happened to Dawn she had almost given up hope that the girl could change. She wanted more than anything to believe she could, but she held herself back from getting too excited over the news. She didn't want to set herself up for disappointment if it all came crashing down. "Good. That's-that's good." She raised her head again, wondering what she had been called for if not Willow. "So-so what do you want to talk about?"

"Well you can read auras, right?" Tara nodded. "I think, I think I might have some kind of… Slayer sickness. In my, soul or spirit or whatever."

The older girl's brow knitted in confusion. "Why do you think that?"

Buffy sighed. "Well, things have been kind of off with me since we beat Glory. The visions and… everything. Then I killed that thaumagenesis demon and I got that disgusted feeling… I feel… different. There are things that…"

"And-and you think it has something to do with you being a Slayer?" Tara asked, still not quite understanding Buffy's logic.

"There are other Slayers who started to… act weird." Buffy said, leaving out Faith's name. "Some of the Watcher diaries talk about Slayer's auras changing over time, but I can't really tell what they're going on about. I… don't really want to bug Giles with this, and I'd ask Willow but…"

"I get it." Tara could see how worried her friend was, but wasn't sure she was qualified to help. "I can see auras, but I don't know exactly what they mean, really. From what I can tell you don't seem sick Buffy."

"Could you just check, please?" She pleaded gently. Tara agreed, hoping she could provide some comfort by doing this for her.

When Buffy came home from an early patrol Xander was teaching Dawn dance steps for the wedding reception. Both the bride and groom-to-be had new anxieties about the marriage since the arrival of Anya's old friend Halfrek. Xander was squicked by his first in-person look at a true vengeance demon face and was trying to get the image out of his head. Anya was unsettled by Halfrek's insinuations about her fiancé's feelings for her and had been doing her best to ignore or disprove them.

Dawn left to spend the night with Janice, both Buffy and Willow having confirmed things in person with Janice's mother already. Buffy was a bit sad, wishing she could have taken her free evening to spend a rare moment of quality time with her little sister. Normally she would have gone to Spike's to pass the time, but until Tara confirmed or denied her soul sickness she didn't want to dive back into that. She still needed a distraction, so she accepted the gang's invitation to the Bronze.

Spike waited and watched from the walkway of the Bronze. Buffy was doing her best not to give into her moodiness and was staying on the lower level with her friends. It was a shame they weren't going to have their rendezvous tonight, but the vampire had bigger things on his mind. Tomorrow night was a night he had been dreading more than any other. He had been content to let certain things play out as they had before, but Buffy's guilt over 'killing' a girl wasn't one of them.

Obviously the easiest solution would be to save the girl, but he didn't know exactly when or how she had died. From what he had gathered in the days after the incident the girl's death had been caused or at least known to the three nerds. After Willow had found the hideout Spike knew about they had fled and nestled into new quarters no one had uncovered by the time he had made his wish to Anya. He had been keeping an eye out for the time disrupting Rwasundi demons that were involved, but none had come to any of the demon hangouts since he'd been watching. That blonde geek, whose name escaped him, was probably going to summon them directly. That left him with nothing to do but wait.

One thing was for certain. He wasn't going to let Buffy think she was a killer. He thought she was overreacting, but knew that the desire to protect innocent life was an inherent part of what made Buffy Buffy, and he wouldn't convince her otherwise. It would come dangerously close to showing her that he knew more than he should, but it was the only way to keep her from hating herself.

Xander and Willow were done with work and school for the day, and the construction foreman still had a cramp from swing dancing all night. They were headed for the Magic Box and saw Tara coming out of the store, several books under her arm.

"Tara. What are you doin' here? I mean, uh, it's okay for you to be here if you things that you have to be here for." Willow tried to cover her slightly accusatory phrasing, not wanted to ruin her first chance to converse with Tara in weeks.

Xander saw the tension and longing between the exes and excused himself. "Yeah I'm gonna go bring Anya up to speed on that monkey situation." He smiled and gave a supportive nod to Tara and went inside.

"There-there's a monkey problem?" Tara asked, wondering if some simian demons were attacking.

"Only if you don't stretch first." Willow said looking at the books Tara was carrying. The blonde tried to shift them out of Willow's line of sight. "Watcher diaries? You studying to take over Giles' job?"

"N-not exactly. I-I was just doing some research on auras…" Tara didn't want to betray Buffy's confidence, knowing the Slayer had been nervous even coming to her with her worries.

