Disclaimer: All BtVS and Angel characters belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, WB, etc. We're just mucking around with them.
by Tammy, email@example.com
The office building seemed quiet, when I cautiously stuck my head around the front door, but that was no guarantee.
I closed the door behind me silently, with the utmost of caution, and debated my options, lookin’ at the stairs.
Up or down? Where was the danger most likely to lurk?
Hardly daring to breathe for fear of being heard, I began to ascend the stairs. I was halfway up when a step creaked as I transferred my weight onto it.
“Mr. Doyle? Is that you?” Immediately, the oh-so-polite, British voice floated up from downstairs. “Could you please come down here a moment?”
I spat out a stream of obscenities under my breath, and called back, “Be right there, man.” Then I trudged back down the steps to the basement apartment.
My basement apartment...
...which I’d never had any intention of sharing with some pompous, tight-assed Watcher with his leg in a cast...
...was a chaos of books and papers.
“Can you pass me the Encyclopaedia Diabolica from over there?” Wesley’s disembodied voice emerged from somewhere in all the mess.
I was too busy staring around in utter disbelief. I didn’t know where all this stuff had come from, especially in the space of ten hours since I‘d left the office that morning to meet up with Kate. I was certain I’d had nowhere near this amount of texts in my small library of demonology research.
“What the hell’s goin’ on?” I spluttered.
“I am attempting to properly reference your research library.” His voice was emanating from behind the enormous pile of books on the table. My table. It was bowed in the middle from all the weight on it, and if I craned my neck, I could just about see Wesley’s cast sticking out from beneath. “Not to mention ordering some essential editions to fill the truly lamentable gaps in your collection. It‘s disgraceful, Mr. Doyle, and I don’t know how a seasoned fighter of the forces of darkness such as yourself can stand to work from this paltry collection. Furthermore, it‘s beyond me how you ever find anything amongst what you do have, considering your haphazard shelving system.”
“Well ‘scuse me,” I snapped. “But the last time any of these here tomes came in useful in a case, the perpetrator had broken into the office and the book happened to be the heaviest item on hand to brain him with.”
I edged around the overloaded table as Wesley’s laughter rose from the other side of it. He looked up at me disparagingly, and said, “I’m not at all surprised. Mr. Doyle, you’re not an unintelligent man, and surely you can see you’re wasting a resource here with this criminal lack of organisation. Nevertheless, do not fear. I shall have it all sorted out and properly catalogued in a matter of days.”
“Days?” I repeated, running my eyes once again over the horrendous mess. I could see the piles of torn off wrapping and delivery notes, now. The bastard had waited ‘til I’d gone out for a day, then ordered everything delivered. He’d better not have put it all on the office tab, I fumed, with the distinct feeling that he had.
“Maybe a week or two,” he amended.
I restrained my temper. He was extremely close to gettin’ a demon-powered fist in his smugly smiling face. And since I hadn’t yet gotten around to explaining about my demon side to him, it wouldn’t really be the punch which came as the major shock.
I kicked a pile of books instead and stomped off to the kitchen to make a coffee, ignoring his berating voice trailing after me.
Now, when Faith turned up at my office, having invited herself to join forces with me, I admit I didn’t put up a whole lot of resistance to the concept. Especially after the sexual acrobatics - it has to be said, the girl sure knows how to twist a guy around to her point of view.
But I hardly expected the girl would make herself scarce within a week, leaving me to baby-sit her incapacitated Watcher.
I ventured from the kitchen a few minutes later, by which time Wesley had abandoned his work at the table and was hopping around on his crutches. He pointedly waved the book he held in his hand - “Encyclopaedia Diabolica”, the elaborate letters on the dust-jacket said.
Faith had brought in the crutches. I didn’t know where she’d got them from and I didn’t want to know. Largely because I had a strong suspicion that somewhere, on some LA street corner, there was a very pissed off one-legged war vet.
“I must say,” Wesley remarked casually, poking through the contents of a large, opened package which retaliated by spilling polystyrene pieces over the floor. “I don’t entirely understand why you do what you do. Fighting the forces of evil seems a... peculiar career choice.”
“You chose to become a Watcher,” I pointed out.
“Ah. Yes, well... That’s... sort of a family tradition,” he said, flustered. “Besides which, the Watcher’s Council is a respectable, if secret, institution. I do wonder how it was you came to do this sort of thing... alone.”
