Summary: The source of much of the misery in the Buffyverse comes from an unexpected source. . .

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters portrayed here, they remain the property of their respective owners/creators.

Rating: PG-13, for themes.

Time Frame: Some time after the events of "Bargaining." (spoiler warning).

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me (eilandesq@aol.com) to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.

Dedication: To my favorite mischief goddess, Anne-Sophie, on the occasion of her birthday.



LITTLE BASTARDS


Arthak the Merciless, once the terror of Sub-Saharan Africa, and now the Presiding Demon over Random Chaos in the Western Hemisphere, slipped into a hidden doorway and entered a dimly lit hallway. He wore a dark suit that was tailored perfectly to fit his heavily muscled, spiny form.

Arthak walked ahead for about a hundred feet, then reached out and opened another door, revealing a well-lit corridor full of various demons walking along. He entered and turned left, nodding at the acknowledgments that the other demons gave him as he went along. After a moment, his eyes fell on the door marked, "WHP." He smiled and entered, carefully closing the door behind him before turning to the demon sitting at the secretary's desk and asking, "Is he in, Marlissa?"

The succubus smiled at him and replied, "Yes, sir. . .I'll let him know you're here." She pressed a button next to the telephone and waited, while Arthak admired her delicate beauty, though he would not have considered doing anything more without invitation. Succubi were lovely-and talented in all the right ways-but demons who didn't wait for the appropriate encouragement with them tended to end up without important body parts.

A green light went on next to the button, and Marlissa smiled and gestured to Arthak, elaborating, "You can go in, sir."

Arthak nodded at her, then went to the inner door, which was made of heavy oak, and opened it, entering the inner office. Arthak saw the relatively slender, inoffensive looking demon behind the desk stand up and smiled as he said, "It's good to see you again, Zilich."

The smaller demon nodded deferentially at Arthak and replied, "Good to see you again, sir." He gestured to the comfortable-looking visitor's chair, then asked, "Did you want something to drink?"

Arthak shook his head, then sat down. Both demons were silent for a moment, then Arthak smiled and commented, "I should have been by here a long time ago. . .you've been here for almost five years now, and you've done a bang-up job. I've been busy with operations that have needed a bit more. . .encouragement to keep running on track."

Zilich shrugged, then replied, "I had things pretty much under control here, sir. . .and I know you're busy." He stood up and began to pace restlessly, adding, "Nice thing about this operation is that it's pretty much ad hoc. . .just inflict chaos and make the lives of the White Hats less than pleasant. It's nice to have the flexibility that grants. . .I hope I'm not out of line, sir, but it seems to me that some of our recent operations have met with failure largely because of their inability to adjust to the circumstances. . .we should try to avoid that in the future."

Arthak felt a burst of anger, remembering that some of the operations that had failed most spectacularly had been of his own conception, before he remembered that these closed-door meetings were pointless if his subordinates didn't feel free to speak up; however, he did have a reputation to keep up. He directed a lethal glare at the smaller demon and watched him squirm for a moment before nodding curtly and replying, "You're right, of course, Zilich. . .and if you ever tell anyone outside this room that I told you that, I'll be feeding them your entrails. . .understood?"

Zilich nodded and swallowed hard as he replied, "Yes, sir."

Arthak nodded back, then smiled again and invited, "So. . .I've heard about the highlights of the last five years, but not some of the details. How have you been pulling off some of these stunts, anyway?"

Zilich grinned, then replied, "My approach has always concentrated on subtlety. That bunch of White Hats has been chewing up and spitting out every big nasty sent their way, but if you're willing to take the time to work around the edges, you can do a lot of damage without being noticed." He walked over to a closet and opened the door, revealing a TV/VCR set-up and a small pile of envelopes. He took the pile of envelopes, which were all stamped and addressed to "Mr. Rupert Giles", except for one addressed to "Mr. Sam Zabuto." Zilich smiled coldly and pulled the letter out of the latter envelope, reading aloud, "Dear Mr. Zabuto: We have learned that Buffy Summers is still alive and well in Sunnydale, and are uncertain as to why Kendra was Called. We will inform Mr. Giles of your current situation, so as to avoid potential misunderstandings, and suggest that you notify Mr. Giles should Kendra's duties require her to come to Sunnydale, for the same purpose. Sincerely, Quentin Travers." Zilich nodded at one of the envelopes addressed to Giles and commented, "Gee. . .bet they would have liked to get these memos."

Arthak laughed aloud and slapped the arm of the chair he was sitting in before calling out, "Well done! What are those other letters?"