"No, it's okay. I, I didn't expect you to stop looking up mystical stuff… You don't have to hide it." Willow assured her. "I'm not… I'm doing better. No spells for thirty two days." She gave Tara a small but proud smile, which the taller girl returned. Some part of Tara was pleased that Willow had managed to make good on her promise to go without for a month eventually, even if she'd broken it initially. "I can even go to the magic shop now, as long as someone's with me at all times. But, uh… But it's better now. It really is. You know, if you were checkin' on me."

"No, I-I wouldn't…" Tara heaved a sigh. She had been willing to let Willow do whatever she wanted with her life after leaving her, not expecting her to change for someone who wasn't even in a relationship with her anymore. Of course, she had prayed Willow would change for her own sake. "I was just looking for Buffy."

Willow deflated a little that Tara hadn't been coming to see her. It was no more than she should expect, she reminded herself "Oh. Well I haven't seen her since last night. She's on solo patrol a lot these days. We kinda miss her." That was the closest she could come to saying, 'I miss you.'

Tara caught the subtext of Willow's words. She missed Willow immensely too. "I'm sure she feels the same way. If you see her, can you tell her that I need to talk to her? It's important."

"Yeah, of course I will."

"Thanks." She walked past Willow, and then turned around, needing to say something more. Seeing her had brought up all the desire and loneliness she'd been trying to suppress. "Will?" They looked at each other, unspoken yearning burning through them both. "I'm… I'm glad that you're doing better." Tara tried to smile one last time before leaving. The air was lighter between them, but it was still too soon for a true reunion. Willow didn't know if they were on the right track just yet, but with luck they were.

Buffy tried to focus on patrol, but her feet took her automatically to Spike's crypt. He could feel her drawing closer, and went to wait by the door. She touched the stone, fighting her instinct to go inside. When Spike opened the door she had left, as he expected she might.

"Don't think about the evil bloodsucking fiend. Focus on anything but the evil bloodsucking fiend." She chanted to herself as she put distance between herself and Spike. A woman's scream pierced the night's quiet. Buffy looked to heaven in gratitude. "Thank you."

The Slayer ran off to rescue her. She saw a robed figure chasing the woman and pounced on it. To her astonishment it simply vanished. Buffy got to her feet and looked around for signs of the demon.

"Huh?"

The same woman appeared again, this time lying on the ground in front of her sobbing.

"It's okay. I'm gonna get you out of here. Can you walk? Are you hurt?" The woman didn't respond, and Buffy was assaulted with a barrage of disembodied voices.

"Buffy, what did you do? What did you do, Buffy?"

She looked down as the voices died off and saw Spike sprawled on the ground instead of the woman. He was bleeding from the lip.

"Ow! Buffy, it's me."

"Spike?" Before she could puzzle out what had happened several cloaked demons showed up and began to brawl with her and Spike. He snapped one of their necks and called to her, trying to grab her attention.

"Buffy!"

The demons vanished, leaving her with Spike. He was unwounded.

"Spike, what's happening?" She asked.

"Buffy, I know things are confusing but you have to listen to me." He walked up to her. "Things aren't what they seem. The demons…" Suddenly she was fighting the demons again, and one of her blows hit Spike, splitting his lip and sending him to the forest floor.

"Ow! Buffy, it's me." He said exactly as he had before.

The woman from before walked by sobbing and lied down. Buffy just looked at her, bewildered. The demons warped in and attacked her again, continuing to vanish and reappear. "Buffy!" Spike called to her just as she hit the woman, sending her rolling down a hill. Buffy ran down the hill after her, Spike still fighting the demons in vamp face. They tackled him and he growled. "Bugger off." He punched through the demon's stomach and followed Buffy to the foot of the hill. "Buffy." He said soothingly.

Buffy was horrified. There it was, confirmation of her illness. She was a murderer, the thing she most feared becoming. "She's dead. I killed her."

"We have to go." Spike said, trying to lead her away from the body.

"What happened?" She asked, still trying to process the order of events. It was all a blur but the death.

"I'll explain everything, just come with me. We have to go before someone sees you."

"What did I do?" Buffy demanded.

"We have to go, now." He tried to pick her up with her body shuddering. Spike led her through the woods to a safe spot. "All right. Listen to me, Buffy. Buffy!" He held her shoulder and she didn't look at him until he shouted 'no!' to stop her from leaving.

"She's dead." Buffy said, haunted.

"It wasn't you." He said firmly.

"What are you talking about, I hit her, and then she fell! I killed her."

"Listen, that girl was dead before you even saw her." Buffy shook her head disbelieving. "No, really. Those were demons called Rwasundi. They make time go all wobbly 'round them. You never hit the girl."

