Chapter Seven: Confrontations

Outside the Delta Zeta Kappa fraternity of Crestwood College, Sunnydale

September 6th, 1996

Spike easily jumped over the fence of the cemetery onto the community college grounds, wearing his demon face and sniffing in puzzlement.

He was feeling somewhat better since his patrol of the sewers twenty-four ago, as he'd managed to kill some city council workers who were new to the job and hadn't learned the unwritten rules yet. But still, Spike wasn't happy by any means –

Because he didn't like being treated as a servant by Darla and the Master, if nothing else.

It reminded him way too much of his life as a human, and how the lower classes had been treated back then. Not that William the bloody awful poet had been any sort of common boot-brush or chimneysweep, granted, but unlike most of his peers – he had been aware that the poor didn't exactly have an easy time of it.

And being treated like one of those serfs now, as a vampire – that was enough to make his inner demon snarl and gnash its teeth like a bloodthirsty tiger. It made him want to kill and feed and bathe in blood, to relieve the anger thumping away at the base of his skull.

"Oh, my poor Spoike. You're not 'appy, are you?"

{ Dru? } Spike whirled around in surprise, to see his sire standing there staring at him sorrowfully. "Wot? I mean, heck, luv, what are ya doin' 'ere? Didn't even know I'd be comin' to this place myself, 'til just now –"

"Shhh," Drusilla put a finger to his lips. "It's close, my lovely Willy. Remember I told you, how the sky was raining snakes? It's 'ere now, deep down in its burrow. Switzerland. Bavaria. Black Thorn Castle. Oh, what fun you 'ad, after I left you behind back then!"

Spike was confused, before the memories exploded in his undead brain. "Bloody hell, Dru! Machida?!"

In an instant Spike was back in 1943 Germany, while he was being hunted by the Nazis. Starving, one night he'd stayed out too long and was frantically searching for a place to hide from the coming sunrise – when he'd stumbled upon a virgin girl, and he'd immediately attempted to drink her. But he'd gotten captured by human minions of the snake-like demon called Machida before he could even get near her. And after being taken to the nearby castle, Machida's home, he'd agreed to temporarily aid the damn thing – in order to make enough dosh to go find Drusilla in style. Well, what counted as style back then, anyway!

Here and now, Spike remembered how Machida fed on three virgins once a year as offerings from his human vassals, in return for worldly riches and influence. He also remembered how he'd helped abduct the third girl for the annual sacrifice to Machida fifty-odd years ago, even though he'd felt utterly disgusted at lowering himself to the status of an errand boy by doing so.

He even remembered how, on the night of Machida's feast, he had talked with the head of the demonic cult; that sodding arse called Lars Warner. Before he'd decided enough was enough, and vacating the castle – just before Hitler's storm-troopers had arrived, looking for him.

(Of course, it wasn't his fault that he'd been captured by the Nazis later that year, at a so-called 'free virgin blood' party in Spain. That had been a trap, and revenge on Warner's behalf for leading the S.S. straight to his and Machida's door.)

"So. Machida's set up shop 'ere, has he? Warner and his lot must have brought 'im over, after the war –" Spike started to say.

"Shhh," Drusilla put a finger to his lips again. Then she pointed that finger off towards the left. "Look, Spoike! See!"

Spike's eyes went wide. { A grandson? } he asked himself, after spying some git who was the spit 'n image of Lars Warner back then, walking towards the nearby frat house. { Yeah, reckon it has to be! Still, what's all this s'posed to mean? }

"Thomas. Tom. Tommy," Dru giggled, and Spike correctly guessed that that was the blood bag's name; Tom Warner. His sire then chanted crazily, "Little Tommy Warner, sits in the corner. What shall he eat? White bread in a sauna! How shall he cut it, without any knife? How shall he know lies from truth, with suspicion so rife?"

The rhyme made no sense to Spike, even though he suspected it was a prophetic warning of some sort. He was briefly tempted to try to gain entry into the frat house, and kill the whelp as revenge for what his grandfather had done back in the Forties – but Drusilla's insistent tugging on his arm quickly made Spike reconsider his plans.

If his precognitive sire didn't think the time was right for him to do that, then who was he to argue with her?

Sunnydale High School Library, Sunnydale

Later that morning

"MR. CHASE KNOWS?!" Willow yelped, looking at Xander in horror.

The school library was deserted apart from the two of them, but the librarian named Mrs. Winston – a grim-faced old lady who was rumored to be retiring soon, thank God! – still gave her and Xander the stink eye for the loud outburst. Grimacing, Willow grabbed the object of her unrequited affections by the arm and yanked him along as they headed deep into the stacks for some privacy.

"There, that's better. Now, what happened?!" she demanded.

"What do you think happened, Will? I made a complete mess of things, even without meaning to! Dammit, I hate this!" Xander growled, causing her to take a step back in alarm. "I'm telling ya, you have no idea how much this sucks! I mean, bad enough that I went all green-eyed o-word in front of Harmony and Cordelia yesterday morning, but now that I did it with Cordy's dad as well –"

"Whoa! Wait. What? Hang on, Xander, I, uh – rewind. You did the Oracle thing in front of those two?" Willow interrupted, staring at him oddly. "Why were you even near them in the first place?"

