See chapter 1 for disclaimer.
by Mike Dewar
Wesley flinched from me, skidding across the floor in his haste to get away. The vampire stepped in front of Wes, almost... protectively. And even more surprising, Wesley anticipated the vamp's movement, like they'd fought on the same side before.
"Wes?" I couldn't believe it. Wesley, working with a vampire? He may have acted like he sat on one too many stakes at Watcher school, but he was still a good guy. Wesley would have eaten hot coals before helping a vamp.
Of course that was six months ago. Now, he was standing in front of me, ready to help a vampire take me on. And where the hell was Faith? My blood chilled. Was Faith the reason Wesley was working with a vamp?
We all stood there for a few seconds, like someone had hit the freeze-frame on a video. It was starting to get old.
The stake had landed on the floor just next to my foot and I slid my toe under it, keeping my hands raised to distract my stunned audience. I didn't know why the vamp and his girlfriend were staring at me like I was a long-lost family member, but if I could just keep their attention...
I jerked my foot upwards. The stake leapt into the air and I made a wild grab for it... and missed by a mile. That kind of thing only ever works in John Woo movies, apparently.
But strangely, the vampire didn't leap at me and tear my throat out, despite my bungled attack. Instead he whispered, like he couldn't believe what he was saying, "Doyle?"
I licked my lips and tried to think of something to say.
Unfortunately, my list of pithy comments was driven clean out of my head by a stunning blow to the back of my skull. As I tumbled to the ground, I caught a glimpse of a hideous wart-encrusted face leering down at me.
The vampire was fast, I'll give him that. He hit the demon square in the chest with an impressive leaping double-kick which would have probably snapped my spine had I tried to do it. But he just bounced off the demon. Then it just swatted him away. Literally gave him one open-handed swat which blew him across the room and into a wall.
"Angel!" Cordelia shrieked at the vampire's crumpled form.
Wart-face bent down and grabbed me by the shirt. "I've been looking for you," it rumbled, in a voice like a rusty can-opener.
"Oh, really? Do I owe you money for a poker game or something?" I asked weakly. "You don't look like one of the crowd I usually play with, but after a few rounds of scotch I usually can barely see the cards, much less the other players-"
It hit me. Its full strength wasn't behind the blow - I could tell, because my head was still attached to my shoulders. But it sure as hell felt like it wasn't. Wart-face flung me over its shoulder and started for the stairs. My eyeline was directly level with its butt. Not a pleasant view, I can tell you. Pretty fortunately, I passed out.
I'm pretty much an expert on headaches. There's the throbbing agony of a vision, the deep ache of a hangover, the stabbing pain of a skull fracture... I could go on for hours.
My head wasn't quite as bad as any of those when I awoke, but it was pretty bad.
"Ow," I groaned, lifting eyelids that felt like lead blinds. The first thing I saw was Wart-face's grinning mug, little bits of old meat glistening between his yellowed needle teeth.
"Wakey, wakey, little half-man," it whispered, its revolting breath washing over me.
"Do you even own a toothbrush?" I moaned, trying not to breathe.
The demon rose to its feet, taking its bulging head away from me. I sucked untainted sweet-smelling air gratefully. Now Wart-face had backed off a bit, I could actually see my little slumber nest. It looked like the inside of a van, old with scraped paint flaking on the walls. I guess Wart-face wasn't really that good at auto repair. My hands were tied above my head with thick rope and I was slumped against the van wall, my legs curled painfully by my side. The extra fun part of this set-up was that the demon had tied me at just the right angle to put my weight on my injured arm. I gave the demon a pained smile.
"Don't be funny," Wart-face warned me, growling. I think the toothbrush crack got to him.
"I try not to, but it just keeps on happening," I shot back. Admittedly, taunting a demon that could mash me into a flat pulp wasn't the brightest thing I could have done, but I'd be damned if I just lay there and did nothing.
The demon's eyes narrowed. I could see pulp-mashing thoughts flickering behind its eyes, but then it just turned and walked over to the front of the van. I heard the tearing of leather as it forced itself into the driver's seat. " Sit tight," it threw over its shoulder, as the van started and country music began to tumble from the radio.
Great. A murderous demon with crap taste in music. I tugged at the ropes, but just cut off the remaining blood flow to my fingertips.
