See chapter 1 for disclaimers.
by Mike Dewar
It was pretty ironic, actually. People had always told me drinking was bad for my health.
I doubt they were thinking ‘bout the risk of a huge demon settin’ me on fire with my own booze, though.
The strong scent of the whiskey rammed its way up my nostrils as the demon sloshed the brown liquid over the floor, liberally spraying me and Wesley.
“ Hey!” I yelped. “That stuff was supposed to last me the whole week!”
“ I hardly think this is the appropriate time to discuss the economical use of alcohol,” Wesley said bitterly. “You could try and lick it off the floor before we’re incinerated if you’re really distressed about the waste.”
The demon paused in his work, taking a swig from the bottle and passing it to his pals. And great, he backwashed too. “You have good taste in your drinks, half-man,” the Torunak told me amiably, extracting a match from the matchbox.
“ Yes, it is rather nice, isn’t it?” Wesley said with desperate enthusiasm. “Tell you what, if you let me and Mr Doyle go, he’ll get you more whiskey. All the whiskey you could want, forever and ever…”
I stared at him. The Torunak stared at him. “You could at least try and die with dignity, Wes,” I advised as the demon just went back to dousing us with whiskey.
Wesley bit his lip in an embarrassed sort of way. “I don’t do well in hostage situations. Sorry.”
As the last of the whiskey dripped out of the brown bottle, the demon gave an ugly gurgling chuckle. “Listen pal,” I said. “Are you sure we really need to do this whole death-by-inferno thing? I mean, what did I ever do to you?”
The Torunak’s eyes gleamed red as the whiskey bottle shattered on the floor. “You killed my sister, half-man.”
Yikes, she’d had a mean left hook for a girl. “Oh. Right. That. But you smashed up my wall and door, so can’t we just call it quits?”
The demon growled. “Vengeance demands your slow and painful death. You should be thankful your companion’s sorcery prevents me from taking my time with you. Flame will have to suffice.” It lit a match and waved the flame teasingly in front of us.
Wesley shuddered. “Any last ideas, Mr Doyle?”
“ Well, you could dive out of the circle and try to get the match away from him,” I suggested dryly.
Wesley swallowed but managed to reply, equally dryly, “But then he would rip my spine out and beat me to death with it.”
I tried to shrug, or at least flop in a shruggy way. “It’d be faster than the flames.”
“ I’ll keep it in mind.” I have to admit I was pretty proud of Wes. The man didn’t lack for guts when it came to the crunch, no matter how wet he looked. Of course, it was a pity I would only learn this as a result of being incinerated.
One of the other demons turned and stuck its head through the hole in my wall. “Thought I heard something, Boss,” it grunted to my match-wieldin’ friend.
“ Anything there?” the leader asked.
The other Torunak squealed as something yanked it through the hole. There was a sharp cracking sound.
“ Guess so,” I muttered.
The leader snarled and snapped a command in its own language and the second Torunak strode towards the hole, rumbling threateningly. When it was about half a meter from the hole, its stride faltered and it began to back up hastily.
Faith hurled herself through the hole and into the demon, fists hammering in a brutal barrage.
I’d never been so glad to see anyone in my whole life.
“ It appears she finally got hungry,” Wesley noted shakily, as the Slayer laid into the demon with savage speed.
The off-balance Torunak took a left hook to the jaw which flung it up against the circle’s wards. The demon’s face seemed comically flattened, like a kid pressing his nose against a shop window. That is until Faith grabbed it by the shoulder and spun it round. The Torunak turned just in time to receive a hard elbow in the belly. As the demon folded up, Faith ran her hands through her hair and gave me a sweaty grin across the circle.
“ That was fun,” she said eagerly. “Any more?”
I tried to point, but I don't think Faith noticed the feeble flop of my hand which resulted. “Only him.”
The lead Torunak swelled with rage, the flickering match forgotten in his thick hand. “A Slayer…”
“ A butt-faced demon…” Faith shot back, smirking. “We done with the introductions?”
She stepped forward cockily, raising her fists. Behind her, her first victim stepped back through the hole in the wall, fully healed and very angry.
“ Faith!” I screamed, as the demon closed on her.
“ What?” she snapped irritably. The demon brought its fists down hard on the back of her neck. “Oh. That,” she grunted, staggering and dropping to one knee. Faith flung her legs backwards, knocking the Torunak to the floor, and she pounced on it with an almost exultant battle cry.
The leader stepped towards me and Wes as Slayer and demon struggled together on the floor. The match in his hand flared as he raised it.
Wesley dove clumsily at the demon, gasping in pain and exertion as he crashed into its abdomen. The Torunak took a single step back, seeming to assess the situation, then it threw the Watcher aside and kept going for me. For the object of its vengeance. Lucky ol’ me.
It made it one more step before its companion slammed into it, propelled by a lightning-fast kick from Faith. The two demons tumbled onto the floor together, crushing the matches beneath their weight. I allowed myself to breathe again.
“ They can regenerate,” I warned Faith.
“ Tell me something I don’t know,” she retorted, stomping on the head of the demon she’d already put down. It growled and tried to pull itself upright, wounds sealing themselves as it moved. Faith hit it a few times and it fell over again.
Across the room, the leader and his friend untangled themselves and rose from the floor like they were pulled by strings.