Big goofball that he was (at least in her view), Xander just sighed. "I sorta just bumped into them, okay? Wasn't looking where I was going, and kinda stomped on Cordelia's foot. And as for the rest of it, I had to make up something as an excuse, and so I mentioned that stuffed bear Cordy won at the fairgrounds during the summer. Last night, I took it over to her house, her dad caught us talking – and you pretty much know the rest."

"You're right, this is a mess," Willow shook her head. "I mean, you don't even know what you said to Cordy's dad, do you? Let alone Cordelia and Harmony?"

"Uh, no to the first, and sorta but not exactly to the second. I mean, it had something to do with Harmony's upcoming date with a guy named Brad something. Ugh – damn it, Will! I always thought if I got a superpower of some kind, I'd be like Spiderman, or Superman, or someone cool like that!" Xander semi-exploded. "Not – this!"

"Come on, Xander, think!" Willow insisted, ignoring the diatribe. "And never mind that vacuous blonde tramp, we need to focus on Cordelia's father! He musta said something to give you some clues about what you prophesized to him, right?"

"Okay, yeah. I mean, whatever I said to Mr. Chase, I know it musta been something bad – 'cause he accused me of wanting hush money afterwards. Which I so didn't!" Xander blew out a loud breath.

"He's into something illegal?" She now felt concerned. "Xander – I don't like the sound of this. You, you shouldn't talk to him anymore."

"I never wanted to talk to him in the first place!" Xander almost shouted. "But Odin's beard, Will, what am I supposed to do? I try to avoid eye contact with everyone, like Amy's mom suggested – but I can't not talk to people for the rest of my life! My parents talk to me at home. The teachers talk to me here at school! Sure, I don't have any friends other than you and Jesse, but I can't completely avoid everyone at Sunnydale High and never speak to them! Can I?"

"No, I guess not. And, and we really need to do something about Jesse, don't we? He has to be told about all this," Willow said slowly, chewing her lower lip slightly. { And for more reasons than one! }

"Easier said than done, Will. And what's all this 'we' stuff? I already told ya, Jesse isn't gonna listen to me," Xander replied fatalistically. "It's been over a month since that – incident – at Mrs. Madison's funeral, and he's still pissed off! And that's another reason right there to hate what's happened! So, please, tell me you've got some good news on the Madam Devora front?"

"Sorry, Xander. I haven't been able to find anything online," Willow shrugged. "Well, nothing relevant, anyway. I mean, do you have any idea how many people are named 'Devora' in this country? Without a social security number or even a surname to work with, it's like looking for a needle in a haystack so big it's the size of..." she trailed off, looking for an appropriate comparison. "Well, the entire United States, I guess!"

"Great," Xander briefly threw his hands up in disgust. "So, basically, I'm boned."

"Well, no, not necessarily," Willow insisted, absently tucking some strands of hair behind her left ear. "I mean, there are some things I can do to keep a cyber-eye on the lookout for the Fortune-teller Lady. But don't be surprised if it takes a while, okay? Especially if she's deliberately attempting to stay underneath the radar, so to speak."

"Okay. All right," Xander sighed. "So, whaddya think? We corner Jesse, and simply tell him everything?"

"And he'd believe us just like that, of course?" Then she paused.

"On second thoughts, leave that part up to me," Willow said smugly.

Sunnydale High School computer lab, Sunnydale

Just before lunchtime

Jesse stared longingly at the girl of his dreams as she and her followers swept out of the classroom, before he returned his gaze to the computer screen. He couldn't focus enough to get Cordelia's recent words out of his mind, though.

{ Of course I'm going to the Bronze later on. Hello, Friday night? There's no other place to go in Sunnydale, duh! Besides, I met a totally cute college freshman named Richard Anderson there recently. Almost didn't happen, actually – I sorta bumped into him after being distracted by one of the Loser Squad. And if there's anything better than dating a high school senior – it's dating a Delta Zeta Kappa, who's so rich he drives a black '95 BMW! }

Jesse sighed, feeling totally glum. Bad enough that Cordelia was planning on catching herself a man who could give her everything in life he couldn't, but she also –

Well, his beloved either completely ignored him, which was bearable, or she actually deigned to take notice of him and verbally castrate him in front of her friends, which wasn't. It hurt being a called a member of the Loser Squad, if nothing else. Unwillingly, Jesse began to wonder if Willow and Xander had been right all along –

{ No! They can't be right about me and Cordy, } he immediately cogitated, banishing such treasonous thoughts at once. { I'm not giving up on her, damn it. I mean, did Romeo ever give up on Juliet? Did Marc Antony ever give up on Cleopatra? Heck, in the movie, did King Solomon ever give up on the Queen of Sheba? No, of course not! So I'm not giving up on my queen either! }

Satisfied with his decision, Jesse quickly saved his program and then switched off his computer. He absently noted that he was the last person left in the room; even the teacher had left by now. { Eh, never mind. Huh, wonder what's good today in the cafeteria? Probably – }

Jesse never managed to finish that thought, though, as Willow and Xander came into the computer lab and the redhead shut the door behind her.

"What do you two want?" he demanded with an unfriendly tone.

"Okay, ya know what? This hostility thing, it ends now," Willow said firmly. "Jesse, we need to talk to you. And you're not leaving until we've had our say!"