The query in his voice was obvious. But I didn’t respond to his clumsy digging. After a moment’s silence, he prompted, hopefully, “Faith said you used to be in the police force.”
“That’s true enough.” I wondered if he’d believe me if I told him what I used to do before that, and didn’t bother trying.
Wesley gave up and changed the subject, to one only slightly less uncomfortable. “Erm, speaking of Faith, I don’t suppose you know where she is?”
He looked up from his box for the first time and his eyes, suddenly distracted, fixed on the mug in my hand. “You couldn’t get me a cup of tea, could you?”
“No, I couldn’t. There isn’t any left. You drank it all.”
Grumbling under my breath, I thrust my untouched cup at him and went back through the kitchen to fix myself another. I got some entertainment from the manner in which he was forced to juggle the cup, almost overbalancing on his crutches in the process.
“Faith,” he reminded, after a pause, his voice carrying through to the kitchen, slightly muffled.
“She’s around,” I growled evasively.
“I don’t seem to have seen her in a while.”
“Yeah? Well, in theory at least, she - like some other people I could mention - doesn‘t actually live here. Plus you aren‘t exactly her favourite person. And the slayin‘ work has been a little thin on the ground this past week.”
“She’s avoiding me?” he asked, slightly pained.
“Don’t worry ‘bout it. I’m sure she’ll turn up when she’s hungry.”
He laughed, briefly.
I picked up my second attempt at a soothing fix of caffeine and sipped it as I headed back into the mess which was my apartment. That was when the vision hit.
They sure pick their moments. My hand spasmed on the cup and it exploded into pieces, splashing me with its hot contents. I guess I just wasn’t destined to get that coffee anytime soon.
The images slammed through me in seconds and left me standing there shakily with splinters of cup sticking out of my palm and Wesley staring at me with a truly annoying interest.
“That was one of your visions?” He hadn’t actually seen me experience one before, although Faith had told him about it. It was something he seemed to find quite fascinating. I’m pretty certain he’d have another view entirely if it was his brain the Powers had chosen to regularly assault with mind-numbingly painful visions.
Cursing, I hastily pulled the splinters of broken pottery out of my hand and crossed to the weapons cabinet, tripping over piles of books. I slammed open the doors and wondered what the hell I had that might kill the thing I’d just seen.
“Any books in that lot that you can use to look up some information on a demon for me real quick?” I asked.
“Certainly.” He sounded puzzled. “What kind of a demon?”
“A really big one. I don’t know and I don’t have time to describe it. You’ll know when you see it. Just grab some books you think will be useful and head for the car.”
I snatched up the biggest axe from the weapons cabinet, and discovered it looked a lot smaller than I remembered in view of what I’d just seen. “Shit.” I grabbed a broadsword as well, and a crossbow for Wesley.
Wesley, books under his arm, was clumping towards the door on his crutches. “Faith would be useful,” he remarked, the sarcasm dripping from his voice. “A little supernatural strength wouldn’t go amiss.”
“I’ve been doin’ this for years,” I snapped, offended by the implication. “I don’t bloody need Faith... I’ll leave a note.”
I dropped the weapons on the floor and scrawled a few sentences on a piece of paper.
I left it pinned to the elevator doors as we hurried out through the hallway.
“Could you... possibly... go a little slower!” Wesley choked out. In the mirror, I could see him sprawled across the back seat and trying to stay in place. His hands were gripped white-knuckled on handholds on ceiling and door, and crutches, leg cast, books and cell phone were all bouncing merrily around the upholstery.
“Sorry, pal. But this demon’s about to make a meal of a real nice little blonde, and I kinda think we should be hurryin’.” I took a sharp left down a dark, narrow street, approaching the area I’d seen in my vision.
He withdrew into silence, for all of a few seconds. “I hope Faith gets your note. What you’ve mentioned about this creature sounds less than encouraging.”
I didn’t reply. Faith wasn’t going to come back until she was ready to, and I sincerely doubted that was going to be in the next hour or so. Besides, I had other things to think about. I could see the demon from my vision up ahead, outlined by a street light. It looked even bigger in the flesh; had to be about nine feet tall. A crumpled human figure lay on the ground at its feet, a splay of bright hair glittering in an incandescent pool on the ground around the girl’s head.
“Good grief,” Wesley said as he caught his first sight of the demon. “Mr. Doyle, I really think... Doyle!”
