See Chapter 1 for disclaimers.
I realise it was probably irrational to storm out the office and slam the door on Wesley. After all, the guy didn’t really know me at all, and couldn’t have any clue as to the memories he’d inadvertently stirred up.
It had been over three years now, but her memory still cut.
I don’t know how it can work like that - that you can spend so many years of happiness with somebody, but in the end, looking back, never be able to get beyond that one last day where it all fell apart.
That day casts its shadow back, to colour everything that happened before it. It’s shaped everything I’ve done since.
I had the photographs developed later; a long time after, because for a long time I didn‘t want to be reminded. Most of them came out marred, or didn’t come out at all, after being abandoned for so long in a camera no longer ever used because I wasn‘t making any memories I wanted to remember.
There is only that one perfect picture, the one carelessly scattered from the pages of Wesley’s book.
Since I might as well be doing something to give my inappropriate tantrum some form of excuse, I took the opportunity to visit a few of my less savoury non-human contacts in the city. I could at least attempt to help Wesley’s researching by finding out anything they might know about the Torunak demons.
Can’t precisely say I much liked what I heard.
By the sound of it, these guys were pretty bad even by demon standards.
The morning came and slunk by as I visited various demon hangouts. I felt the lack of the sleep I hadn’t had more keenly as the day dragged on, with every hour I let slip past.
The afternoon was beginning to draw to a close when I finally decided it was time to return to the office. Time to face Wesley again, as little as I liked the idea after the way I’d behaved, and share the discouraging news with him... not that he hadn’t probably found out lots more on his own from his book-work, I admitted to myself, somewhat sourly.
I began to work my way back, still trying to psych myself up to an apology for the way I’d behaved before.
I reluctantly made one last stop, calling by a small demon bar on-route back to the office.
The place was owned by Eddie, a human-looking demon whose precise species I wasn’t too sure of, who seemed to have a knack for collecting information. I hadn’t wanted to approach the guy because, well, let’s just say he tended to hang out with a less-than-friendly crowd. But nobody I’d questioned so far seemed to know where the Torunak demons might be hiding in the city and if anyone did, it would be Eddie.
The bar-room was dingy and none of the regulars seemed to be around - in fact, the place seemed empty apart from the guy behind the bar. Which suited me just fine.
Eddie looked up as I walked over, and frowned. “Told you not to come in here now you don’t have that badge to wave around any more,” he said sourly. “I know what you’re doing these days, and a lot of my regulars know too and they aren’t exactly happy. Vamps was okay - I mean, who gives a shit about them anyway? Snotty bunch, think they‘re better than us just ‘cause they‘ve got their own hellmouth - but you’ve been targeting anyone who occasionally likes a bite of Human as an appetiser since you started this PI crap. You keep coming in here, you’re going to get yourself killed. And that reflects poorly on me and my business.”
“Well, I don’t see any of your guys here right now, so what say you give me ten minutes,” I responded, indicating the empty room. “And after that I won’t stick around any longer to blacken your reputation.”
His eyes darted around, but he reluctantly nodded. Alone, he didn’t have much in the way of choice. “What do you want to know?” he asked resignedly.
“Torunaks. Hear of any recently?” I leaned on the bar, and absently reached over to snag the bottle of whisky he‘d been pouring from. I sniffed at it. Lousy stuff, but I knocked back a gulp anyway and winced.
“You’re paying for that, right?” he asked uncertainly. I gave him a look, and he sighed and said, “Torunaks, huh? Aren’t you taking on a bit much there, for some Brachen halfbreed? I once saw a pair of them in a brawl with a whole clan of Ano-Movics... the result was not pretty, and the Torunaks walked out without a scratch on them. Those guys have some serious muscle.”
“Yeah, I know. And grateful as I am for your overwhelming and touching concern, can you just tell me where the hell they are?”
