a/n: I'm not sure if anyone reads this story anymore, but I'm having a lot of fun writing it so I'm going to continue it anyway.

Chapter Seven

I blink gold specks out of my eyes.

The spell clings to my vision, leaving moving shapes like when you stare off into sleep, waiting for your thoughts to shut down. But brighter. I make myself look down, focus on the test in front of me. My head feels like a bowl of fighting fish, but my thoughts are clear. Or at least, there's a lot of them.

Each question pulls out a string of ideas - sociological theory, math, memories. The images press close together, overlapping before I can explain the connections. It's like being in a dream; all these thoughts flash on my mind without any linear coherence, but definitely feel like they mean something. Quotes from the class all bumped up next to math formulas and spellwork, images of demons and a feeling like my head is too light, like it could detach from my body and fly away. I catch myself writing something about vampires and frantically scribble it out, sensing the eyes of my classmates fall on me at the loud scratching.

By the time the class ends, my morning confidence has turned to twitchiness. The posters on the wall batter me with a headache of colours, and the white noise of conversation is a swarm. And I just want those damn spots to go away.

I move my eyes, but the spots don't follow, flittering around on their own volition. But no one else even seems to notice them. There's a big cloud of them, fireflying around me, mostly, and an occasional flicker around someone else.

Then Tara stands up to join me. She radiates with the orbits of tons of them, the lit center of a flame with sparks flecking off her.

"What's wrong?" she asks, and I make myself stop staring.

"Nothing," I say. Even in the Wicca world, seeing things isn't a good sign. At least, not until you know what those things are. "How was the test?" It's probably nothing, I remind myself. Just a side-effect from the spell, or lack of sleep.

"Pretty good, I think. Did you get what he was saying about network analysis?"

"I think so," I say. I wrote about twenty pages - I hope that, somewhere in there, I actually answered the questions.

My rib cage feels tight and pokey, and my lungs too flattened to get enough air. It's just one test, I remind myself. My grades have always been good; I can make up for it.

And the gold things humming around my girlfriend don't seem harmful. Maybe they're the nice, pretty kind of supernatural hallucinations.

"Are you sure you're alright?" says Tara, and I nod. We join the line at the cafeteria. "How was patrolling?"

I avert my eyes from the gold things, focus on the can of orange juice I'm buying. The change of topic helps my lungs unclench a bit. "Good! Demon-y, but good." I pay for the juice and my pasta, then tell her about Milton and the M'fashnik demons as we sit down. "But it's all good," I add, seeing the concern in her face. "We found their base, Buffy can get her crossbow and you and I work on a spell and - poof. No more stabby guys."

"Yeah, I'm sure we can manage it," Tara says. "But it's weird, isn't it? A group of them all getting together, right in the city when all the books say they work separately as contract criminals. That many assassins in one place... it's kind of a bad sign. You said Milton mentioned a plot against the Slayer?"

"Well, being plotted against is kind of in Buffy's job description."

Tara pokes at her spaghetti. I touch her hand and smile at her. "It's alright. We got the head start on them, and they don't even suspect. We'll work really hard tonight and find out what's going on. Like you said, we're stronger than them."

She interlocks her fingers with mine. "You're right. Thanks, Willow."

The warmth of her smile makes my insides go all fluttery, but in a good way this time. It's pretty amazing when someone can make you feel like that, even after you've been together almost two years. Right now, I don't understand how we could ever disagree on anything. I'd do anything to keep her smiling like this.

"No problem," I say.

"It's good to see you happy again," she says. "I know things have been kind of weird lately."

"Of course I'm happy," I say. "I have you. And Buffy's back, and hey, demon plot? That fits the Sunnydale definition of normal."

She puts her arms around me and I hug her back.

"What your acquaintance told you was true," says Giles, setting down an encyclopedia of demonology on the table. "Yarbnie demons are a non-destructive, urban-based species, subsisting alongside humans while drawing as little attention as possible and living a pacifistic life."

"I could have told you that," says Anya. "I have a Yarbnie friend - nice enough girl, but no fun, those pacifists. Terrible at vengeance. It's all 'oh, we were at different places in our metamorphosis,' wouldn't even let me turn her ex's boxers into piranhas! Not even little piranhas!"

Giles continues, "A diet that consists of processed sugars, roots, and – oh, small rodents."

"Mm, mouse slurpees," says Xander.

"Yeah, he didn't really seem like a bloodthirsty murderer," says Buffy.

"Speaking of which," says Giles, "are you sure leaving him with Spike was the best idea? He does sound like a useful witness, and as he's a demon, there's nothing to prevent Spike's killing him."

"It's fine," says Buffy. "Spike knows I'm stronger than him, and… Milton didn't exactly look appetizing."

"What, vampires don't like jello?" says Xander.

"Xander! Stop comparing my friends to wobbly desserts!" interjects Anya.

"I'm more worried about the M'Fashnik demons," says Tara.

"I agree," I say. "If a bunch of mercenary demons are all getting together, someone really wants to get Buffy."

"Can you think of anyone you may have made enemies with lately?" asks Giles.

"No more than usual," says Buffy. She's been quiet this whole time, her eyes rimmed with red. Despite the Slayer ability to function on less sleep than most people, she looks exhausted.

Giles has the gold specks, too. Not as much as Tara and I, but they're there. Anya has a scattering as well, and Xander one or two. I try to look at Giles, rather than his sparks, as he speaks. "Then I suppose the most direct way to deal with the situation is to raid the household and interrogate the M'Fashniks directly."

We all agree, and Anya offers to help Tara and I with finding a spell to target the M'Fashnik weaknesses. She goes off on a tangent about a curse she once performed (" -The guy really liked toast, right? So I'd go up behind him and make these sounds - whispers, and chains, dripping blood, all that, getting closer and closer, and when he turned around… all he'd see was this piece of toast! By the end, he couldn't even look at a grilled cheese -").

I admit Anya and I don't really work well together, but this time her lack of focus is the least of my concerns. I try to focus on the text, but my eyes keep darting up towards Buffy.

There are shapes in the air around her, too. But rather than gold flecks, a blue-black shadow looms around her edges, threatening to close on her like a pair of jaws.