"So, where we going?" I called. "Will there be aspirin?" The demon's response was to turn the bloody country music up louder. Nice work, Doyle.
I stared at the ceiling and wondered if trying to get him to change the channel would get me killed.
But then, after a long absence, the ol' Doyle luck kicked in. It's won me card games when I was so trashed I couldn't see the table, saved me from painful gruesome deaths at the hands of more demons than I care to remember and preserved me from Faith in a bad mood, which truly is a supernatural feat.
In this case, Doyle luck manifested itself when I looked up and saw what I was tied to. At first I couldn't believe it. The rock-head demon had gone and tied me to a bleeding weapons rack! Above me were the comforting shiny blades of half-a-dozen throwing knives. I began to twist my wrists up towards the blades, sawing at the rope.
Of course, I nearly slit my wrists. Eventually I calmed down enough to get my wrists moving at an angle which wouldn't take my fingers off and just like that, the ropes slid off. Good thing the demon took better care of his knives than he did his van.
I staggered to my feet, tripped over something, and fell flat once more. I tensed, but the demon didn't turn around. For the first time in my life, I was glad for the existence of country music. As I pulled myself up again, I found that my legs had been entangled by the thing that had tripped me. A black suitcase. I kicked it away and scrambled to my feet. Wolfram & Hart, the gold letters on the case read as it slid across the van floor. What a surprise. My new bestest lawyer pals.
According to my watch, I'd been out for a while. It was now after sunset - vampire time. And here I was, riding along in a van with good ol' Warty.
I selected a particularly wicked-looking axe from the weapons rack and gave the back of the demon's head a speculative look. Sure, if I got in a shot before he spotted me, there'd be one less demon in the world, but if he heard me coming, there'd be one less Doyle in the world. I was in no state to go a round or two with my smelly captor, axe or no axe.
I turned to the van doors, putting the axe level with the lock. Prickles raced across my skin as my demon side surfaced, spines protruding. It was time to leave.
I can only guess what the various LA street crazies and night people thought when they saw me walking along the sidewalks. Spines or no, tumbling out of the back of a moving van can do nasty things to your skin. My face and hands ached like fire, and I could see hundreds of little scratches covering my palms like cobweb. Add to that the fact that I was trying to conceal a double-headed battle axe under a lawyer's suit jacket really a bit too small for such purposes, and I must have looked a sight. Luckily, I didn't run into any cops. Having to explain to some doughnut-scoffing cop why I was toting a medieval piece of hardware would not have been great fun.
It looked like it was sometime around midnight - I couldn't be sure because my watch was in small fragments on 43rd street, being driven over by late-night truckers. I wandered for about an hour, trying to decide where I could go to get medical attention. Unfortunately, my mental efforts kept on bringing up one place, and one place only.
Hospitals were out, since they require nasty little explanations for mysterious wounds. And I didn't know if any of the usual demon doctors were still in business. It had been six months, after all, and patching up demons isn't the safest profession. 'Sides, they all charge hefty fees and my wallet was God knows where.
But Wesley always kept a first aid kit under one of the desks in the office. I could only hope he'd kept up the habit.
I was thinking a bit more clearly when I arrived at my former office for the second time and this time I noticed that some idiot had changed the name on the door. 'Angel Investigations', it now read. The damn vampire was mocking my old firm. I really wanted to play wooden acupuncture with him, but I was just too tired.
The office was dark and deserted, and I crept across to Wes's desk and grabbed the first aid kit from under his desk. All senses on edge, I tried to tend to my nastier scratches. Of course, with my senses in hyperdrive, the antiseptic stung even more than usual.
Finally, I dumped the band-aids and antiseptic back into the box and headed for the door.
"This is ridiculous!" Wesley's affronted voice complained loudly downstairs. I paused while curiosity and survival fought for control. I made up my mind to leave. It was too risky, the vampire was too tough for my current state, and I was so tired I could barely think.
But then I turned around and crept to the stairs leading down into my - the - apartment. My mother always said I was too curious for my own good.
Lying flat on the stairs, deep in the shadows, I could just see part of the apartment.
"There are a million and one shape-shifting demons," Wes continued, waving his hands around over a desk covered in books. "I can't just pluck a species name out of thin air!"