"But I saw…"

"You saw a twisted up batch of nonsense." He rubbed her shoulders, pulling her closer. "Think Buffy. Where have you seen that girl before?" She tried to remember as he laid out more clues to lead her to the identity of the real culprits without saying it outright. "Did you know her from somewhere?"

It took her a minute, but suddenly memories of the woman's face brought her back to their brief meeting months earlier. Her name came back to her, Katrina. She had been there to witness her stormy breakup with… Warren Mears.

"Oh my god." She whispered. "You don't think… Warren...?"

"I don't know pet, but I do know you. You aren't a killer." He ran his fingers up and down her arm.

"We have to tell the police, they have to find him…" She said, her horror slowly becoming anger.

"Demons in the woods? Time going wonky? They won't believe you." Spike said resolutely.

"We'll show them."

"No, you aren't getting involved in some murder investigation that had sod all to do with you." He said angrily. "I'll call the police and let them know about the body." He could see Buffy's reluctance and pulled her against his body, stroking her back. "It's all right love. I'm gonna get you home, and you're gonna crawl in your warm, comfy bed and stay there. We're gonna sort this out. Trust me."

Hazel eyes looked into blue, and she could feel the sincerity in the vampire's words. She let him lead her home, and they kissed in her bed for the first time before Buffy drifted to sleep. She was too disoriented to stop herself. Spike went to dump Katrina's body in the river so it would wash up where the police could find it. He wasn't any more eager to get himself involved in a murder investigation than Buffy.

Buffy dreams were as disjointed in time as the events in the woods had been, flashing between the fight, Katrina's 'death', her sleeping with Spike two nights before and kissing him before she fell asleep. At one point she was holding a stake over Katrina, who was bound in the handcuffs she and Spike had used in their last session. "Do you trust me?" She asked.

The next day Buffy shook herself out of her lingering guilt, placing the blame where it belonged: the Trio. She called a meeting at the Magic Box to discuss the events of the last night. Anya confirmed that the demons she had seen were called Rwasundi and that they distorted humans' perception of chronology. She mentioned Warren's connection to the death and Willow looked up Katrina's coroner's report on her laptop.

"They're saying she died of head wounds consistent with a long fall. It's being reported as a suicide." The hacker said disheartened. Buffy's anger grew. She was more convinced with every passing moment that Warren had had at least a hand in Katrina's death.

"This isn't a coincidence. Warren's ex-girlfriend, rare demons showing up at just the right place, time going all wiggy; this caper has the nerds stamped all over it."

"Not to mention them trying to pin it all on you." Anya added.

"The police aren't going to be any help." Buffy said.

"Because they're usually so reliable." Xander quipped sarcastically.

"We have to do something." The Slayer said seriously. "We have to find Warren and the others before anyone else gets hurt."

"Where do we start?" Willow asked. She had tracked them down once before, but the information that had led her to their last headquarters had dried up.

"Wherever we can." Buffy said with a shrug. "Look at the traffic light pictures, see if we can track the van. Anything at all."

In all honesty Willow knew that wasn't likely to give them any useful information, but she didn't want to let Buffy down. The old her might have tried to triangulate the lair of the nerds with one of the relics salvaged from their last lair, but she was determined not to use magic, no matter how dire the circumstances.

Buffy was thinking along the same lines, but was considering asking Tara for help to spare Willow from magic exposure. That reminded her that tonight was the night Tara was coming over to discuss her findings with her. She decided to hold off on asking for more favors when she didn't even know if they would need them. Looking for the trio was important, but if Willow was going to stop using magic then they all had to learn to rely on mundane methods to solve their problems first.

The girls met in the Summers' living room, Dawn having gone to sleep. Buffy wasn't comfortable exposing her concerns to anyone else just yet, especially to her sister.

"Well, I've read all the entries that had anything to do with souls and auras." Tara began. "There aren't that many. But from what I can tell, you have a normal, healthy Slayer aura. Extra bright and powerful. There's nothing evil infecting you that I can see. You-You're actually brighter than some of the Slayers they talk about."

That wasn't the result Buffy had been expecting. "Are you sure?" She asked nervously.

"I've double-checked everything. There's nothing wrong with you." Tara said kindly.

Buffy could feel tears welling up. If it wasn't something infesting her soul from the visions or the thaumagenesis demon, it was just her, the same Buffy she had always been.

"You must've missed something. Will you check again?" She begged.

Tara was surprised by her friend's reaction. What could be bad enough that she would want to be sick? "Buffy, I-I-I promise. There's nothing wrong with you." She repeated.

"There has to be. This just can't be me. It isn't me. Why do I feel like this? Why do I do those things with Spike?"