His yelp, almost a shriek, came as he evidently caught on to the fact I wasn’t slowing down, and wasn’t going to.
I drove straight up onto the sidewalk and ploughed into the demon, missing the girl by what I hoped was a margin of a few inches. I only hit the brakes after I’d hit the creature, when it was already too late to slow down completely to avoid impact with the imminent wall.
The car shook horrendously, but the demon sandwiched between it and the brickwork absorbed most of the impact, and it wasn’t actually as bad as I’d been expecting.
Wesley, from the back of the car, whimpered incoherently.
I reached down and pulled the crossbow from where it lay among the other weapons, wrapped in protective cloth - mostly to protect from public view - at the foot of the front passenger seat. I tossed it over into the back to Wesley.
“If things get desperate, use that. If I look like I’m about to get dead, use the ‘cell to phone the cops. For the moment, get your nose into those books and find out what it is I’m fightin’ and how the hell I’m meant to kill it.”
“I should think a much wiser plan of action would be to get the young lady into the car and drive away from here as quickly as humanly possible,” he objected.
“Just do it!” I snapped, angrily because that sounded sorta good to me, too, looking at the demon I had to take on. But the PTB hadn’t sent me a vision of this thing so that I could run away from it.
“Right,” Wesley said, looking put out.
No more time for gabbing; the demon was starting to stir, its struggles actually moving the car as it shifted. I grabbed the sword and climbed out to face it.
“Good luck,” Wesley muttered. From his tone of voice I gathered he already considered me a walking dead man. Then he yelped in fear as, with a sudden heave, the creature threw off the car and sent it sliding back several feet. I watched it once again just miss the girl, going so close this time that a wheel actually ran over her flowing blonde hair. She let out a soft cry and flinched away. Not dead then, I thought with some relief.
I raised the sword and ran at the creature while it was still dizzily shaking itself and climbing unsteadily to its feet. A swing of the blade opened up a broad slash across its midsection... which proceeded to heal up instantly before my eyes.
“Oh, hell.” If it had that sort of regenerative ability, I didn’t think I had brought anything with me that could really hurt it.
Curses and the rustling noise of pages being frantically turned abruptly began to emanate from the back of the car.
The demon appeared to notice me for the first time. It peered down its nose at me - a long way down, it’s gotta be said - and sniffed. “Brachen,” it croaked, in what was barely recognisable as a voice. Its throat seemed to form the words out of a series of clicking sounds.
“What did it say?” Wesley yelled, kicking the back door open with his undamaged leg so his voice reached me more clearly through the body of the car.
“Nothin’ important. Just tell me how to kill it.” This was not the time to provide him with a belated explanation of my demon half.
I swung the sword again, aiming to try a different tactic. It had its head on one side and was looking sorta confused, perhaps wondering why another demon would choose to attack it. Anyway, it was distracted, and I managed to sever one of its arms just below the elbow joint.
I’d see how its regenerative abilities dealt with that one.
Well, its reflexes were definitely recovered - its immediate response was to tear the sword from my hands with an ease that came as a real jolt to my confidence. Then it simply picked me up before I could dodge and hurled me several yards through the air.
I landed, face-down, in a sprawl on the roof of the car.
My demon form, dragged out just prior to the impact, protected me somewhat. But I still lay there for several seconds, feeling the shuddering protests drawn out of the metal by my heavy landing reverberating through my body.
“Doyle! Doyle!” Wesley’s frustrated yells from inside the car drew me back to the less-than-wonderful situation on hand. A moment later, I heard him talking frantically into the cell-phone.
Groaning, I sat up, shaking off my demon form before I unsteadily jumped down from the car. I just managed to keep my legs from buckling beneath me when I landed.
The demon was reattaching its arm, a fairly disgusting process which nonetheless afforded me a few necessary moments’ grace.
I looked around for the sword and, not seeing it anywhere, staggered over to the front passenger door to retrieve the axe instead.
“You’re all right,” Wesley said, sounding surprisingly relieved, as I opened the door. “It’s a Torunak Demon. I’ve discovered that much. Unfortunately the Encyclopaedia Diabolica doesn’t have much more than an illustration and a name. I’ll see if Rowther’s Demonology Index can do any better.”
“Yeah. Great. You called the cops?” Didn’t like to think what they’d make of this, but I didn’t think I could handle it on my own and a distraction might at least let us get out of there alive.
“No. I tried. Your battery went dead.”