“There’s this old warehouse downtown... access to the sewers and the rail system. Actually, it’s funny you should mention Torunaks, ‘cause there’s been a few of them asking around after you.”
I froze, midway through another draw on the whisky; choked and spluttered the foul stuff all over the bar. “Tell me you‘re shitting me.”
He shook his head. I could have sworn the trace of a grin touched the edges of his mouth.
I slammed the bottle down on the bar and wondered frantically what to do now.
“Hey, calm down, Doyle.” I could tell the bastard was just loving every minute. “You’ve time yet to get the hell out of the city... well, maybe an hour or two, at any rate. They won’t be doing anything ‘til after dark. They don’t precisely pass. You ever seen a Torunak?”
“That’s sorta the problem, Eddie.”
“Well, so long as you didn’t off these guys’ cousin or anything.”
“For all I know they might be his brothers,” I snapped.
Eddie went abruptly pale. I’d barely blinked but suddenly a gun had appeared in his hand. He must’ve had it under the bar there. I was slipping, and less than six months off the force... “You’re out of here, Doyle. I don’t know you, I never spoke to you. Shit, what the hell did you think you were doing? Offing Torunaks... those guys are serious trouble.”
“Great. That’s just great. Thanks, man. Its real good to know I got friends.”
“I’m not your friend, Doyle. Considering your line of work and charming personal skills, I’d be surprised if you had any. Get out of here.”
“Hang on,” I said, ignoring the gun and the insult with an effort. “They were asking about me, you said. You mean they asked you about me, don’t you? You didn’t tell them what they wanted to know?”
Eddie looked me calmly in the eye. “I said I hadn’t seen you in weeks. Now, go. I mean it.”
Lying bastard... I shot out a hand to bash the gun aside and it went off, the bullet scraping the inside of my wrist and leaving a red trail before it continued on its way to splinter the mirror on the wall behind me. I gripped and twisted his arm with my other hand, feeling the strain of the muscles and bones under my grasp starting to give way.
I wasn’t sure whether he’d meant to shoot me or not, but the graze stung and it certainly didn’t improve my mood any.
I grabbed his collar awkwardly, my wrist protesting at the rough movement. “You wanna argue with someone who offed a Torunak? Go ahead,” I growled. “What did you tell them?”
“I didn’t tell them anything,” he choked.
In a quick motion I bounced his face off the bar. Dragged him back up with his nose bloody and one hell of a bruise starting on his forehead.
“Okay, okay! Hell, Doyle... I told them you were a PI, and a good one. I said you used to be a cop. I said you had an office. Told them to use the phone directory. That’s all, I swear! What was I supposed to do? If you‘ve met these guys before, you know what they‘re like... My advice? Don‘t go back to your office. Just get clean out of this city.”
I didn’t believe him. But he was probably more scared that telling me he’d sung like a canary would get him killed than he was that keepin’ to his current assertion would, and I seriously didn‘t have the time to waste on him. I punched him out and left him slumped over the bar. Let his regulars find him later.
It occurred to me someone else might be in danger, if the Torunaks were checking around. “Mind if I use your phone, man?” I asked Eddie’s unconscious figure, vaulting the bar and snatching up the receiver. Spikes got in the way when I raised it to my face, which came as a surprise ’cause I hadn’t even realised I was in demon form. I switched back to human, cursing.
That’d better not happen too often. Out on the street in broad daylight... in front of Wesley in the office... Hell.
I couldn’t remember the extension number the nurse at the hospital had given me last night, but found it scrawled on a scrap of paper in my jacket pocket after some searching, and dialled.
“Hello? Francis Doyle here.” I heard my own voice, quick and breathless and panicky. Tried to calm down without much success. “I‘m a PI; brought in a young woman last night. A mugging - broken ribs and left arm - Anna Spence, I think the name was. Is she okay? She could be in danger - the individuals who attacked her could come after her again - have you had any other visitors, or callers?”
