Chapter 3

First Contact

For God's Sake, let us sit upon the ground,

And tell sad stories of the death of kings:

How some have been depos'd, some slain in war,

Some haunted by the ghosts they have depos'd;

Some poison'd by their wives, some sleeping kill'd;

All murder'd.

--William Shakespeare

  "King Richard II", Act III Scene III

She had poured herself a cup of chamomile tea, and was leaning back in her office chair listening to the new Cherish the Ladies CD when she heard a knock at her door.  Lowering the volume of her CD player, she opened the door, pleasantly surprised to find out who her guest was.  "Tara," she smiled.  "Please, come in, make yourself comfortable."

"Thank you, Miss Lafayette," Tara answered timidly as she took her seat, unwilling to take her eyes off of her mentor.  The melodious Celtic music in the background would have normally soothed the younger woman, but today it washed past her.  When Miss Lafayette offered her a cup of chamomile tea, Tara declined.  Until she was certain of what she was dealing with, Tara wanted to keep her wits about her.

Miss Lafayette moved her chair out from behind her desk and sat directly in front of Tara.  "You look like you have something on your mind, Tara," she observed.  "Is there something you wish to talk about?"

Tara could feel the gentle power of Miss Lafayette's eyes upon her, regarding her in a motherly fashion, yet at the same time analyzing her carefully.  She shied away from this loving scrutiny, and concentrated on her reasons for coming here.  "Well, there is something, yeah.  I had this dream the other night, and, well, I wondered if you could help me understand it."

Lafayette pursed her lips in thought.  "Do you think it was more than a normal dream?"

"I think it was supposed to be telling me something," Tara admitted.  "Like a vision, or something." She paused, not sure how to proceed. 

Miss Lafayette regarded Tara with a gimlet eye, picking up every nuance, every awkward glance, every shift of her body in the chair.  "Maybe if you described the dream," she suggested, "I could understand it better."

Tara sighed, her shoulders sagging under an unseen load.  "Well, there were knights on a battlefield," she started.  "Most of them were dying, or already dead.  And a king, dying on the field.  And there was this woman, I think she was a priestess or something.  And the weird thing was, she looked like you.  I mean, maybe that's why I was thinking priestess, because of you and the wiccan group and all?"

Lafayette nodded slowly.  She placed her teacup down on her desk, almost reverently.  "You dreamed of Arthur.  Of the fall of Camelot."

Tara gasped audibly, and Lafayette had to suppress a smile at her reaction.  "How d-did you know ab-bout C-camelot?" Tara fell back into her nervous stutter as she gawked at her mentor.  "I d-didn't tell you that my dream was about King Arthur, I…I..." Tara blinked for a second, then found herself looking at Miss Lafayette for the first time. 

There was no noticeable change in her appearance.  She was still dressed in a red cableknit sweater and black slacks.  There wasn't even a detectable shift in her posture.  But there was a change.  She seemed taller somehow, more poised, more powerful.  Every outline of her face, every curve of her body, even the colors of her clothes seemed sharper, more defined.  Like Tara had looked at her through imperfect eyes, and now her vision had locked into true focus.  She saw Miss Lafayette in all her power, and it frightened her. 

The priestess answered Tara in a quiet voice that nonetheless hit Tara like a tide on the sand; "I have waited for you for so long, my child.  I had cast the bones many years ago, sought the signs and prayed to the Goddess for guidance.  The signs pointed to one who would dream of Camelot, who would see me as I truly am, and now that time has come.  You know me, child.  You have always known me in your heart."

Tara gulped hard, gazing upon the woman who stood before her.  Not since she encountered the insane Glory had she known such fear in her soul, but she kept a stranglehold on that fear.  She had to know.  "Who-who are you?" she stammered.

The older brunette regarded her warmly, with a motherly affection.  "I am Morgan Lafayette, child.  A priestess of the Goddess." 

With those simple words, Tara realized now who this person truly was.  Not fooled by simple sight, she saw her.  Not fooled by her words, she heard her.  She knew her now as she truly was.  She knew her just as surely as she knew that her life had just changed forever.  She had crossed a bridge, and there was no going back now.