"Oh, spare me the Resolve Face, will ya, Willow? It hasn't worked on anyone since the fifth grade," Jesse told her brusquely. Then he sighed at the upset look on the girl's face. "Look, far as I'm concerned? We've got nothing to say to each other. You and Xander aren't on board with me and Cordelia, that means –"

"You're choosing her over us, yeah, yeah, got that memo," Xander interrupted. "But newsflash, that's not what Will and I wanna talk to you about."

"It's not?" Jesse immediately felt astonished.

"No, it's not. Well, maybe somewhat peripherally, but that's it," Willow qualified her previous statement. "Jesse, I don't know any other way to say this, so I'll just say it. Magic is real."

He just stared at her in silence for roughly ten seconds. "I'm sorry, what?"

"You heard her, bud," Xander shrugged. "Magic's real. I've seen it myself, even if I was in denial about it for quite a while. Amy's mom was a professional witch, and Willow's got the potential for the mojo as well."

"This is – some kinda gag, right? I mean, what else am I supposed to think? Because you two can't be serious, can you?" Jesse eventually said in bewilderment. "I mean, there's no such thing as magic!"

"That's what I thought too, at first," Xander shrugged again. "Thinking that's your cue, Will."

[ Can you hear me, Jesse? ] Willow 'said', even though her lips never moved. [ Can you hear my voice inside your mind? ]

"WHOA!" Jesse stepped back in alarm. Then he squinted at her, "Willow? That's gotta be the best ventriloquist act I've ever seen! Wow. Where the hell did you learn how to pull that off?"

Willow took out some bottled water from her backpack and quickly drank, pinching her nostrils shut. [ I'm not a ventriloquist, Jesse. Even the best stage magician in the world can't pull off something like this, can he? Believe it or not, I really am speaking to you telepathically. It's one of the powers I've developed, once I started practicing the craft. Kinda neat, huh? ]

"What the hell?!" Jesse totally freaked at once. "This, this can't be happening..."

"Yup. Said the same thing myself, the night I first found out about all this. Totally don't blame ya if you wanna Gonzo about it," Xander shrugged fatalistically, as Jesse dazedly turned to face him. "I woulda done the same thing, except Amy's mom had us all magically immobilized at the time."


Jesse listened, stunned and confused, as Willow (with the occasional comment by Xander) proceeded to tell him the truth about what had really happened to Mrs. Madison. Once they were done, he honestly didn't know what to say. He eventually went with, "So, so other people know about this stuff? I mean, grown-up's?"

"Amy's dad, according to what she said that night. And I'm assuming there are others, even if I have no idea who," Xander shrugged again.

"Uh..." Jesse slapped the side of his head with the butt of his palm, forcing his brain to try to reboot. "So, so Willow can do this stuff. Amy can as well – maybe. Even if she and her dad have left town. Uh, anyone else?"

"Uh, I've looked into that. And there's all the New Agers out there, of course. Not to mention Wicca practitioners. But real witches – people like that would know how to stay hidden, Jesse. They probably have ancient traditions... heck, they've probably evolved into something like a magical society, y'know, covens who can hide in plain sight," Willow said musingly.

Jesse briefly stared at her in silence. "Willow. Please don't take this the wrong way, but – are you out of your mind?"

"Jesse! Look, the way I understand it, witches have the ability to do spells which work like a physical tool – and that means they can get together, research and store their history and accomplishments. So where do you think I'm going with this?" his female friend demanded.

Bit too theoretical for him, but he got the point. "They learn a lot?"

Xander nodded. "Especially how to stay hidden. Which, believe me, is something I wish I could do!"

Jesse whirled towards him in surprise. "What – I mean, can you do magic as well? Are you a male witch? Warlock? Wizard? Whatever the right word is?"

"Naw, dude, I can't do magic. I suffer from something worse. A lot worse," Xander replied with a miserable look on his face.

Jesse didn't get that, and said so. Willow therefore explained about the whole Oracle thing to him.

"Wow. So, so, at the funeral back in July – that's why you said that crap about Cordelia despising my ass?" he asked somewhat dazedly, staring at Xander.

"Not that I remember saying anything like that to you – I never do, whenever I go all green-eyed o-word – but, basically, yeah," Xander shrugged, looking somewhat embarrassed.

"But –" Jesse stopped and shook his head. "Look, I don't get all of this yet – and hell, I probably never will – but these, uh, pronouncements of yours, Xan. You're not always right, are you? I mean, you coulda been wrong saying that to me about Cordy, couldn't you?"

"Oh, Jesse, please!" Willow said reprovingly, before Xander could say anything. "What is it gonna take for you to wake up and smell the coffee, where Cordelia's concerned? I mean, yeah – as far as I know, it's always 'advice' of some sort that comes out of Xander's mouth. Or maybe a warning of some kind. But we don't need any kind of warning or advice to know that Cordelia Chase is bad news! Why else do you think I finally stood up for myself yesterday, and told that girl not to come near me again?"

"You what?!"

"Think about it, dude. Cordy and her flock have been picking on Willow nonstop since third grade. So what did ya think would happen, now that she can go all Wicked Witch of the West on their asses?" Xander asked him. Then the guy turned to the redhead and added, "Way I see it, Will, at least one of the Cordettes is gonna come after you, even if Cordy orders 'em to leave you alone from now on."

"Yeah, that's pretty much a given. Pack psychology – they'll think Cordelia's acting weak if she tells them that, and use humiliating me to try to pull off a leadership coup. But that group of airheads will quickly get the message, if, say... the first one to try something like that shows up at school the next day, with pink and purple hair," Willow grinned nastily.

