See Chapter 1 for disclaimers.
I blinked - about the only movement I was still free to make with any ease. Even my breathing felt heavy and difficult. All I could see were the floor tiles in front of my nose, but I could hear Wesley’s own breathing - harsh, sharp, as though he couldn’t quite believe what he’d done.
Well, I was with him on that one.
Several seconds passed before I heard cautious footfalls and, through the hazy mess his drugged dart had made of my nervous system, felt a finger hesitantly prod my shoulder. “Doyle?” His breath caught in concern. “Doyle! Are you dead?”
Like I was gonna say, yeah...
Hands urgently grabbed my shoulders and he managed with all-too-evident difficulty to roll me onto my back. I blinked angrily up at him. I was still working on speech. Aside from not really knowing what to say, my jaw felt as paralysed as the rest of me.
“Alive,” he said with some relief. “My word. For a second there I thought...” He looked genuinely appalled, until he abruptly seemed to remember he’d switched sides. He pulled back and awkwardly hauled himself up on his retrieved crutches. “Of course, the Watchers' Council will want you brought back alive, after what you’ve tried to do...”
What I’d tried to do? What had I tried to do? I managed to half form an indignant protest. It came out as little more than a pissed-off sounding gurgle.
“Yes,” Wesley said smugly, gathering confidence. “Thought you could fool the Watchers’ Council, did you, demon? Well, fiend, here’s one Watcher who wasn’t taken in. I will find out what you have done with Faith, and destroy whatever demonic influence it is you have over her.”
I knew I should’ve explained about my demon side earlier. But then, as awkward conversation-stoppers go, “By the way, I’m a demon” tended to be a doozy, and the time had never seemed right to get confessional. And I’d hardly expected any commando attempts from quiet, civilised, harmless Wesley.
A lot of things I’d found strange about his behaviour since the encounter with the Torunak now fell into place. He must’ve seen my demon form, after all, in the darkness and the confusion of the fight - and rather than confronting me about it he’d jumped to all the wrong conclusions.
“Wesley...” I managed to snarl. I forced the word out, though it sounded kind of odd, and the fury there probably didn‘t do too much for my case.
“Don’t bother to plead.” He cut me off. “Interfering with the duties of the slayer... a serious crime. Whatever did you hope to gain by it?”
I wanted very badly to hit him. I tried hard to move, but nothing happened. I tried switching to demon form but all that achieved was that I was paralysed in demon form. Wesley drew in a breath and stepped back, but regained his courage somewhat when he saw whatever drug he’d shot me with was still holding. I gave up and returned to human.
“You thought I didn’t see you change, before, didn’t you?” he said. “But I did - granted, not clearly, and only for a second, but that was enough.”
“Wesley, you’re an idiot!” I snapped, with some effort. “And, much as I’d love to elaborate on that thought for a few hours, we really don’t have time. The Torunak demons know where I am, and they’re probably already on their way. Even if you don‘t trust me, you saw me chop up that demon last night and you yourself told me about their appetite for vengeance.”
He nervously shifted his feet, looking around as though he expected to see the Torunaks bursting through the doors, but when he looked back to me his face was determined. “You’re trying to distract me,” he said. “For all I know that business last night was all a - a show for my benefit.”
“Oh, great. When the clan of very angry demons turns up, you’ll believe me. ‘Course, by then it’ll be too late to do anything about it but die. Come on, Wes! I saved your life when Faith would have left you to get fanged, would I do that if I were evil?”
He frowned at me, and I remembered that was something else I hadn’t told him about; that Faith had run off and left him to die, and had only come back because of me.
“How about we get out of here?” I said, desperately.
He remained hesitant. “You lied to me before, and I don’t see why I should believe you now...”
“Because we’re both dead if you don’t.”
“Tell me whose blood that is,” he said, quietly accusing, indicating the mess daubed all over my hands and wrists. “It looks human to me.”
“It’s my blood. And it is human... well, mostly. Aw, damn it, half then. Left wrist. Look at it if you don’t believe me. One of my contacts got a bit jittery.”
As if he were still half expecting a trap, he cautiously knelt down and turned over my wrist. “This is a bullet wound,” he said, sounding shocked. “What - what do you mean, human... mostly, half?”
“Wesley, later. For now, just get the antidote to whatever this crap you shot me full of is, and let’s get out of here... and what the hell did you shoot me with, anyway?”
“It’s a paralytic specially designed by the Watchers' Council. It works on some demons... including, apparently, Brachens - which, by the way, my research sources are lamentably lacking information about, so I imagine they’ll be quite pleased to get their hands on a specimen - and it was apparently the best help those b... well, the best help the Council could offer.” He sounded less than pleased with his Watcher pals there. “However, there is no antidote. It just has to wear off.”
Oh, bloody hell...
“We can’t wait.” I groaned in horror, staring at his crutches. He’d never be able to carry me down to the car, he could hardly get that far on his own.
I closed my eyes. My head ached dully. Wesley... was a decent guy, for all his clumsiness and his aptitude for truly astonishing blunders. For all that he’d pretty much sealed my demise. “Get out,” I said heavily.
“What?” He stood there, incredulous.
“Get out of here. They’re coming. There’s nothing else to do. Either they get both of us or they get just me. Think about it.”
He spluttered indignantly. “I am not leaving you here. For all I know you’re lying. Again. And if you’re not... well, I’m still not leaving you here!”