The vampire stepped into my field of view and planted a hand on Wes's shoulder. "I know, Wesley, but we need answers and we need them now."
Amazingly enough, picky Wesley seemed ashamed of his tantrum. "I suppose I could try the Black Chronicles again," he said with little hope in his voice. Planting himself down on my sofa, he picked up and book a flipped through it. " So, any distinguishing characteristics?"
"He looked like Doyle," I heard that girl - Cordelia - say dryly, out of my field of view.
Wesley rolled his eyes. "Very droll, Cordelia."
"Guys..." Angel said patiently. "Let's stay on track here."
Wesley looked uncomfortably at the vampire. "As much as I hesitate to bring this up, is there any possibility it *wasn't* a shape-shifter?"
"Huh?" Cordelia said blankly. "That would mean-"
"That it was really Doyle," Angel said quietly.
"Uh, yes," Wesley said awkwardly. "I admit that I'm not as qualified to discuss Doyle as you, but-"
"Yeah," Cordelia cut it harshly. "You're not."
"I only meant-"
"Besides, the real Doyle would never be caught dead in a suit," she finished firmly.
For a girl I'd never met before, she understood me pretty well.
Wesley looked like he was melting in the hot silence emanating from Angel and the girl. "But isn't it possib-"
"No," Angel said abruptly. "There was nothing left, Wes. Not even ash. Get back to the Black Chronicles," he said in a tone that brooked no argument. How the hell did a damn *vampire* know what that spell did to me? Ash... no wonder it hurt so much.
Wesley nodded slowly, transfixed by the vampire's intense gaze. He peered down at his dusty old book. "Smell?"
Angel frowned. I got the impression he did that a lot. "Smelled... normal for Doyle, I guess. He could have done his laundry a bit more."
I was indignant. The clothes weren't that bad! After all, beggars can't be choosers. In my book, if it's not evolving sentient life, it's clean enough to wear. But apparently not clean enough for sissy-boy-vampire.
"Did he smell of sulphur?" Wesley asked hopefully. "With a faint lingering cheesy smell?"
Honestly, did these people think I never bathed?
"No," Angel answered.
"Well, he's definitely not a Wareshi spirit," Wes said firmly.
"Way to go, Wes," Cordelia said sarcastically. "At this rate, Angel will be hitting his tri-centennial before we find out what's going on." I kinda liked Cordelia. She seemed a decent sort, whatever her dodgy associations. Nasty tongue on her, though.
"Well, considering you're so ready to contribute to my research," Wesley said with barely concealed exasperation, "have you found anything useful on your side of things?"
"Yes," she replied smugly.
"You have?" Wesley asked flabbergasted.
"You have?" Angel asked, eyebrow raised. Inwardly, I cheered her on.
"Well, we wanted to find that demon that snatched Doyle-faker-guy, right? So I found him," she said, handing a book to Wesley. Now I could finally see her. Her back was to me, but considering the lovely behind that presented me with, I wasn't complaining.
'Faith will castrate you,' my thoughts warned me quietly.
Wesley paged through Cordelia's book. "Well, it... appears she's found something."
"Really?" Angel asked.
"Really? I mean, of course I have!" Cordelia said firmly. "See, not just a pretty face," she told Angel sharply. "I do contribute."
"But you don't answer the phone, take messages, organise meetings or make coffee," Angel responded pointedly. "Which is your job."
"Men!" she rolled her eyes heavenward. "Never satisfied."
Angel's response was interrupted by Wes in full professor-mode. "The demon that snatched Doyle, or whoever he is, was a Cursak Beast. They're incredible natural trackers and predators, generally hired as bounty hunters. They've been known to track their targets across continents, and they're practically invulnerable."
Great, just great. Not only was a demon chasing me, but it was a huge, strong and unkillable demon. Lovely.
"Practically?" Angel asked.
"Apparently, Cursaks are extremely allergic to silver," Wesley clarified. "It's believed they may be a purer offshoot of the demons that bonded with humans and evolved into werewolves. They're extremely sought after for their skills and combat ability. Not too bright, though."
Yeah, I could confirm that one.
"I think I've dated football players like these guys," Cordelia contributed.