Off Jesse and Xander's looks she said defensively, "Hey, if they go on the offensive, so will I! And after the last eight years –"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, we got it," Jesse interrupted, really not wanting to get into that topic right now. It had always pained him greatly knowing that the love of his life could be so – cruel – to one of his two best friends, but now was really not the time to get into that subject. "Anyway, so what's next?"

"Up to you," Xander shrugged yet again. "I mean, now that you know the truth, I was kinda hoping we could be friends again?"

"Friends –" Jesse started to say, but then he stopped as the true reality of the situation hit him like a ton of bricks. His mind whirling, he eventually said, "Friends? Uh, why would you and Willow wanna be friends with me any longer?"

"Huh?" both the redhead and the brunet said in unison, looking confused.

"Well, let's face it. You guys are sorta like the Wonder Twins now, right? But I'm just Joe Normal. So – why would you wanna hang with me any longer?" Jesse asked, his heart sinking. "I mean, what do I have to offer if you two eventually start using your powers in order to save the world, or whatever? I'd just get in the way –"

"No you wouldn't!" Willow objected fiercely. "Jesse, you're being ridiculous!"

"Am I?" he asked, ignoring the redhead's hurt expression. "Think about it, Will. I mean, if this was the comics – what the heck character would I be? The Alfred to your Batgirl and Batman, maybe? The Wong to your Clea and Stephen Strange? And that's a best case scenario – I'm basically the Jimmy Olsen type right now, and we all know it."

"Grrf! Auggh," Willow growled, looking annoyed. "You're being ludicrous! Not to mention, such a boy!"

"All comics references aside, bud – I need your help," Xander said to him fervently. "'Cause I've been scared shitless of talking to anyone besides Willow, ya know? At least with her – and now you – I don't have to pretend to be something I'm not. But everyone else? Maybe Mrs. Madison had a point about me being kidnapped and held prisoner for the rest of my life because of what I can do now, I dunno. And hey, if that ever happened, and you coulda helped stop it and chose not to – how'd that make you feel, I wonder?"

Jesse immediately glared. "That's hitting below the belt, dude, seriously!"

Xander shrugged yet again. "I want my best friend back. So I'm willing to fight dirty if I have to. Wouldn't you, if you were in my shoes?"

Jesse shook his head, though whether it was to clear it or to disagree with Xander's question, not even he knew. "Look, I need to think about all this. So just gimme some space, okay? For now, I just – I need to be alone. I promise I won't say anything to anyone – hey, who would even believe me? – but I gotta work through everything I've just learned in my own way, at my own speed."

He could tell Willow and Xander weren't happy with hearing that, so he quickly left the room before they could say anything else – his head still whirling, and his previous world-view hopelessly shattered into little pieces.

4 Parkview Crescent, Sunnydale

October 9th, 1996

"OUT OF THE QUESTION!" Mr. Chase yelled, glaring at both his wife and daughter.

"You're being somewhat unreasonable, David," Julia replied, rolling her eyes.

"Please, Daddy?" Cordelia asked hopefully, her eyes all wide and pleading. "It's a wonderful opportunity –"

"Cordelia," David interrupted her, feeling a migraine coming on. "You're fifteen going on sixteen years old. You're far too young to be attending a fraternity party at Crestwood College! Where there will be alcohol, tobacco and maybe even drugs, or God knows what else –"

"Daddy, c'mon, I'm not that stupid!" Cordelia cut him off this time. "Look, the Zeta Kappas have to have a certain balance at their party tomorrow night, or something – Richard explained it all to me, but I was so distracted that I didn't actually hear much of what he was talking about. All I know is that I've been invited to this exclusive party – and it would be totally rude not to go! I mean, we're talking about Richard Anderson! As in Anderson Farms, Anderson Aeronautics and Anderson Cosmetics!" She said pleadingly, "Please, I have to go! I just have to!"

"Young lady, the only thing you have to do is listen to me and your mother. You're not eighteen yet, and while you're living under our roof, you'll follow our rules. Or I'm canceling all your credit cards," David said threateningly.

"You wouldn't!" his daughter replied, looking aghast.

"Wouldn't I?" he shot back. He really didn't need this right now, and he was pretty sure Cordelia knew it, too. Hopefully, his offspring was smart enough to have figured out that there was a time and place for everything, and throwing a tantrum while he was in this sort of black mood would be – counterproductive.

"Your father does have a point about your age, dear. Still, if your heart's really set on attending this party – maybe we could arrange a chaperone of some sort?" Julia suggested, shooting him a look. One which David didn't like at all.

"A chaperone? Seriously? Mom, why do you and Daddy hate me?!" Cordelia suddenly exploded, glaring at him and his wife. "I mean, if my friends heard about this – can you say the words 'utter humiliation'?"

"Cordelia? You're really trying my patience right now. Do you understand the words, 'grounded until further notice'?" David shot back, a scowl appearing on his features.

Mr. Chase saw her go pale, and then he felt reluctant admiration over how well his daughter was able to adapt to changing circumstances – and be willing to lose a battle in order to win a war. He could see it in her eyes as Cordelia said, "Alright, fine. Chaperone me, I can deal as long as you don't prevent me from attending the party. Okay?"

"No, not okay. I need to discuss this some more with your mother, in private," David said, emphasizing the last two words. "So go to your room, and we'll send Lupe to get you once we've made our decision. Understood?"