David Xanatos had to suppress a smile as Goliath broke from his cocoon of rock in front of Buffy and Giles.  He had awaited the chance to see their reactions. It's one thing to know about the stone sleep, it is another thing to see a gargoyle emerge from hibernation.  To watch the stone figure shatter violently, revealing the creature within. 

For his own part, Goliath regarded the new faces that gaped at him in silence.  He wasn't sure what to expect when they first saw him emerge from the stone sleep. Astonishment, shock, fear possibly.  In Manhattan he and his clan had faced more than a few fearful faces, stirred by primal nightmares or the prejudicial anti-Gargoyle ravings of John Castaway and his Quarrymen organization.  It was a sad fact of human nature that the unknown was often treated as the enemy.

But the middle-aged gentleman standing at Buffy's side seemed to regard him with curiosity, not fear.  He was clearly a scholar, not reactionary or judgmental.  He was sizing Goliath up, determining for himself whether he was friend or foe.  Goliath nodded toward him, hoping to set his mind at ease.  "Greetings, my friend.  You are the Slayer's mentor, are you not?"

"I am her Watcher, yes," the Englishman answered, slowly extending his hand.  "Rupert Giles."

"Goliath," the gargoyle introduced himself, accepting Giles' hand.  "A pleasure to meet you.  And you, Miss Summers," he turned toward Buffy, bowing in a courtly manner.  "I am pleased to see you well, and recovering from Wolf's attack last night."

"Yeah, thanks," Buffy answered, absently touching her cheek, where Wolf had clawed her the previous night.  "Whatever that stuff you gave me for those scrapes, it seemed to work quickly."

"I am relieved."  Goliath strode off of the balcony and into the suite.  "I apologize for my, shall we say, dramatic entrance on the balcony.  It is the way of the gargoyles; we turn to stone at sunrise, emerging from the stone sleep when the sun sets to defend our castle." Buffy and Giles absorbed this information quietly, and Goliath made no more mention about it.

David Xanatos ushered Buffy and Giles inside and they sat together on a nearby sofa.  David took his easy chair, while Goliath preferred to stand.  The gargoyle glanced at the desert tray on the coffee table, and smiled slightly. "Baklava," he commented.  "The Papadapolis bakery, David?"

"Where else?" David grinned, reaching for a chocolate-iced pastry.  "Help yourself."

"My thanks," Goliath reached down and picked up a piece of baklava.  After downing the snack in one bite, he turned his attention to Buffy and Giles, saying, "I am grateful that you agreed to meet me here, Buffy.  There is much for us to discuss."

"Yes," Buffy agreed.  "Like, who the heck are you?  I mean, I've run into vampires, werewolves, demons, the odd goddess or two, but you're my first gargoyle."

"I can believe that," Goliath admitted.  "Our people are scarce.  Until recently, my clan believed that we were the last of our kind.  However, I have since met others.  Small clans in London, Japan, and the Amazon rainforests, as well as a large clan on the isle of Avalon."

"Avalon?" Goliath asked, suddenly excited.  "Are you saying that the legendary isle, the last resting place of Arthur, is real?"

"It is, my friend," Goliath answered in an amused tone.  "And I will be glad to speak to you of such matters.  But for now, we must address a threat.  An enemy of mine has come to Sunnydale.  This is my reason for being here; to warn you of this threat, and to offer whatever assistance I can."

Buffy cocked her eyebrow at this proclamation.  "How serious are we talking here, Goliath?  I mean, not to blow my own horn, but I've taken on my share of would-be world killers as the Slayer."

"I've no doubt," Xanatos replied, savoring another bite of baklava.  "But don't sell Demona short, Buffy.  She's a tough customer." 

Buffy turned toward Giles, a skewered half-smile crossing her face.  "Demona," she said plainly.  "We're going up against someone called 'Demona', and they expect us to take her seriously?"

"Be assured," Goliath spoke gravely, "that Demona is not one to be taken lightly.  She betrayed my clan over a thousand years ago, and all this time she has sustained an all-consuming hatred of humanity."

Giles pondered Goliath's statement carefully.  "The two of you would seem to have a history," he mused.