I cursed. “Keep lookin’.” I hefted the axe and headed back into the fight, intercepting the now-recovered demon just in time to prevent it from seeing how far it could throw the car complete with Wesley inside it.
I hacked at its arms, breaking its grip on the car. Its claws left streaks in my paintwork. It shoved me aside even as the cuts I’d made with the axe healed themselves.
Trying to stay on my feet, I reeled, off-balance, bounced off the front of the car, and ended up in a shabby heap on the ground. My head spun. I heard Wesley cry out in fear and realised, damn it, that the demon wasn’t much interested in me. It was after human prey.
I struggled up again. The demon was reaching inside the car, through the opened door. I wasn’t going to be in time -
The demon staggered back from the car with a crossbow bolt sticking out of its eye.
Wesley could actually shoot straight...? Nah, it must’ve been a lucky shot...
The demon wrenched at the bolt, pulling it out. The instant it was out, the wound healed over.
“Here it is,” Wesley called, shakily, as I embedded the axe in the demon’s head and got thrown against the brick wall for my troubles. The axe hit the wall after and above me and I just managed to roll out of the way in time to avoid getting brained by it. “The Torunak Demon. A fearsome beast, possessed of fantastic regenerative properties. Clans were once plentiful in warmer parts of the world. Believed it originates from the mating of a...”
“Bloody hell, Wesley, I don’t wanna know its mating habits, just tell me how to kill it!” I yelped, as the creature’s foot came down hard in the spot where my head had been a fraction of a second earlier.
I snatched up the axe again, ducked beneath a swipe of the demon‘s claws, scrambled inside its reach on hands and knees and sank the axe into its foot. I didn’t have the leverage I needed to cut right the way through. The massive demon’s other foot came down in a hard stamp on top of my own leg and I had no choice but to switch to my demon form, otherwise it would’ve splintered my bones worse off than Wesley‘s.
Something twisted and dislocated in my right leg, and I yelled in pain. I wondered what the hell Wesley was delaying over. Knowing my luck, all the book contained about Torunak Demons was an essay on their mating habits.
With an effort I managed to lift the axe up for another blow, bring it down hard as I could, and cut off the creature’s bloody foot.
This time I thrust the disgusting severed demon-part as far as I could away from it, and with satisfaction watched it keep rolling until it wedged itself in the gutter at the side of the road. The demon, howling, tried to lunge after it and fell with a crash that shook the ground.
I hunched over and wrenched my knee joint back into place with an audible snap, and switched back to human. In demon form I could take the damage; it didn’t make it hurt any less, though.
If Wesley had seen, I was gonna have some serious explaining to do. Although, in the dark, with the demon obscuring his view, I doubted he had seen.
As for the Torunak Demon... I lifted the axe and staggered over to where it still floundered on the ground trying to get up. As I prepared to strike the blade down onto its neck, it said, in its odd, clicking tones, “Others will avenge me, little man-demon.”
“Yeah, pal. You believe that if it makes you feel better.”
Once it was in enough pieces to satisfy me that it wasn’t about to pull itself together anytime soon - although the option of chopping it up into dogmeat and burying it piecemeal definitely seemed wise - I headed back to the car.
Wesley blinked at me nervously; I guess I must’ve looked a sight, covered in the demon’s yellow blood. He thrust a book at me. I took it from his hand and stared at it. “What’s this?”
“It‘s one of those useless old tomes,” he mocked, in what was presumably meant to be an imitation of my accent. After a moment, he extended a finger to tap a small line drawing on the opened page, and added the curt explanation, “This symbol. The Mark of Nammohn. Protective rune. Scares the stuffing out of them. Or... you can just chop them up into puree, that works too.”
We got the girl to a hospital and the demon-bits to various sealed boxes dumped throughout the city. Then I drove the two of us back to the office.
My note was still there. Faith, predictably, wasn’t.
Wesley had been unusually quiet and withdrawn in the aftermath of the fight. “You all right?” I asked, as he stood contemplating Faith’s note while I locked the door of the office building behind us.
He actually flinched slightly at my voice. I studied him, noticing how pale he looked. “Your leg hurting? Banged it in the fight, huh?”
He stuttered a moment, then nodded, “Y-yes. It aches somewhat.” He changed the subject, indicating the note, “Wonder what she’s doing, eh? Crazy girl, always running around. Gone on walkabout again, yes?” He tutted and laughed uneasily.