"Yes, Daddy." David saw his daughter exchange a look with Julia before she left the study. "Bye!"

"Now, really, David –" Julia started to say a few seconds later.

"Why are you so keen for her to attend this party, Julia? Cordelia's just a child!" he growled at her immediately. "Plus, you know how I'm unhappy about her dating a college boy, and yet you're encouraging her? Why?"

Julia raised her eyebrows – a mannerism David knew their daughter had inherited from her – and said, "Well, someone in this family has to point our daughter in the right direction, in terms of snagging the proper sort of husband."

David gaped at her. "Husband? Wha –"

"You look at her and still see a child, David. Trust me when I say that other men don't," Julia replied frankly, coming closer. "A woman always knows these things. Look, Cordelia will be sixteen in three months or so, therefore it's time to start exposing her to the right sort of male specimens in order for her to make a properly informed choice – in five to ten years, anyway. I'm not suggesting she seriously considers marrying that Richard Anderson boy, of course –"

"He's not a boy," David cut her off angrily. "He's a grown man, who should be dating someone his own age! Not a high school girl who's not even sixteen yet!"

Julia smirked. "Well, what can I say? Male tastes vary, and some women prefer older men, David. And you're being somewhat hypocritical for someone who claims to be against age discrimination, aren't you?"

{ Calm down. Calm down. Calm down! } "I'm worried about our daughter. I'm worried that she's making the wrong choices too young in life," he told her icily, after nearly thirty seconds of frigid silence. "As a father, that's my job. It's supposed to be your job as well, remember?"

His wife instantly lost the amused look. "Oh? And is it my job to set up our only child with that Harris trash? The way you seem to be doing? David, don't think I haven't noticed you constantly questioning Cordelia about what that boy is up to –"

"I have my reasons for asking Cordelia about Alexander. Reasons that don't necessarily include her dating him," David interrupted. He paused, correctly figuring that he needed to change the subject before Julia started wondering just what those reasons were. "All right, fine. It goes against my better judgment to do this, but Cordelia can attend that party tomorrow night as long as she's properly chaperoned. Agreed?"

"Agreed," Julia nodded. She seemed somewhat surprised at her husband's abrupt about-face regarding the matter, but then she left the study to tell the maid to summon Cordelia back downstairs.

While she was gone, David picked up the phone and hit speed-dial. "Hello, Jessica? I need to talk to you and Tony, I have a favor to ask –"

The Delta Zeta Kappa fraternity of Crestwood College, Sunnydale

October 10th, 1996

{ Damn it! This is not the way I wanted to spend my Thursday night, } Xander thought to himself in annoyance, as he poked his head in through the side window of the fraternity house. He tried to climb inside, but lost his balance and fell to the floor with a loud thump. Fortunately, no one at the party seemed to pay any attention.

Well, almost no one.

"Dude! You're gonna get us noticed," Jesse hissed at him, as the guy climbed through the window as well. His best bud helped him up off the floor and said in a low tone of voice, "Can you see Cordy anywhere?"

"I'm fine, thanks for asking," he said dryly, but also with a touch of irritation. "And no, I can't."

"Darn. Well, we better spread out, try to find her. I'm gonna head in that direction," Jesse said urgently, straightening his clothes.

"You know, for someone that Mr. Chase never even asked to come along on this mission, you sure seem willing to place yourself in harm's way," Xander said in that same dry tone, running a hand through his hair. He ignored that snarky and annoying inner voice saying he probably should have refused to come here tonight; whatever illegal stuff Cordy's father was into, it was none of his business –

"It's Cordelia. I'm willing to die for her, if I have to," Jesse said fervently, looking around and failing to see the girl in question.

{ Yeah, that's what I'm afraid of, } Xander thought uncomfortably, as he and his best friend parted company. { Because in Sunnydale, that's way too high a possibility for my liking! }

The reason he was thinking such thoughts was that over the past month or so, Willow had – in the course of her investigations into the theory and practice of magic, and why Amy's mom had said she was less powerful anywhere other than Sunnydale – well, she'd uncovered some truly shocking statistics about the old home town. Multiple deaths, multiple injuries and a history you wouldn't find anywhereelse in America. Maybe even the entire world.

After hacking into the Sunnydale PD's computers, Willow had reported to him and Jesse that most of the deaths had been listed in the police files as 'wild animal attacks' or 'exsanguination with a barbecue fork.' And yet, something about such descriptions – simply didn't add up.

For example, there had been nothing in the town newspaper about any wild animals being spotted, or on the loose, during the times in question; his red-haired little buddy had checked. And Xander couldn't help asking himself, what kind of weirdo killed people with a barbecue fork to the neck? There had to be easier ways to stab someone to death –

Thing was, just the other night, when he and Jesse had gone over to Willow's place... Mr. Rosenberg had laughingly mentioned that one of his patients at the psychiatric clinic had insisted that there were vampires in Sunnydale. Xander could tell Willow's dad didn't believe a word of it, but all the same – it had given him ideas that had started percolating around in his Harris-shaped brain.

{ If magic is real, then who's to say the rest of it can't be real as well? Like zombies, werewolves, ghosts, succubi, and even vampires? }

Such thoughts didn't sit well inside his head, though, Xander had to admit. He could handle the concept of magic by this point – enough time had passed that it had (somewhat reluctantly) become part of his impressionable teenage world-view. But admitting to himself that the monsters of mythology were real as well?