"That we do," Goliath answered sadly.  "That we do.  Perhaps I should begin at the very beginning."  He took a deep breath, and began his narration in a low, almost stentorian voice;

"In the year 990 AD, my clan defended Castle Wyvern in Scotland, from the hordes of Viking conquerors that threatened to overtake them during the Dark Ages.  We expected no reward from Prince Malcolm or his people for our services, nor did we require any.  It has always been our nature to protect our castle.  As my mentor Hudson has often said, 'we gargoyles can no more stop defending our castle than we can stop breathing the air'.

"However, we were not always welcomed by the humans we protected.  Many looked upon us with fear and mistrust.  Very few of the clan gave their dislike of us any thought.  But then there was Demona.  She was ever hot-headed, and fearful of the humans.  She feared that the humans we protected would turn on us in their fear, and destroy us.  She was also a student of magic, slowly indoctrinated into the Black Arts by a powerful sorcerer called the Archmage. 

"Inevitably she chose to strike against the humans, before they had an opportunity to destroy us.  She allied with a Captain of the Guard at Castle Wyvern, and together they betrayed the Castle to the Viking chief Hakon.  Hakon and his forces destroyed the castle, and most of the clan perished at their hands as well.  A few of us survived, to aid as many of Prince Malcolm's people as survived the raid, but we were victims of a dark magic.  The Magus, a student of the Archmage, was bigoted against my clan, and believing them responsible for the sacking of Castle Wyvern, cast a spell on the surviving members of my clan.  The spell trapped us in stone sleep, petrified by the spell until Castle Wyvern rose above the clouds."  Goliath shook his heavy head, damming the tide of grief at the betrayal of his once-mate.  "I hadn't been so ensorcelled, but when I learned of Magus's treachery, I asked him to place me under the spell, so I may go down with my clan."  Buffy and Giles listened intently to Goliath's narrative, hearing the emotion, the sadness of one who had lost his people. 

"Meanwhile," Xanatos added, "Demona survived, blaming humans for the fall of the clan.  She roamed the world for years, at one point being given immortality by a trio of witches who had an agenda of their own for her.  At one point, about ten years ago, she came to me, informing me about Castle Wyvern and her clan's plight.  She told me about the spell that held the other gargoyles in stone, and I came up with a solution; I bought the property of Castle Wyvern, had it shipped over to New York, and hoisted the entire castle to the top of my corporate skyscraper.  Above the clouds."

"As I recall, David," Goliath reminded his friend archly, "you too had an agenda of your own."

"And you weren't going to go along with it," Xanatos answered, a wry smile on his face.  "In the end, however, it all worked out.  Goliath and his clan live again, and have made Manhattan their protectorate.  And in the end, the even made me reconsider my wicked ways."

"No easy task," Goliath added.  "Anyway, once the curse was lifted, my clan lived among the shadows of Manhattan, aided by a police officer Elisa Masa."  As he spoke the name, Buffy couldn't help but notice that the tone of his voice had turned slightly affectionate.  "We also confronted Demona on several occasions; her hatred for humanity had only grown in the centuries since we were parted."  Now he sounded bitter, his voice slow and halting as he recalled the evil that had sickened Demona's heart.  "We have reason to believe that she is in Sunnydale now, seeking something.  She has in the past used objects of great arcane power, and there is evidence that she seeks such an object now."

Giles absently removed his glasses from his face and began to wipe the lenses with a pocket handkerchief; a body language that Buffy recognized as a sign his mind was hard at work.  "May I ask what evidence you have?" he asked.

"Wolf, for one," Goliath answered grimly.

Buffy raised an eyebrow.  "You mean our playmate from last night?"

Goliath nodded.  "She hired him to test your strength, Buffy, before she confronts you personally."

"Sounds like you and he had some run-ins," Buffy observed. 

Xanatos nodded knowingly.  "I'm afraid he was one of my creations." When Buffy and Giles stared hard at Xanatos, he simply smirked, saying, "Sorry about that.  He was a testament to my misspent past.  He was part of a team of mercenaries called The Pack, and they had done some jobs for me in the past.  Now he's working solo, for anyone who can afford his price.  At one point, he voluntarily underwent genetic engineering, and had wolf genes spliced into his system, making him half-man, half-wolf."