I frowned, wondering if he hadn’t got his medication mixed up with something Faith had brought in. I said, warily, “She’ll be back. Does it all the time, right? Isn‘t that what you said?”
“Indeed, indeed. To me, to any number of her, um, male acquaintances...”
I glared at him sourly. I didn‘t really want to share with him exactly how I felt about that; despite his tales of her wildness, not to mention said acquaintances, I‘d kind of hoped... well. “I get what the girl’s like,” I snapped. “And now, if you don’t mind, I think we have more important business to sort out. Like locating the rest of those Torunak things.”
He spluttered and choked, and almost fell off his crutches. The hand I shot out to steady him was the only thing that kept him upright. “The rest of them?” he managed finally, appalled.
“Yeah.” I sighed, and helped him into the elevator; we descended to the basement apartment. “When you were readin‘, you said they came in clans, right? And before it died, it told me others would come to avenge it.”
“Yeah.” One of the things had been very nearly too much for me. “So - we gotta sort out some crossbow bolts with that Mark of Gammon on them or somethin‘. Not to mention findin’ where the hell these things are hidin’ out. Must be some place good. After all, you wouldn’t think they’d be easy to miss.”
I guess it’s in moments like these that Watchers really shine. I have to hand it to Wes, within five minutes of us getting back to the office, he was rocketing around on crutches, reading as he went. Of course, when you move at speed on crutches while reading books, disaster is almost guaranteed.
“ Ouch!” Wesley’s distressed voice came from the main body of the apartment, accompanied by a teeth-rattling crunch. I stared longingly at the pork sandwich I was making, and then, with a sigh of surrender, I went to help the beleaguered Watcher. So much for my late-night research snack-fest.
Fortunately for Wesley, he’d managed to land on one of the cardboard boxes of assorted research stuff he’d had brought in earlier. The books inside were probably a bit worse for wear, but Wesley’s skull was still intact. As I reached down to lend his feeble figure a hand, a crutch nearly took my head off.
“ Hey, watch it!” I yelped. “Save the stunning blows to the head for the bad guys!”
“ Oh, um, sorry,” Wesley apologised, giving me a distressed look. Grabbing hold of his arm, I heaved him to his feet. “ Thank you, I...um...slipped.”
“ I never would have guessed,” I answered dryly, glancing at the flattened box Wesley had landed on. The Watcher, following my gaze, gave a little yelp of dismay and began to prod gingerly at his precious research supplies.
“ Oh dear…” he said, inspecting the label. “That had quite an interesting set of tomes on fire demons in it…” From the scholarly look on his face, I could just tell a lecture on how useful knowing about fire demons would be to our operation was approaching. “Because after all, fire demons are surprisingly common and remarkably perilous…”
Who says you need to get mind-numbing visions to see the future?
I broke in. “ As intriguing as this is, man, don’t you think we should focus on the big, angry demons we’re supposed to kill?”
Wesley nodded as if I had made a very radical, yet interesting, point. “Yes, of course. They’ll be time enough for fire demons later.”
“ Can’t wait,” I told him, laying on the irony with a big trowel.
“ Anyway, back to the matter at hand…” Wesley sniffed eagerly. “Do I smell pork?”
“ I’ll make you a sandwich,” I said, praying for strength. “You get with the research, I’ll start buttering.”
“ Thank you very much,” Wesley replied, pottering towards my table. I turned and headed for the kitchen. “Could you add some lettuc -" I ignored the rest.
I spent the next fifteen minutes in a happy little world of my own, slicing pork and spreading mayonnaise, ignoring the constant muttering and occasional thuds coming from the rest of the apartment.
Unfortunately, I finally reached the point at which I had made as many pork sandwiches as was humanly possible. Plus, I ran out of mayonnaise. As I wandered out of the kitchen, carrying two plates with badly constructed sandwiches stacked high, I saw Wesley over by my table speaking urgently into the phone.
“ Yes, I understand that!” he said sharply. “Yes, resources are limited…that’s all very well, but I have a serious situation here…no, there’s no other way…Watchers aren’t exactly common in California, you know! Well, Rupert Giles lives on a Hellmouth and I can’t very well get to him with a broken leg, can I? I’m doing the best I can…you have to contact them, I -"
Wesley started violently, dropping the phone. As the receiver banged against the side of my table, I heard an irate British voice say tinnily, ”Hello? Are you there, Wyndham-Pryce?” There was the click of a disconnecting line.