Totally different ball game.

Putting away such thoughts, Xander kept to himself as the evening wore on, carrying out the favor Cordelia's father had requested of him and his family. He kept Queen C in sight for most of the time, occasionally losing her but usually finding her again after Jesse –

"New pledge!" a guy who looked like he played Tackle on a college football team suddenly yelled out.

"New pledge!" another guy Xander mentally dubbed Linebacker echoed, as the two of them grabbed Jesse – who'd been chatting with a couple of bored-looking girls – and began hauling him off. Both of them kept yelling, "New pledge! New pledge! New pledge!"

Xander cursed silently to himself. He had lost sight of Cordelia, thanks to the distraction, and could only watch helplessly as his best friend was shamed and degraded in public. The college boys dressed Jesse up in a skirt and bra, before Tackle grabbed Jesse's cheeks and forced him to pucker his lips before roughly applying red lipstick. To complete the look, a long blonde wig was placed on Jesse's head before Linebacker started shouting, "Start dancin', new pledge!"

"Uh, guys –" Jesse started to say.

"C'mon, pretty boy! Dance!" Tackle shouted, shoving him slightly as the party guests started to laugh and cheer. "Yeah, you heard me! Shake that ass!"

Jesse lamely started to dance as the football players laughed and jeered, goading and egging him on. His friend looked utterly miserable, trapped and unable to do anything but gyrate around as the frat boys started poking him with sticks and – was that some kind of cattle prod? Xander couldn't tell –

"Hi, I'm Tom Warner. Don't think we've met before – who are you?"

Xander whirled around to face the twenty-something young man standing behind him, before quickly averting his eyes. "Name's Xander Harris."

"Right. You know, you look a little young to be part of the college scene – are you a crasher, like that guy?" Tom nodded in Jesse's direction.

"Not exactly. Just here to make sure someone's all right during the party," Xander semi-mumbled, keeping his eyes averted.

"Really. Hmm, why do I find that rather hard to believe?" Tom's voice suddenly acquired a harsher quality. "Because I don't know about you, but I find it difficult to accept the word of someone who won't even look me in the eye. You can see where I'm going with this, can't you?"

{ Damn. This isn't gonna end well, I can just feel it. } Reluctantly, Xander raised his eyes to meet Tom's.

"That's better," Tom suddenly smiled at him. "So, you said you were here on some sort of protection detail? For who?"

"Cordelia. Cordelia Chase. Her dad asked me to –" Xander abruptly stopped, seeing a brief flash of – something – in Tom's eyes. "What, what's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong." Tom suddenly seemed all smiles and good will to all mankind again. "Why should anything be wrong?"

Xander opened his mouth to reply –

"You fucking asshole!" Tom hissed at him, before the guy swung a fist at his face – and Xander's world exploded into pain and darkness.

His last thought, before unconsciousness took hold, was that he should have damn well followed the rules – and simply kept his mouth shut, plus kept his eyes away from this guy.

Frat house basement, Crestwood College

A few hours later

Cordelia was more scared than she'd ever been in her entire life.

Earlier tonight, she'd been having a total blast – mingling with the partygoers, hanging off Richard's arm and easily ditching her so-called chaperone. The woman her parents had hired for the job had soon given up in disgust, and started talking with one of the frat boys – Cordy had seen her a bit later on, making out with the guy in question, before laughing and continuing to enjoy the party with Richard.

But then she'd started feeling woozy after gulping down what she'd been told was a non-alcoholic fruit drink, and Richard had escorted her upstairs and let her lie down on one of the beds to rest and recover. She didn't remember falling asleep, but Cordy certainly remembered waking up –

Her wrists encased in manacles, which were hanging down from the recessed ceiling of wherever the hell she was now.

She watched with increasing horror as Richard raised the sword he was holding and walked towards a kneeling Tom Warner, someone she'd briefly been introduced to earlier tonight. She noticed how Tom had a series of weird-looking symbols carved onto his naked chest, before Richard began to carve another one with his sword.

"Where are we? And who are you guys?" Cordelia whispered to the two other girls who were in chains alongside her, trying not to grimace over what Richard was doing.

"Brittany Oswald, I'm a junior at St. Michael's," the girl on her right whispered back.

"Kelly Percell, sophomore at Grant," the girl on her left said in a hushed tone.

"I think we're in some sorta basement," Brittany added in a soft murmur, as Richard finished carving Tom's new symbol. "And that we're in big trouble –"

"Bring him in," Tom ordered roughly, as he got up off his knees and two hooded guys clothed him in some sort of ugly-looking robe.

{ Bring who in? } Cordy wondered to herself, before her question was answered – when two guys in robes and hoods carried the unconscious Doofus down into the chamber. "Xander?"

"You know that guy?" Kelly muttered out of the corner of her mouth.

"Yeah. Oh, God, what's going on? I wanna go home," Cordelia said, just a touch too loudly.

Richard turned around and smirked at her. "Sorry, sweet cheeks. But none of you are going home."

"Richard, please! Let me go!" Cordelia begged him.

"Let you go? Okay, let me think. Um, no!" He laughed directly in Cordy's face, "God, I love gullible high school girls. Mm!"

"You son of a bitch," she instantly cursed him, finally seeing the evil asshole underneath the charming rich boy façade.