"So he's not a real werewolf," Buffy mused.

"No," Xanatos huffed, "just a real pest.  But he's not the real enemy, he's just a hired gun.  Demona's the real threat."

"David speaks the truth, my friends," Goliath said sadly.  "I have known Demona for all of my life, I loved her once, I grieved when I lost her, I rejoiced when we were reunited, and I raged when she betrayed me. I trusted her once, only to see her prove to be the most dangerous being I have ever encountered.  Where once she had been my mate, she is now my enemy."

"Wrong, Goliath," a harsh voice blasted from the balcony window.  "You are the enemy!  You and the humans you so foolishly protect!"  Four heads turned toward the still-open balcony window.  Goliath's eyes narrowed, glowing bright yellow at the speaker's presence, while Xanatos simply lifted his eyebrow disdainfully.  Buffy and Giles simply gasped in startlement at the sight before them.

She was a gargoyle; that much was obvious.  A female of the species, the same species as Goliath.  Her hide was a similar shade to Goliath's, stretched tightly over a lithe yet muscular frame.  She perched on the balcony rail, her hands resting defiantly on her hips and her wings spread out around her body, reminding Buffy of a great bird of prey about to lunge downward for the kill.  A shock of short, unruly red hair on her head made Buffy think absently of Willow, but the cruel upturn of her lips into a villainous smile dashed the similarity from Buffy's mind. 

But it was the eyes that left the greatest impression.  One moment, a sharp piercing blue, the next moment as they passed over Buffy and Giles, burning in their sockets like red hot coals.  Burning with righteous rage.  Burning with hatred.

The seconds stretched into each other, no one daring to break the silence.  Finally, Buffy stepped forward, appraising the interloper almost casually.  "Don't tell me, let me guess," she said.  "Demona, right?"

The creature snarled disdainfully.  "Very good, Slayer.  I'll put a gold star on your gravestone."

"Oh, this is good," Buffy chuckled mirthlessly.  "You're threatening to kill me, Dee-dee?  Been there, done that, got the t-shirt!"

Demona shrieked as she lunged from the balcony, throwing her weight on top of the startled Slayer.  Buffy "Dee-dee?" Demona snarled.  "I will teach you to insult me, whelp!"

"No thanks," Buffy smiled.  "I already know how." Buffy had no time to evade her opponent before Demona landed on her.  But she did succeed in lifting her right leg as she fell so it was between her and her opponent.  With a powerful thrust, she kicked her leg forward, pushing the enraged Gargoyle away from her.  Demona landed hard against the wall, knocking a table lamp to the floor with her wing.  Buffy stood over Demona, arms ready at her sides.  "How about we take this thing outside, Demi?"

"With pleasure," Demona growled as she leapt toward Buffy, grabbing her shoulders with strong claws, and barreling them both past the balcony and out into the night sky.  "BUFFY!" Goliath shouted as he rushed out the window, and dove off after Demona and the captive Slayer.

Giles and Xanatos rushed out to the balcony, leaning hard against the railing as they watched the departing Gargoyle.  "You needn't worry about Buffy," Xanatos assured Giles quietly.  "There's no one I would trust with her well being more than Goliath."

As her shoulders protested under the iron claws of her captor, as the wind rushed violently through her hair, Buffy began to question the wisdom of her goading Demona into an attack.  Demona's wings knifed through the air, rising high above the ground below them.  Buffy considered struggling to free herself from Demona's grasp, but the distance below her reminded her of too many Wile E. Coyote cartoons.  Her immediate future looked grim.

Okay, Slayer, she thought urgently, no time to panic.  So you're in the talons of a psycho gargoyle who's flying you over the city, probably intent on dropping you any second… She glanced at the monster's wings, noticing that they weren't moving.  They weren't pushing against the air like a bird's wings.  She wasn't truly flying, Buffy had realized; she was gliding.  Probably shifting her own body weight to steer.  Buffy smiled as the beginnings of a crazy idea began to form.  But for her plan to work, Demona had to do what Buffy suspected she would do.