After some double checking on my own story which took about two minutes but felt like an intolerable delay, the nurse came back to the phone. “Her family took her home this afternoon. I’ll have to check with them before I give you their address.”
“Uh... that’s okay. They all check out all right? She was conscious, she knew them?”
“Yes. I’ll thank you to at least pretend we know how to do our business here, Mr. Doyle.”
“Sorry... sorry.” I almost put the phone down before I heard her voice buzz shrilly out of the speaker again and set it back to my ear. “What was that?”
“I said, did that journalist manage to get in touch with you all right?”
“He hasn’t been in touch or left any messages? You’d remember him, he had this weird kind of speech impediment. I‘m surprised - he seemed very keen to interview you about what you did for the young lady when he phoned earlier; heroic rescues of damsels in distress and all that. I gave him the number you left. Thought it would be good publicity for your firm. It’s not a problem, is it?”
“Uh... thanks.” I put the phone down. And launched into a stream of curses.
It was a pretty fair bet that, by now, they knew where the offices were. That Wesley and myself were no longer the hunters, but the hunted.
I dialled the number of the office. It was engaged.
He must be chewing over the Torunak research with his pals at the Watcher’s Council again, damn it.
Outside, it was just beginning to get dark. Grabbing the whisky bottle and throwing a few notes back at Eddie’s crumpled form, I sprinted out to the car.
I vaulted over the door into the driver’s seat and broke about twenty traffic laws on my way back to the office.
I crashed through the door of my apartment, praying that I'd find everything in order and Wesley sitting quietly pouring over his books at the table as usual.
Everything looked as it had when I'd left. Except I couldn't see Wesley anywhere. And considering he wasn't particularly mobile with his leg in that cast, that unnerved me a great deal.
He'd probably just gone to the bathroom, I told myself, trying to suppress panic. Still in one piece - still his normal, irritating self. Not lying in a broken, bloody heap somewhere...
Okay, so we weren't exactly the best of friends, but he was a decent guy, and with Faith's attitude of indifference to whether the poor sod lived or died, that made me feel kind of responsible for him.
"Wesley!" I yelled, to no reply. The amount of noise I'd made coming in, I could hardly take any intruders by surprise now. I snatched up a sword from the weapons cabinet, and dashed around the apartment, pulling open doors and yelling... finding nothing.
What the hell was going on? There was no Wesley, but no demons either. Could he have gone up to the office...?
I turned to leave at the same moment the figure began to inch out from behind the door. I automatically raised the sword, but froze when I saw who it was.
He looked like I'd scared the hell outta him, too. He staggered, frantically snatching for a better grip on his crutches, and almost fell over before he managed to catch his balance against the wall.
"Hell, Wesley!" I choked out with relief, breathing heavily through the aftermath of sheer panic. It had been a while since I’d actually managed to get anyone killed, and I kinda liked to avoid those eventualities. “What d'you think you're - aw, crap, never mind that. Come on, we gotta -”
I didn’t get any further. While I was speaking, he’d shakily raised one hand. I could see he was holding something in it, but I didn’t realise what it was until it had already left his grasp.
Until the dart he’d thrown was already embedded in my neck.
“What the...?” I reached up and pulled it out. Squinted at it, baffled. An ordinary dart. The kind you throw about in pubs, at dartboards and irritating clientele.
Upon closer inspection, I noticed it had something other than my blood staining the point.
Everything felt very odd. My body felt like it belonged to somebody else, sensation going all fuzzy and far away.
I dropped the dart and lunged towards Wesley. I didn’t know what the hell was going on. Maybe the Torunaks had got there before me and made some sort of a deal... although that didn’t sound much like their style.
Whatever had been on that dart, it sure worked fast. I managed one step before collapsing as though someone had cut my strings.
My forehead bashed painfully hard against the floor tiles as I landed and, once down, I found I couldn‘t move at all, not even to turn my face from the tiles to look at Wesley, or move my lips to ask why.