But Richard just smirked again and walked over to Xander, slapping him across the face in order to wake him up. "Rise and shine, kid!"

Cordelia saw the Dork (who was actually wearing decent clothes for once?) slowly wake up, blinking and wincing in pain. "Wha' happen-?"

"Who else knows about Machida?" Tom demanded, as one of the hooded guys put Richard's sword in his hands.

"Who?" Harris asked, still blinking and trying to focus.

Tom nodded to Richard, who viciously backhanded him this time. Then the head psycho said, "Just in case your mind is still scrambled after I hit you in the face earlier on – your eyes turned green and you said to me, 'be careful with the offerings for your demon patron, or else the snake eyes in your life won't be because of a roll of the dice.' So I repeat, who else knows about Machida?"

{ What the hell is he talking about? } Cordelia asked herself blankly, as Xander muttered 'no one' and Richard smacked the Doofus around some more. She actually winced at the strength of some of the blows, suspecting that Harris was going to be black and blue pretty soon – assuming, of course, he lived through the next few minutes amongst these loony psychos!

"Talk," Tom said, stepping forward and grabbing Xander by the hair, forcing him to engage in eye contact. "Now."

"Okay, fine. I'm a, an Oracle," Cordy heard Loser Boy admit painfully. "It's sorta my thing. I can't control it, or even remember the warnings I give out whenever my eyes turn green that way. And I have no idea what you're talking about, this whole 'Machida' thing. Satisfied? Because that's the truth, believe it or not."

Cordy certainly couldn't believe it, even as she saw Tom examining the Doof carefully for any evidence of lies or evasion. She doubted Kelly and Brittany did, either, from the looks on their faces. { Where the hell did he come up with that? And oh, geez, I must be really desperate if my only hope is a guy who's able to pull a whopper like that one out of his ass! }

Tom abruptly straightened, slightly. "Chain him up with the others," he said, still eyeing Xander carefully.

"Uh, boss? There's no room, plus no chains," one of the hooded guys responded apologetically, gesturing towards her and the other two girls. "Should we just tie him up instead?"

"Yes, do that," Tom stated absently, before gesturing to Richard. "The chaperone?"

"We dumped the body over the fence into the cemetery next door," Richard replied, which immediately made Cordelia's blood feel like ice in her veins –

Tom nodded. "Good enough." He glanced over at Cordelia and the others in disgust. "Who'd have thought finding a virgin would have caused so many hassles this year?" Then Warner shook his head, dismissing that. "Begin the ritual."

Nodding and lowering his robe's hood over his head, Richard brought out three stones which were polished and shiny. He gave them to Tom, who gave him the sword in return and then Warner said loudly, "Machida."

The hooded frat brothers intoned, "In His name."

"We who serve you, we who receive all that you bestow, call upon you in this holy hour."

"In this holy hour," the crowd echoed.

"We have no wealth, no possession... except that which you give us."

"Except that which you give us," the hooded guys intoned.

"We have no power, no place in the world... except that which you give us."

"Except that which you give us," the crowd said again.

"What's going on?" Kelly said, not bothering to whisper anymore.

"I think they're gonna kill us," Brittany replied in escalating horror.

"It's been a year since our last offering," Tom chanted, ignoring them. "A year in which our bounty overflowed. We come before you with fresh offerings."

"Offerings? Us?" Cordelia squeaked in terror.

"Do you see anyone else chained up in here?" Kelly replied numbly.

Tom kept going, "Accept our offering, Dark Lord, and bless us with your power. Machida!"

The hooded frat brothers chanted, "Machida!" as Tom tossed the stones into the well at the center of the basement, one at a time.

"What's down there?" Cordelia demanded, now officially frightened out of her mind.

"Come forth, and let your terrible countenance look upon your servants, and their humble offering. We call you, Machida!" Tom shouted.

"In His name. Machida!" the crowd of psychos chanted.

"OH MY GODDDDDDD!" Cordelia screamed, as Machida finally rose up out of the well.

The nightmarish thing before her was some kinda half-man, half-snake monster, all green and scaly. It – he – hissed loudly, as he looked at her and the other two girls. Cordelia kept on screaming at the top of her lungs as Kelly and Brittany stared at Machida in wide-eyed horror, before fainting dead away.

"Xander, do something!" she instinctively pleaded, turning to look at him.

"Okay, sure. What?" the Dorkhead asked dazedly, staring at the monster.

"For He shall rise from the depths, and we shall tremble before Him," Tom kept chanting. "He who is the source of all we inherit and all we possess. Machida."

"Machida," the hooded guys echoed.

"And if He is pleased with our offerings, then our fortune shall increase."

"Machida. Let our fortunes increase," the crowd chanted.

"And on the tenth day of the tenth month He shall be enhungered. And we shall feed Him," Tom finished up as Machida gazed toward her and the other girls.

"Feed him?" Cordelia whispered dumbly, as Machida spread his arms.

"Hey, Reptile Boy!" Xander suddenly called out, as all eyes focused on him. "You don't want to eat Cordy! Look at her – she's practically skin and bones. Half an hour later, you'll just be hungry again –"

"Xander, how dare you?!" Cordelia screamed angrily, even as Tom punched Harris to shut him up.

"So take me, instead!" the Dweeb shouted, ignoring the blow, which made Cordelia gape at her frenemy in disbelief.