The vengeful Gargoyle complied.  "Tell me, Slayer, can you fly?" Demona snarled venomously as she loosened her grip on Buffy's shoulders. 

The split-second that Demona released her shoulders, Buffy twisted her arms upward, and grabbed Demona's wrists with her hands.  "No," Buffy shouted, "but I can steer!"  Tugging hard on Demona's left list, Buffy was pleased with the result, as Demona lost control of her glide pattern, and began to plummet rapidly.

"You fool!" Demona shrieked.  "You'll get us both killed!"  Struggling mightily, Demona slowly managed to right herself before landing on a street below, and coasted among the buildings of downtown Sunnydale.

"Well, thanks, Demi," Buffy announced, "but here's where I get off."  She squeezed hard on Demona's wrists, forcing her to release her shoulders.  Buffy tucked her legs under her, hitting the ground in a roll.  The landing was painful, and she'd probably feel the bruises for the better part of the next day, but she was still alive.

She heard the sweep of leather wings behind her, and spun around to confront her opponent.  She was relieved to see Goliath behind her instead of Demona.  "Buffy," he asked as he helped her get back on her feet, "are you well?"

"A little dinged up," Buffy answered, "and Giles will probably ream me out for that bonehead play, but I'm okay now."

"It was a daring stratagem, Buffy," Goliath nodded approvingly.  "But I doubt that Demona will forgive your bruising of her ego."

"On the contrary, my mate," Demona's voice snarled from behind them.  Buffy and Goliath turned toward the voice, as Demona glided to an easy stop, her wings dropping cloak-like around her shoulders.  "I applaud your warrior's spirit, Buffy Summers, if not your intelligence."

"Quit playing games, Demona," Goliath intoned in a low voice, almost a whisper, that nonetheless reminded Buffy of the ten seconds before an earthquake.  "Whatever you have planned in Sunnydale, we will stop you.  And I am no longer your mate!"

"Oh, yes, I keep forgetting," Demona chided Goliath with venomous sweetness.  "You would rather bed down with that miserable human whore Elisa!"  Demona spat out the name as though it were poison on her tongue.

When Buffy turned toward Goliath, she saw his eyes glowing fiercely, and could feel the roar build up from his gut seconds before it blasted from his throat.  "You will not speak of my wife with such disrespect!  She is your better in every way possible!"

Demona shrieked at Goliath's words.  "No human is my better!  They are vermin, every last one of them!  I will never rest until the entire race of humanity is wiped off the face of the earth!"

"Oh give it a rest, Erica Kane!" Buffy shouted, finally fed up with listening to this ancient feud.  "You've established your credentials as the Big Bad here, so sheath those claws, Demona.  Or should I say Dominique?"

Buffy smiled slyly as Demona stopped shrieking.  Goliath's eyes dimmed, as a satisfied smirk crossed his face.  "She was at the Magic Box earlier today," Buffy explained to Goliath.  "Looking for some rare objects.  I recognized the voice, and the 'I'm-better-than-everyone' attitude a mile off.  Let me guess," she approached Demona, enjoying the surprised expression on the female Gargoyle's face a trifle too much, "you tampered with some dark magic, trying to break that whole stone-by-day thing, and you ended up human by day.  Oh, I'll bet that burns your tail, spending half your life as the very thing you hate most."

Demona's lips contorted into a livid sneer, but one glance in Goliath's direction indicated that she would not succeed in any attempt on Buffy's life at this time.  With supreme effort, she reined in her temper, and nodded toward Buffy.  "Bravo, Slayer," she said coolly.  "Bravo.  You've proven that you're more than the sum of your parts.  But then again," she added as she spread her wings, "so am I.  We will meet again, Slayer!"  She leapt and bounded away, and attained loft enough to glide away in three strides. 

Buffy and Goliath watched in somber silence as Demona disappeared in the distance.  Goliath had considered chasing after her, but vetoed the idea; she had too much of a lead on her. 

Buffy narrowed her eyes as she looked toward the skies where Demona had vanished.  "You and Xanatos weren't kidding, Goliath," she breathed.  "She's one mean mother."