I waited with interest to hear how Wesley responded to that one.
He ignored it. "So, in conclusion, I believe we can firmly say - we've got problems."
Angel shrugged. "We'll deal. We haven't got a shortage of silver-lined weapons," he said, crossing the room and opening a weapons cupboard identical to mine. Hell, it *was* mine! He drew out a nasty-looking silver dagger I didn't recognise, more of a short sword. "Will this do?"
Wesley said something, but the words were lost in the sudden haze of pain that flooded my temples. I was dimly aware of my hands shaking violently, as images and sensations seared my mind.
//A young businessman being confronted by a huge slimy demon. A rancid stench filled my nostrils as the demon slithered closer, grinning savagely. A sign was superimposed over the doomed man. 'Delilah's Delights', the flowery pink letters read. A sweet store on the corner of 22nd and Main, with an alley with sewer access right next door...//
I have no idea how I managed to stay in place during the vision. Using strength I didn't know I had, I clutched the stairs railing tightly. It took serious effort to unclench my fingers when the vision passed.
Down below, Angel was helping Cordelia to her feet. Her face was flushed and her brow tight with pain. I knew if I looked in the mirror, I'd see the same expression on my face.
I knew, somehow, she'd just seen the same thing I had.
What the hell was going on here?
But I didn't have time to consider it. The kid in the alley needed me. Besides which, Angel was striding for the exit, his coat flowing behind him in a dramatic kinda way like he was Batman or something. I didn't want to be around when he hit the stairs.
Head aching, I grabbed my axe and staggered for the door.
I ran the eight blocks to Delilah's. The run nearly killed me before any demons could. I rounded the alley corner and saw Mr Slime. It seemed bigger than in the vision. Smellier, too. The man I was supposed to be rescuing lay unconscious in a pile of trash. And between him and the demon, his assistants flanking him, was Angel.
I have to admit, part of me wasn't really surprised. Angel was holding his own against the demon, sending blows flashing at it so fast I could barely follow them. The bastard sure could fight. Wesley and Cordelia stood back a few meters, Wesley holding an axe, looking fierce but useless, while Cordelia tried to rouse the fallen victim.
The slime demon hit Angel a good one on the jaw and the vampire spun a full circle with the force of the blow. It lunged, meaning to bury the vampire beneath its bulk. I don't know how, but Angel got his feet back under himself and tripped it. The demon fell hard, dragging Angel with it. Pinning the vampire, the slimy monster rained punches down, battering and bruising him.
Wesley tensed and I could see that, any second now, he was going to leap across and try to save his vampire pal. I couldn't allow that. I couldn't care less if Angel was ground to dust, but I wasn't about to watch the demon rip Wesley to pieces.
With a roar of fury, I charged the demon, my own demon side coming free so fast it almost hurt. I brought the steel curve of the axe's blade down into the centre of the slime demon's back. It howled with gurgling fury as I tore the axe free and swung again and again. As it reached out to hit me, I chopped one of its arms off. As I dodged a gush of demon slime, I finally got into position for a killing stroke and swept the axe around.
The demon's head splattered when it hit the ground. A second later, its body followed.
I wiped green sludge from my face as Angel rose to his feet, watching me closely.
"My God," Cordelia muttered. "It's Super-Doyle."
Angel took a step towards me. "Close enough," I warned, raising the axe as I felt my spines flare defensively. "I want some answers, pal, and you're going to give them to me or I'll fill a dust buster with you. We clear?"
Angel's dark eyes blinked once as he stepped back. "Crystal."
"Good, now first off-" A roof slate crashed to the ground just in front of me. "What the hell was that?"
Angel and I looked up. Perched on the edge of the roof, Wart-face leered down at me.
"Found you..." he grated gleefully as he dropped. I raised the axe futilely as he crashed down onto me. Hit the ground hard, born down by his crushing weight. My head bounced off the pavement, my spines retracting as I lost control of my demon side. I looked up at the demon through darkening eyes. He smiled and reached for me.
But then with a flicker of motion, Angel's large silver knife buried itself in his chest. The Cursak gurgled, the veins on his neck bubbling and bulging. His warty features twisted in shock and pain and he fell forward. On to me.
I passed out, buried beneath seven feet of bubbling demon.