"Feed, Dark Lord!" Tom shouted, as the demon-snake-thing-whatever came closer. "Feast upon your virgin sacrifices!"

Machida surged forward –

– only to stop, as Cordelia saw Xander's eyes turn green and kinda sparkly – just like that time when she was with Harmony, the first day of the school year – and an inhuman, hissing noise erupted out of the Dorkhead's mouth.

Cordelia never noticed Xander's eyes go back to their normal color – she was too busy gaping as the monster quickly withdrew, vanishing back down into the well. { What just happened? }

"What just happened?" Richard echoed her thought in pure disbelief, tossing back his hood.

"You. You did this!" Tom snarled at Xander, grabbing Richard's sword and putting it to Xander's neck. "What did you say to Machida, for him to forsake our offerings?"

"Already told ya, sorry. But doesn't work like that, pal," Xander replied nervously, looking acutely panicked about the sharp steel pressed against his carotid. "Whatever I say when the Oracle spirit hijacks my ass, I can never remember it afterwards. I, uh, a witch I knew once said that that's S.O.P. for guys like me. I'm guessin' prophecy's kinda like that?"

{ What? } Cordelia thought to herself torpidly, her mind starting to shut down in order to try to preserve her sanity. { Witch? Oracle? Prophecy? Ohhhhhhhh – }

"Right! Everyone dig in, and let's remember to share, people!" a male voice with a British accent said from the top of the nearby stairs, before everything erupted into pure chaos.

To her horror and further disbelief, Cordelia saw things with yellow eyes, fangs and bumpy foreheads leaping down from the stairs, and attacking the hooded bad guys. The frat brothers never stood a chance – Cordelia could tell that much, before Xander came over to stand in front of her.

"Pretend to faint! Now! Maybe they won't kill you if they think you're out cold like those other two, it wouldn't be any fun for them," Lame Boy whispered to her, and for some reason, Cordy instantly obeyed him.

"Gimme that sword, mate!" she heard the same British-accented voice from a few moments previously; and roughly ten seconds later, inhuman screaming noises came from the direction of the well.

The cacophony abruptly ceased after about half a minute, though, as the unknown English guy then said, "Ah, that felt bloody marvellous! Been waiting over fifty years to deal with that ponce-y demon 'n all his minions. So what next, luv? Dru?"

"Hullo, Kitten," Cordelia heard a different, accented female voice say.

"Wot? He's the effin' pussy cat you mentioned back in Marseilles, pet? And is this-?"

"Yes, Spoike. And you, the naughty girl. I can tell you're just pretending to be asleep, silly! Now open your eyes, or you'll never sing a song o' sixpence again. Quickly, now!"

She ceased playing possum and straightened up, even though it still felt like she was trapped in a terrible nightmare that would never end. And despite how Xander's body was still blocking most of her field of view, Cordelia still managed to get a peek of the hideous, deformed, inhuman-looking woman's face.

"That's better! Now, Kitten? Be a good boy 'n talk to me. What does the Dark Lady 'ave to say?" the female monster – Dru? – purred softly at Xander.

"Uh – what? Sorry, but I dunno who you're talkin' about. Or what it is you want me to say?" Harris said nervously.

"Listen, baby, hate to be a nag – but ya know how upset your great-grandad will get if we're not home soon with his supper," the British male... thing... cut in. "So let's just kill the whelp and his bird 'n be done with it, shall we?"

Cordy sucked in a terrified breath as Xander responded, "Uh, actually, you're not gonna kill us. At least, not here and not now. I have that on pretty good authority, anyway."

"Oh, really? And why's zat, then?" the male voice – Cordy had a brief flash of a bleached-blond figure of roughly medium height, wearing an unfashionable-looking leather duster – asked in amusement.

"Because I've been told I either die alone in Africa in a bit less than ten years' time, or together with Cordelia – eight and a half decades from now," the Doofus replied, making her wince as she recalled what Madam Devora had said all those months ago. Nonetheless, just for once – Cordy truly hoped that that so-called psychic was not a fake –

"Yeah? And all that's gonna stop me from rippin' yer throat out, how exactly?" the bad guy asked Xander, amusement still dripping in in his tone.

"Ahhh..." the 'Dru' thing spoke up, with an odd tone of voice. "Oh, oh, Spoike – the naughty girl's bad daddy, and his pack – they're almost here... nair nur, nair nur, nair nur!"

She – it – the woman-thing was obviously a total loon. And the guy – Spoike? Spike? – cursed briefly. "The coppers are comin' here, now? Well, that's just wunnerful – all right, lads, everyone out! Right now!"

Cordelia could only watch in sheer incredulity as the monsters – there was simply no other word that fit in her mind – all stopped whatever they were doing, and raced up the stone stairway. Two of them dragged a couple of the hooded frat boys along with them. Spoike and Dru were the last to leave, as the female monster waved and called out, "Until next time, Kitten!"

"Are you okay?" Cordelia heard the Dumbass ask her in concern, and she nodded silently as she watched him awkwardly pick up Richard's sword and hold it roughly perpendicular to the floor, in order to saw through the ropes binding his hands.

Once she noticed all the dead bodies on the floor, though, Cordelia decided to follow Kelly and Brittany's excellent example – and she unceremoniously fainted.


A/N: Nothing much to say other than thanks to everyone who's been reading and reviewing the story, and sending me feedback. Hope you all managed to get through to the end okay!