"Over a millennium of blaming humanity for her own actions," Goliath answered sadly, "has burnt the love out her heart, and now all that is left is the hatred.  And she will strike again, Buffy, and soon."

"Then I'd better be ready for her," Buffy spoke with quiet determination.

"We will be ready for her," Goliath corrected Buffy.  "As long as her threat remains, you may count on my assistance."

"Well then," Buffy smiled, as she offered her hand to Goliath, "Welcome to the Scooby Gang."  Goliath shook Buffy's hand, sealing the pact.

She had a new threat to contend with, but now Buffy also had a new ally.

Willow had finished studying for a mid-term in her advanced computer programming class, and had planned to call it an early night, when a faint awareness flickered at the edge of her psyche.  A magic alarm, a faint whisper of power against power, echoed within her.  The power that called to her was a familiar and welcome to her as the sunrise, and just as beautiful to behold.

Willow turned toward her window, and saw a faint blue spark dancing against the window pane.  She hurried over to the window, threw it open and silently welcomed the spectral visitor.  The spark flitted here and there, lighting briefly on Willow's computer, then darting across the bedroom.  Willow smiled as the familiar presence wandered around her, finally coming to rest on her nose.

"Tara," she whispered, addressing the soul-spark of her lover.  "I miss you too, honey.  But why are you here like this?  I'd have accepted one of your naughty e-mails." 

The Tara-spark slowly descended from Willow's nose, landing softly on a pajama-clad breast.  The spark then faded, and Willow thought that the spark had left her, until she sensed something within herself.  Thoughts she hadn't had, emotions that she knew belonged to her partner.  Memories of an unhappy childhood, lightened only by a loving mother who had died too young, leaving Tara at the mercy of uncaring and cruel guardians.  Memories of Tara first making her way alone, finally arriving at U. C. Sunnydale, where she met the shy young redhead who would show her love, call Tara her own and make her part of a real family for the first time in her life.  Memories of being lost to madness at the hands of the goddess Glorificus.

And something more.  A knowledge that, while Tara would always love Willow with all of her heart, their destinies now lay on separate paths.  A knowledge that Tara now needed to seek her own future, and had an important mission to perform.  A knowledge that someday soon, they would meet again.  And above all, a knowledge that, however their parting would hurt her, Willow would find an even greater love than she had with Tara.

All these things Willow saw, felt, sensed, knew, with a flash of revelation that she knew without questioning to be true.  She saw the blue spark of Tara's soul flittering before her eyes one last time, and felt the faintest brush against her lips, like a kiss from an angel.  Then the spark faded, and was lost.  The sense of magic around her had faded.

Willow became aware of tears welling in her eyes and trickling down her cheek.  And while she was saddened by the realization that she had lost her love, she did not despair.  For she knew with an absolute clarity that it was right.  She felt a closure she had lacked when Oz had left her.  A chapter of her life had ended, but a new one was about to begin.

"Goodbye, Tara," she whispered to the night.

Caritas;

"When you hear the music you make a dip

Into someone else's pocket then make a slip.

Steal a car and go to Las Vegas oh, the gigolo pool.

Hanging out by the state line,

Turning holy water into wine

Drinkin' it down

I'm on a bus on a psychedelic trip

Reading murder books tryin' to stay hip.

I'm thinkin' of you you're out there so

Say your prayers.

Say your prayers.

Say your prayers."

Lorne had seen and heard the worst mutilations of all manner of songs, but never had he heard anything like this.  The spiky-haired peroxide addict who was belting out Billy Idol was unleashing enough rage over whoever he was singing about to make the manager of Caritas almost afraid for this woman's life.  His voice contained nothing but hatred and venom, his posture and attitude spoke of plans of vengeance.

It was when he looked into the singer's festering heart that Lorne trembled.

"Now I close my eyes

And I wonder why

I don't despise

Now all I can do

Is love what was once

So alive and new

But it's gone from your eyes

I'd better realise"

William Exeter, that was his name in life.  Before an insane vampire named Drusilla fed from him, deceiving him into thinking that she wanted more from him.  Now he gave his heart, damaged and hideous though it was, to another, who rejected him.  Understandably, of course, considering his history of murder and mayhem.  Spike may be chipped, Lorne reflected, but he was far from harmless.