"You mean… patrolling with him? Having him work with us?" The witch hadn't realized Spike was involved in this, but the Slayer had been spending a lot of time with him recently. Buffy was silent, and Tara saw guilt in her eyes. Puzzle pieces began to fall into place. Something more than a working relationship was going on between Buffy and the vampire. "Oh." Her voice was low, and she looked around, subconsciously worried someone would overhear the girls sharing such a private secret. "Oh… really." She purposely raised her voice, not wanting to sound judgmental.

"He's everything I hate. He's everything that I'm supposed to be against… but when we're together I feel…" Buffy expected a look of disgust, but all she could see in Tara's face was sympathy. "Don't tell anyone, please."

"I-I won't." Tara promised.

Buffy was too distraught at the thought of being revealed to stop. "Oh the way they would look at me. I just couldn't..."

"I-I won't tell anyone." Tara said more firmly. "I-I wouldn't do that."

"Why can't I stop? Why do I keep letting him in?" Buffy asked helplessly, never having had anyone to admit this to before.

"Do you love him?" Tara asked gently. "I-it's okay if you do. He's done a lot of good, a-and he does love you." Last year when they had all suspected Buffy of sleeping with Spike, she had thought it was crazy. But after seeing him willing to be tortured to protect Dawn, and how devoted he was to Buffy and Dawn's safety and happiness Tara was willing to accept that there was good in him. Her own best friend was a thousand year ex-demon responsible for countless deaths who had managed to reform, so she was willing to give Spike the benefit of the doubt if he was willing to try.

"I…" Being asked point blank set her back for a minute. She had been denying feeling anything for him but lust and gratitude at his understanding and defense of Dawn, but after the way he was with her last night she couldn't pretend there wasn't more. "I-I don't know. I like him sometimes. But, when I try to trust him… I know I can trust him with Dawn, but that's it."

"He really seems like he's trying to change." Tara said. "Like he's trying to be good."

Buffy shook her head, sniffling back tears. "It's not that simple. God, you didn't know him, you didn't know what he was like before the chip. He killed people, he attacked our school, he tried to bite Willow…"

"I know, she told me." Tara said quietly. "But he's not even trying to get rid of the chip anymore." Buffy just sat there and she continued. "I-I just meant that whatever you feel, it's okay. You've been going through a lot this past year, and he kind of gets what you're going through. S-so if you need to…"

"What?" Buffy asked abruptly. "Use him? What's okay about that?"

"If you like him, you're not using him, not really." Tara reasoned trying to comfort her. "I mean, you said you do sometimes…"

Buffy sighed, her tears slowing. "I do. But I'm not ready to tell anyone. Not even him."

"Then take your time. I-if you feel like you're using him and it's upsetting you then maybe… slow it down?" Tara suggested. Buffy nodded. She was touched by Tara's loyalty, even with her slight estrangement from the group. She leaned over to hug her, and after a moment of hesitation Tara hugged her back. They stayed that way for a few minutes until Buffy felt ready to face the night.

Author's Notes: cavemenftw: I agree with you about the guys from the Trio. They'll only be around when they're interacting with a viewpoint character, so we won't even be seeing them again for a while. Jonathan is an okay guy, and I'm pretty sure we're supposed to hate Warren. He's a sociopathic murderer and rapist, and he's the only major Buffy villain I don't find entertaining in any way. Andrew I feel could have been made into a likeable character in Season Seven if it had had more episodes, but that Season had so many subplots a lot of them were left under-developed. He was pretty good in Season Eight, which is more than I can say for some other characters. And Faith just had to have a cameo at some point since she won't be appearing in person for a long time and I was dying to write a scene with her in it. Even when she shows up my main characters will still be Spike and Buffy, followed by Willow, Tara, Xander, Anya and Dawn.

shadow: Faith will show up next Season, one of the many reasons I'm anxious to get to it :D

CailinRua and Redhead023: I'm glad that scene worked for you. It felt a bit cheesy to me, but I thought they could use a happier scene once in a while.

S1r3h: "The day you suss out what do you do want, there'll probably be a parade. Seventy-six bloody trombones."

Thorn Wild: Glad you're still liking it! I'll be sure and check out your stuff when I have the time.

Tahkaullus01: You know, I hated Kennedy too but when I thought about it, I realized the only reason I hated her was that she was coming on to a widow way too strong and too fast. I'm cool with her now, but I never saw what she and Willow had in common beyond liking girls. I know a lot of people hate/dislike her, and when she shows up I'm going to do my damnedest to keep her both true to her original characterization AND likeable. I always say, I love every Buffy character except Warren. Fuck that guy. Technically, they're all next in line the way it went down.

waddiswasawitch: Thank you.