Wesley shook with adrenalin. “You gave me a terrible start,” he said nervously. “I nearly lost control of my bowel movements!”
“ Well, we can all be thankful you didn’t,” I said easily. “Who was on the phone?”
“ The, um, Watcher’s Council,” Wesley said, taking a step back, like he expected me to clobber him for consorting with his Watcher pals.
“ Oh? Anything interesting to say about our friends the Torunaks?” I asked, plonking the sandwiches down on the table, which seemed weighted with a few too many books just for researching one species. I guess Wes was still trying to order my collection at the same time.
Wesley seemed quite surprised at my reaction, as if he’d expected something quite different. He obviously thought that I agreed with Faith about the usefulness of Watchers. To be honest, I’d never thought about it much. “Uh, no, not really.”
Looked like Faith had a point.
I shrugged and clapped him on the shoulder. “Well, nice try anyway.” Wesley flinched; obviously he was still shook up from the fight. “Sorry,” I apologised.
“ No, no problem really,” he said, bending over the sandwiches and prodding at them.
“ What’s the matter?” I asked cheerfully, trying to boost the mood a little. “Don’t you like my cooking?”
Wesley stared at the curling sandwiches in vague horror. While he gingerly nibbled at one staring into the distance, I let my eyes roam over the table. Lying shoved off to one side, left over from Wes’s filing, was a book with a cursory drawing of a Brachen. I hastily slammed it shut, hoping Wes hadn’t seen it. “So, what do we have on our new bestest pals?” I asked, sitting casually down on the corner of the already creaking table, circumspectly pushing the book off the edge as I did so.
Wesley’s eyes refocused on me. “What? Oh, yes. Torunaks…there really doesn’t seem to be anything of interest beyond what we already know. They like darkness and tunnels, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a demon who doesn’t. They’re also very in favour of vengeance. Wrong one, and the entire clan comes calling.”
“ Wonderful. Do you think chopping one of them up into chicken nuggets qualifies as ‘wronging’?” An entire clan of those things. I really missed Faith about then.
“ I see your point,” Wesley said soberly. He perked up a little. "I could probably simulate their mating call with some accuracy, though.”
“ Great,” I said. ”If I can’t get a date on a Saturday night, you’ll be the first man I call.” Wesley shot me a sharp look. “Kidding.”
I bit into one of my own sandwiches with a mixture of displeasure and resignation.
I can’t cook, I know this. However, over the years, I’ve learnt to shut down my taste buds when necessary, so as to make it through a full meal when I can’t afford takeout. From the fact that Wesley hadn’t made it halfway through his sandwich, I guessed Watcher training hadn’t taught him this valuable skill. “So what now?” I asked through a mouthful of pork.
Wesley shrugged, daintily placing the rejected sandwich down on its plate. “I could ask you the same question. I’m drawing a bit of a blank.”
“ Well, let me lend a hand. Double the brainpower and all.” I picked up a book at random and something white and thin slid off the table from beneath it. I bent down to scoop it up and froze.
It was a faded picture of Harry and me at a picnic. I’d finished my classes early that day, so we went to go and pick up some lunch, to eat on the beach…I felt sick to the pit of my stomach.
“ Where did you get this?” I asked Wesley quietly, holding the photo cupped in my hand.
“ Where did you *get* this, Wesley?” I demanded furiously. “Have you been poking around my stuff?” I could feel the tingling on my skin - I was on the edge of the change, but I was so angry I didn’t care.
“ No,” he answered with quiet dignity, but there a hint of fear in his eyes. “I went to fetch a book from your bedroom. I bent over to pick it up off the bed, rather too hastily, I fear, and lost my balance. I grabbed onto your bedside table for support and pulled a drawer all the way out, spilled everything. The photo must have slid inside the book without my noticing.”
I deflated slowly, the urgent tingling reducing somewhat. “I…sorry, man. Didn’t mean to jump down your throat like that.”
Wesley peered at the picture. ”Who is she?” he asked gently.
I stared at Harry’s curly hair and her pleasant smile. “Who *was* she, Wes. That’s Harry Doyle.”
“ Your sister,” Wesley guessed.
My throat burnt as I spoke. “No, Wesley. My wife.”
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.
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.
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…”
Doyle Investigations: http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Meteor/8884/doyleinvestigations.html