"Les yeux sans visage, eyes without a face

Les yeux sans visage, eyes without a face

Les yeux sans visage, eyes without a face

Got no human grace, your eyes without a face.

Such a human waste, your eyes without a face

And now it's getting worse."

The vampire finished his performance and replaced the mic, before meeting Lorne off-stage.  "Okay, banana-face," he sneered at Lorne.  "I sang for you, where's my blood?"

"Well," Lorne answered haughtily.  "Aren't you the master of the half-witticism?" He handed Spike a pitcher of thick red liquid, saying, "Here, to your health."  Spike chugged down the pitcher, wiping his lips with the cuff of his duster jacket. 

Lorne, for his part, winced with disgust at this waste of flesh.  He hastily scribbled a note on a napkin, and handed it to Spike.  "Here, the address of a butcher that saves pig's blood.  A friend of mine does business with him."

Spike looked at the napkin without picking it up off the bar.  "Your friend," he asked sullenly.  "He's a detective, right?" He grabbed the napkin, rolled it into a ball and tossed it into Lorne's face.  "Wouldn't wipe me nose with it."  Leaving the remains of the pitcher on the bar, Spike nodded a curt farewell and left silently. 

Lorne turned to his regular bouncer, a surly Fyarl demon, and said, "The fellow with the Brillo cut?  If I ever see him here again, you're out of a job." The bouncer nodded, and returned to his imposing posture.

Spike stumbled into a back alley, retching onto the cobblestones.  "Damn that fag!" he shouted as he wiped the rancid blood from his lips.  "Trust him to give me week-old-blood!  Well, I'm gonna go find out what demon blood tastes like now!"

"Oh, I wouldn't," a cultured voice spoke from the alley entrance.

Spike glared ahead of him, as a sillouetted figure walked casually toward him.  A cane tapped against the cobblestones as the gentleman approached Spike.  "After all, how can you tell what you get with demon blood?  It's seldom palatable, and I strongly doubt that it's nourishing."

"Who the hell are you?"

The gentleman smiled.  "Why, I'm your benefactor, if you'll let me be. I mean, look at you.  Spike.  William the Bloody.  The Scourge of Europe.  The Slayer of Slayers.  Reduced to grubbing for spoiled pig's blood.  What a waste."

Spike snarled at the gentleman, and considered lunging at him, but didn't want another chip-induced episode.  The ponce may have him pegged, but Spike wasn't going to give him the satisfaction.

The gentleman smiled at Spike, saying, "I can change all that.  I have my ways."

"Oh?" Spike quizzed the gentleman.  "What are you, some kind of magician?"

"Why yes, as a matter of fact," the gentleman answered.  With his left hand, he reached behind Spike's ear, and snatched his hand back before the vampire could blink.  He held his palm up before Spike, revealing a quarter.  "Look what I found in your ear," he chanted.

Spike regarded the magician with a hard sneer.  "Cute.  G'way, will you?"

"Wait, Spike, you haven't seen my encore," the magician answered.  With his left hand, he reached behind Spike's other ear, and this time, produced a small object for Spike to inspect.

Spike's eyes widened as he looked at the small microchip in the magician's hand.  "You had this lodged in your brain stem for nearly three years, haven't you?"

Spike's jaw dropped at the implications.  If this was true...

"What do you want?" Spike asked.

"What do I want?" the magician laughed, his ominous chuckle echoing past the alley.  "I want you to be true to your nature!"  A cloud of grey mist suddenly enveloped the magician, and when Spike finished blinking the acrid cloud out of her eyes, the magician was gone.  The chip clattered to his feet.

Spike picked up the chip and examined it.  For minutes, for an hour, he gazed at the chip.  Finally, he pocketed the chip, and headed out of the alley. 

Two hours later, as he left the drained body of a prostitute behind him, Spike made plans.  Soon, he would return to Sunnydale.

He contemplated how sweet Buffy's blood would taste.

To be continued in

BITTER BUSINESS