I spoke quickly. “There’s an axe under the bed…a wooden case…”
“ And most people just have dirty laundry,” Faith commented, diving for the bed. She slid part of the way under the bed as the demons crossed the room. Each grabbed a hold of one of her legs and pulled, like they were trying to use her as a wishbone. Faith kicked furiously, and I heard her gasp in pain. My fists twitched in impotent fury as they pulled her out.
But we’d all forgotten about Wesley. Standing on one leg, the Watcher brought both his crutches smashing down on the leader’s head. The demon roared dully and fell forward onto my bed, long splinters protruding from its skull. Real messy. Faith slid halfway back under the bed as the other demon whirled ‘round and gave the Watcher a head butt.
The demon had horns, Wes didn’t. He fell backwards, his eyes glazed and his cheeks bleeding. Clicking victoriously, the demon seized hold of Faith’s legs again and pulled her out from under the bed. The Torunak saw the axe in her hands and its triumphant grin slipped.
A second later, its head hit the floor beside Wesley’s unconscious form.
Faith gave the demon a couple more chops for good measure, decapitated the dazed leader on my bed - spraying demon blood all across my sheets - and then waltzed over to the last luckless demon that was gettin’ to its feet for the third time. Poor fella.
After she was absolutely certain it wasn’t getting up for awhile either, she turned to me, hands on her hips. “Okay, lover. What the hell have you been up to while I was away?”
Lying flat on the floor, I smiled as best I could with half my facial muscles paralysed.
“ Long story.”
After Faith had heard the whole sordid little tale, well, it was all I could do to stop her using the axe on Wesley as well.
She eventually cleared out after a lot of threatening noises in Wesley’s direction, carryin’ Torunak chunks in a sack over her shoulder like an NC-17 version of Santa Claus. She could have taken the time to help me up into a more dignified position, but apparently she thought I deserved punishment as well for my little part in the fiasco.
A man’s back can get really stiff when he lies on a wooden floor for two hours, unable to move.
Needless to say, neither Wes or I was in much of a mood to talk by the time I regained use of my basic motor functions and he stopped seeing double.
When my legs stopped tingling, I staggered up the stairs and into my office. Then I closed the door and treated myself to a glass of very strong brandy I kept in the bottom drawer of my desk. And to a second one.
After the third glass, I leaned back comfortably in my chair and propped my feet up the desk, luxuriatin’ in the simple freedom of movement. I heard Wesley moving around the office once or twice, but unsurprisingly he didn’t seem to want to disturb me. I folded my hands behind my head and allowed myself to catch up on some much-needed shuteye.
A gentle tapping at the door roused me from a confused dream in which Faith poured brandy down my shirt while Wesley handcuffed me to a pole and waved a flaming torch at me, accusing me of being a deceitful, murderous demon.
I blinked sleep from my eyes and shook off the feeling that my chest hair was singed. “Yeah?”
Wesley entered slowly, his crutches thumping on the floor. He eased himself into a chair and glanced guiltily at me. “How are you…feeling?”
“ Fine. And how are you?” I asked, staring pointedly at the band-aids on his face. The man looked like a bruise with arms and legs attached.
“ Fine, fine,” he laughed weakly. “More cosmetic damage than anything else.”
“ That’s good.”
“ Yes. Ah…there shouldn’t be any major side effects from the toxin to speak of, but you may feel the occasional dizzy spell for the next day or so.”
Wesley fidgeted with his crutches, his face flushed. “Mr Doyle, I must repeat my most profound apologies…”
I waved my hand dismissively. “It’s fine.”
Wesley shook his head. “No. No, it is not fine. You’ve shown me nothing but good intentions, given me a place to stay and medical attention…and I repaid your kindness by drugging you and nearly getting you burnt alive.” I could see he was windin’ himself up for some serious catharsis, and quite frankly, I wasn’t up for that. Besides which, it wasn’t really like he’d done anything I wouldn’t have.
“ You were doing what you thought was the right thing ta do, Wes. I respect that.”
“ Y-you do?” Wesley looked like I’d just told him I was part chimpanzee as well as demon.
“ Yup. I would have preferred it if you’d done slightly more research before going all commando, but, hell, nothing’s perfect.”
“ So you’re not going to throw me out on the street or kill me?” Wesley said disbelievingly. Okay, so I was a little bit tempted. To throw him out, not kill him.
“ Nah. Too much effort. There is one thing we need to clear up if you want to stay, though,” I told him sternly.
Wesley slumped in his chair. “Oh.”
Wesley frowned. “Excuse me?”
“ Darts. That drugged dart you chucked at me…that was a really nice shot,” I said speculatively. An interesting little idea for how to afford the repairs to my bedroom wall was tapping its way into my skull…
Wesley smiled self-consciously. “Uh…thank you. It’s all in the wrist motion.”
“ Right. Say, Wes, have you ever thought of tryin’ that for money?”
“ Money? You mean in a competition?”
I rose to my feet and put my hand on Wesley’s shoulder. “Sort of, sort of. You see, Wesley ol’ bud, there’s this bar on 3rd Avenue which serves a great double-decker sandwich and they have these little bets…”
Slinging my arm around the Watcher’s shoulders, I helped him limp towards the door.
“ Consider it like payin’ your rent…”
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