Author's Note: All characters and settings created by phouka are the property of that author. After writing the following story, I sent it to phouka for her comments. Her reply pointed out that in two specific parts of this story, I inadvertently wrote those sections in such a way as to present something she hadn't intended for her own creation of "Haven and Home." She graciously allowed me the option of re-writing the story, or presenting it with the following disclaimer: "….that you are taking the characters in a new direction that doesn't necessarily jive with the original author's intent." I decided to go with the latter in this case.

Many thanks to phouka for the use of her characters.

Three days before D-Day:

"Lea Harra ala."

As the dryad slightly released her grip on the throat of the demon, that creature lying flat on his back managed to croak out a more comprehensible statement. He raspingly sent the words upwards into the menacing stare of the small woods-nymph standing on his chest, with her tiny feet resting on the fiend's collarbones while she was bent nearly double, almost nose-to-nose with Lord D'Hoffryn, as the dryad maintained her implacable clutch around his neck, her dainty hands buried deep in the demon's flesh.

"Leave Harris alone. Yes, yes, you've made your point crystal clear!" glowered the master of the vengeance demons at the dryad, who only narrowed her eyes at his disrespectful tone, which changed into nearly an actual whine, as D'Hoffryn continued. "It still isn't that easy! If I show any kind of favoritism or mercy towards that human, considering his past history with us, I'm going to have my authority questioned, with the possibility of my position being undermined, which is not at all agreeable to-- GUK!"

For the next several seconds, the dryad coolly watched how D'Hoffryn's rough features turned a darker purple, as his eyes bulged, and his eye-ridges frantically waggled in a plea for oxygen, with only that part of his body daring to move, since any attempt to grab or otherwise dislodge the little being choking him risked his larynx being crushed in the subsequent moment.

Finally, with impeccable timing, the dryad once more relaxed her grip just before the demon lord would have passed out. Patiently waiting as D'Hoffryn gasped for breath, the forest creature sent another direct stare into the fiend's face, clearly sending a message that she thought it was time for him to talk again, only much more politely and saying what she wanted to hear. Or else.

As his mind cleared, D'Hoffryn frantically tried to think of some acceptable compromise that would conclusively end this whole humiliating episode, with him retaining a little dignity. Plus also his neck vertebrae remaining intact. Furiously concentrating, the demon lord eventually came up with something, to be warily spoken into the dryad's stern features.

"How….how about this? I'll proclaim that due to the recent events at the Cleveland Hellmouth, including those new Slayers, your re-awakening, and the appearance of that blasted vengeance competitor, that area and its population are now too dangerous to be meddled with, and I'll declare the entire city off-limits -- UHK! -- and a ten-mile zone around -- Urg! -- fifty? -- yeesh! -- one hundred miles! -- aahhhh…."

At those last words, the satisfied dryad now completely released her stranglehold of D'Hoffryn, straightening up, to continue standing on top of the demon's chest, as she calmly folded her arms across her chest and expectantly eyed the recovering fiend. Eventually, her prisoner said the reluctant words that would seal their compact.

"By my powers, which I shall lose forevermore should I break this vow, all I have said shall come to pass! So mote it be!"

A flash of pure white light shone throughout the entire office of the demon lord's workplace, with this illumination also outlining for an instant the two magical beings in this room. When the light faded, D'Hoffryn glared upwards into the thrilled dryad's sparkling eyes, and lost control of himself enough to grumble, "All right, it's done! Now, please get off me and go away, before somebody walks in here and sees me like this!"

The only reaction to this by the dryad was an upraised eyebrow of mild rebuke, which made D'Hoffryn himself roll his eyes in exasperation, to impatiently snap, "Yes, I wasn't expecting at all to have you miss that loophole! Look, there's nothing to stop you from warning Harris he'll have to take his chances with us away from Cleveland! You know quite well I'm a vengeance demon, and I -- we -- don't let people who make wishes get off scot-free!" At the end of that rant, a suddenly-worried D'Hoffryn promptly shut up and stared at the dryad, wondering if he'd gone too far.

Instead, the little tree-fairy simply shrugged her slim shoulders, and with an impish grin on her face, she abruptly bent down, her right hand darting towards D'Hoffryn's face, to grab the tip of his nose, and she tweaked that nasal organ once, hard. In the next instant, the dryad vanished into thin air.

For a good long while after that, there was absolute silence in the office, until a contemplative voice finally spoke, "I never thought I could hate Alexander LaVelle Harris even more than I previously did, but that cursed human has managed to change that, yet again."

Groaning, D'Hoffryn staggered up to his feet, to stand there for a few moments rubbing his neck and wincing, until he lurched over to his desk and pushing away his chair, the demon fell into that seat, slumping back in exhaustion. Some moments later, a taloned hand reached out to pull open a desk drawer, descending into that part of the furniture to lift out a dusty bottle that was now plunked onto the top of the desk. Ignoring the glass remaining in the open drawer, the demon sank a fingertip claw into the bottle's cork that had aged dark black, yanking this stopper out of the bottle with an expert jerk of his finger, and lifted up the century-old bottle of 140-proof rum to his mouth, taking a good, long pull of the fiery liquid.

After his shuddering stopped, D'Hoffryn just glowered off into the distance for a few minutes, interrupting his sulking only with more slugs directly from the bottle. Eventually, after he'd lowered the level of the booze halfway down, with his gaze becoming a little unfocused, a puzzled frown slowly appeared on his features. Now that he'd actually had a chance to think it over without the Lady of the Green squeezing him by his gullet in homicidal intent, there had been an odd undercurrent during that event of….impatient concern, as if she'd been rushing through the whole thing. The dryad had acted if there had been some sort of time limit.

Blearily gazing at the bottle resting on top of his desk, D'Hoffryn drunkenly muttered to it as if it were actually listening, "Now, why'd she need to do everything she did here in the first place? It wasn't like I was actually targeting Harris, though if he'd ever gotten in my sights, I'd have been more than happy to wreck his life…." As he thought that over, the demon's sobriety level rose a bit, causing him to wonder, "Maybe something changed? It must have happened recently, but what, exactly?"

Leaning back in his chair, D'Hoffryn started thinking more clearly, with growing regret over his recent vow. Because of that, he couldn't ever try to find out through direct investigation of Harris or his friends and family at Cleveland, by himself or any of his demonic workforce. Indirect means might work, but they were sure to be time-consuming, with room for error.

D'Hoffryn abruptly sat up in his chair, as an inspiration struck him. There was a potential loophole in his oath, in that he could use his magic to find out just what had been going on with the dryad in a most specific place. To be exact, here, in his office. If he could simply sense there had been something bothering her just a few minutes ago, perhaps if he used his magic to further delve into this, there was the chance that during her previous presence here she'd been thinking of exactly what concerned her. His magic was more than capable of revealing this.

Snickering evilly to himself, the demon lord swept his clawed hands in several mystic gestures, and with a last wave of his hands, D'Hoffryn summoned to his mind the cause of the dryad's anxiety.

The demon's mouth fell open. Slowly, D'Hoffryn lifted his gaze to stare upwards in absolute disbelief at the ceiling, to then scream with all the power of his lungs.


Dazedly letting his head drop after this vocal eruption, D'Hoffryn then had his gaze then fall upon the bottle of rum waiting for him. Instantly, the fiend surged forward in his seat, to seize the bottle and shove the entire neck of this container deep into his mouth, as the master of the vengeance demons chugged in a single gulp a full two pints of brain-destroying booze, in the despairing hope that this would cause him to utterly forget the whole preposterous events of the past hour.