Zilich pointed to one of the letters and replied, "This one was from Amanda Davis, Faith's Watcher, informing Mr. Giles that Faith had been Called and asking for advice on dealing with her problems. . .would have made things a bit more comfortable when Faith showed up in Sunnydale." He pointed to the remaining letter and continued, "This one was that memo that the Council sent to warn Mr. Giles about Gwendolyn Post. . .he assumed that they were lying when they said that they had sent it." He chuckled and concluded, "Amazing how much havoc a little lost mail can cause."

Arthak shook his head in disbelief, then asked, "What's the gadgetry for?" He pointed to the TV/VCR setup, visibly curious.

Zilich smiled, then pulled out a remote control and switched on the devices, replying, "Some of our missions required a little more hands-on attention, and I decided to use the new technology to document it." The television flickered, then brightened and displayed a classroom where Jenny Calendar was speaking to her Uncle Enyos. The camera view zoomed in, displaying a small demon sitting on Enyos' shoulder, out of the line of sight of Jenny. The sound of whispering was coming from the demon, and the words became more clear after a moment: "Don't tell her about the escape clause of the curse. . .Angelus deserves to die. . .Angelus deserves to die. . ."

Arthak looked at Zilich and raised an eyebrow, impressed. Zilich nodded and elaborated, "He might have told her about the escape clause, and she would have spilled the beans. . .think of all of the fun that wouldn't have happened if Buffy hadn't slept with Angel. . .couldn't have had that, could we?"

Arthak nodded, then turned his attention back to the screen as it changed to an inner view of Giles' office. He had a visible head injury, but he was returning to consciousness. As the sound of Xander and Faith coming into the library could be heard coming into the office, Giles stirred and tried to sit up. . .only to have a small demon walk over and whack him over the head with a handy rock. Giles slumped, and the demon cleared out as Xander and Faith burst in. Arthak applauded, and Zilich grinned and responded, "Thanks, boss. . .took a bit of a risk there, but the return was worth it. . .and we almost got a lot more. Oh, well." He nodded back at the screen and added, "Now, this one. . .thing of beauty. The White Hats had just grabbed that box that Wilkins needed for his Ascension, and they were going to get away clean."

The view changed, showing Faith standing outside at night, looking bored. Abruptly, a rock sailed through the air, causing a rustling sound in the nearby bushes. Faith whirled, sensing a threat, and was about to turn around again when she spotted a figure with red hair climbing down from the roof of City Hall. Faith grinned wickedly and ran over to Willow, seizing her and dragging her off. Zilich pointed the control at the television and turned it off, commenting, "There's more, but I think you get the idea. . .it's always the little details that cause them grief."

Arthak shook his head in disbelief and commented, "You've more than justified my confidence in you for this job. . .any more ideas, now that Buffy Summers isn't an obstacle any more?"

Zilich smiled and replied, "Yes, now that you ask." He nodded at the modern computer station and elaborated, "I've noticed that demons have an increased presence on the Internet, and I decided that a description of our activities would be a morale booster. I've forwarded a summary of this department's activities since I took over to all of the demons on this list." Zilich handed a printout to Arthak, who began to read it with interest. He was startled when the larger demon turned deathly pale, and asked, "What's wrong, Boss?"

Arthak, looked dazed, gestured for Zilich to come over. The smaller demon walked over and looked at the name that Arthak was pointing at, and was stunned into a laconic reply: "Oh."

Arthak looked up at him, and snarled, "OH! That's all you have to say? You just sent an incriminating document to the girlfriend of one of the White Hats, and all you have to say is 'Oh?' What kind of idiot are you?"

Zilich frowned and replied, "Damn it, I'm sure I sent a memo to Records about removing Anyanka from the mailing list. . .damned bureaucracy." He visibly composed himself, then turned back to his superior and reassured him, "Boss. . .I know it looks bad, but the e mail doesn't give our location here: what are the odds that they could find us?" The intercom buzzer went off, and Zilich leaned over to the speaker and asked, "Yes, Marlissa?"

The normally cool voice of the receptionist sounded more than a little perturbed as she announced, "Mr. Zilich, I've got two witches, two vampires, two Slayers, two demon hunters, a Watcher, and a seer out here with Anyanka and her fiancée. . .they'd like to have a word with you."

Arthak and Zilich looked at each other with sheer horror, and it was a moment before Zilich blinked in shock and stammered, "Two Slayers? That's impossible. . .she's dead!"

The heavy oak door was torn from its hinges by a single devastating kick, and a petite blonde stepped into the room with death in her eyes. She locked eyes with Zilich and replied, "I got over it."

Arthak didn't wait to hear any more. He had a talisman that would give him an instant escape on one occasion. . .and he couldn't picture a worse situation to be in. He invoked its power and slowly faded out of the room. He could hear Zilich's horrible screams, and-as he faded out and reappeared thousands of miles away--realized that the soon to be late Head of the White Hat Project had been right:

It was always the little details that got you.




As before, comments are welcome and desired.