“Hey!” I snapped. “I’m an evil slayer-napping demon, remember? Take the car and get the hell out of here while you still can.”
“Oh, sod it. This is ridiculous.” Wesley awkwardly bent down and grabbed my arms, wedging the crutches somewhat unstably between his elbows and sides. “I don’t know what’s true and what isn’t, but we’re both getting out of here. I’ll deal with the rest later. Elsewhere.” He managed to drag me a few feet before he fell over backwards with a thud. I landed helplessly on top of his cast, causing him to yelp in pain.
A second later he was back on his feet and trying again. I opened my mouth to once again attempt to persuade him it was futile. And a familiar sound echoed through the apartment - the sound of someone or something trying to break down the front door.
“Too late,” I muttered.
“Oh, my word,” Wesley said.
“The bedroom. We - you - can lock and barricade the door. Hurry! The front door won’t hold them up for long...”
“Yes... yes,” Wesley stammered. He made clumsy progress dragging me back towards the bedroom, falling over his crutches every so often. By the time he managed to drag me through the door, I’d collected more bruises than I’d acquired in the encounter with the Torunak.
And just when I thought we were both safe - well, for a few extra minutes at least, until the demons broke down the bedroom door and killed us - what did he do but let out a brief exclamation and hop back into the main room of the apartment at what passed, on crutches, for around about warp speed.
“Wesley!” I yelled. I could hear them at the door of the basement apartment now. There were sounds of splitting wood in amongst the crashes.
Unable to move an inch, I felt futile, and ridiculous, and more helpless than I had in years.
“I’m here!” He shot back through the door, skidded to a halt, and overbalanced. The book and chalk he held bounced across the floorboards, the chalk splitting into bits. Wesley desperately heaved himself up onto hands and knees, slammed the door and shot the bolt into place.
He fell face-flat on the floor, breathing heavily, but didn’t allow himself more than a few seconds before he was struggling up again, crawling after the book and the largest of the chalk pieces. Once he’d gathered them together he set his back against the bed, braced his hands and his good leg against the floor, and shoved the bed aside, clearing a large area of floor space.
By that time, his skin was pale and drenched and the veins stood out in his forehead. His breath came in short gasps. His leg must’ve been hurting a hell of a lot from all the exertion.
“What’re you doin’?” I asked.
“A circle,” he gasped, opening the book and flicking through the pages with trembling hands. He found what he was evidently looking for and held the book up so I could see the opened pages. “The Mark of Nammohn, remember?”
Heavy footsteps sounded outside the apartment. I flinched, mentally if not physically, as the door was shaken by a loud, heavy blow.
“Draw it in front of the door first,” I suggested.
He glanced up, looking surprised. “Yes... good idea.”
“Not that they won’t break through the walls to get at us, but it’ll take ‘em just that bit longer,” I added in a mutter. He looked unhappy.
Wesley, his hands shaking ridiculously, chalked the symbol onto the floorboards in front of the door, then began to mark out a circle of them around the two of us. When he’d finished he flopped onto his back in the middle of it, as immobile as I was - ‘cept for the shudders that ran through him every time the Torunaks bashed on the door.
“Whatever you are and whatever your purposes, Mr. Doyle, I apologise for my appalling timing,” he groaned, without looking at me.
“Thanks a lot, man,” I responded a trace acidly. I sighed, watching the door shudder on its hinges and the wood near the bolt starting to splinter. I supposed the explanation was long overdue. “I am human. After a fashion. My mother... was human. My dad was the demon.”
For some reason, that made him laugh in a bitter, not-funny way.
“I never knew him. Never knew what I was until my wife and I were attacked by vamps, just under four years ago. I survived... they wouldn’t drink my blood. And I discovered why. It was... kind of a rough awakening.”
“Yes.” Wesley turned around and sat up awkwardly, his eyes searching my face for signs of another lie. “I can imagine that it would be.”
“Faith is exactly where I said she is - which is to say, I haven’t the faintest clue,” I added belligerently. “And as for why I didn’t tell you sooner... well, just look at your reaction.”
Wesley fell back with a thud. “I’m an idiot,” he moaned. “I’ve got us both killed.”
I couldn’t really disagree.
A few seconds later, the door burst inwards. Pieces of splintered wood flew everywhere, a large section clobbering Wesley on the shoulder and several small splinters sinking into the side of his face. He yelped.
There were three demons outside, each as big and ugly as the one I‘d fought the previous night. One of them tried to cross the threshold. As it set its foot down on the symbol Wesley had drawn, there was a sizzling noise and smoke rose up from it. The creature jumped back. It growled an instruction in its clicking voice, using a language I didn’t recognise, and the other two demons immediately set to work pulling down the wall. The one which had spoken disappeared back into the apartment.
We watched the remaining Torunaks attack the wall.
Wesley had begun to grin nervously, despite the pain which also marked his face. He said, with that same smug tone he’d used on me, “I don’t know what good you think that will do, hellspawn. You can’t pass the circle.”
The wall finally gave up the fight, disintegrating into a crumbling mass for a section about four feet left of the door - enough space to allow the demons to pass.
The demon which had spoken before ducked through the gap last, after the others. It was grinning much more confidently than Wesley.
And in its clawed hands, it was holding a bottle of my more expensive whiskey... and a box of matches.