Faith, the See chapter 1 for disclaimers.
Vampire Slayer Exotic Dancer
See chapter 1 for disclaimers.
"Faith!" I yelped.
We were out the door and running in seconds, Wesley lurching awkwardly on his bad leg and cane.
If Faith was going up against that creature again I wanted to be on hand. Last night, the demon had creamed her - although admittedly it had caught her by surprise. But it had seemed pretty tough to me in a straight fight, all the same. I didn't know how a Slayer would stand up to it under similar circumstances, and wasn't about to risk the possibility she might not.
Turning a corner of the corridor, I bounced off the chest of Cecil, who was coming the other way. While I was still recovering my balance, he was already lunging forward, and I groaned inwardly in expectation of another bash.
"Oh, for heaven's sake!" Wesley muttered. The next instant, a black cane swished through the air and connected with a loud Crack! Then, Cecil was back on the floor again in a large, softly moaning heap. "Can we go?" Wesley snapped impatiently, speeding up again, and half dragging me behind him for the next few steps, as I stared in disbelief over my shoulder to where the thug had now subsided in a motionless sprawl, arms and legs splayed-out untidily.
"That's a new look for you." Faith's sarcastic quip, emerging surreally from my pocket, contained surprise and a trace of very real disappointment.
Damn it, I thought. So much for Faith making friends outside of the slayin' business.
"Your energy should last me a long time." I'd been expecting that demonic rumble, but the voice which replied was the shy, girlish Sandy I'd listened to Faith conversing with for much of the past two nights. And the tone - there was none of Harper's malicious, villainous satisfaction. It was matter-of-fact and level, if also lacking in any remorse.
I exchanged concerned glances with Wes. As we descended the stairs, he cursed at one point when his bad leg gave way under him, but then caught his balance and forged on. Which was fortunate, because I wasn't going to wait around to help him. Right now, Faith needed me more. We reached the ground floor and turned on to the corridor leading through to the dressing rooms.
"Yeah? I reckon it could be a whole lot shorter that you think," Faith was responding, hot anger and betrayal blazing in her voice. "That was you, last night? You tried to kill me - me and Doyle - "
"Doyle? That would be the boyfriend you're so sweet on?" When she laughed, the rumble was back. "Your descriptions left out the part about his being a demon..." A momentary crackle of static drowned out the rest of what she said, but whatever it was, it pissed off Faith considerably, because after the static finished I heard a growl of fury and the smack of flesh hitting flesh with Slayer-powered force.
"You don't know anything about it!" Faith snapped, meaty thuds and occasional crashes punctuating. I wondered what exactly she'd said, and whether Faith would even repeat it to me later if I asked. Probably not.
"About what it's like to hide what you really are from a world that won't understand?" the soft voice qualified gently. "I think we've all had some experience with that, Faith. You, too - I knew the first time we met that you were no more a normal girl than I."
The demon did something that made Faith yell out in pain. I ran faster, listening to still more punches and crashes. Wesley, slowed by his limp, was several paces behind me now.
A particularly loud crash, and the microphone cut out again.
I skidded around a slight kink in the corridor. The dressing rooms were on the other side of it. A guy who could've been Cecil's larger brother was standing outside them. I didn't even try to explain, or even slow down - I just hit him as hard as I could, with all my running momentum behind me. He obligingly collapsed.
Wesley caught up as I drew the machete from my jacket and lunged for the door handle.
"Uh, Doyle," he began, his face reddening and his eyes fixed on the sign that said 'Women Only'. "Are you sure we -"
I shoved open the door. No feminine protests sounded as I barged inside, Wesley following nervously at my back.
I didn't think that any semi-clad dancing girls that were inside would object to our intrusion, not while a demon and a Slayer were duking it out in there already.
The scent of sweat, mingled with cloying, sweet-scented deodorants and perfumes assaulted my nostrils. I could see rows of rails and lockers, stacked with garments and towels. A few of the dancing girls were huddled in the far corner, fear in their eyes. A crash sounded from behind the row to my left even as one of the girls raised a shaking hand to point over that way, and I swung around the edge of the rail.
Only to find a demon hurtling towards me at speed.
"Doyle!" Faith's yell sounded, filled with exasperation and too-late warning. The demon's uncontrolled lunge had apparently been propelled by Faith, and it was unfortunately spared the brunt of the impact. Crushed between the demon and the rail at my back, I choked as the air was forced from my lungs, and collapsed bonelessly to the floor in a breathless, gasping huddle as the demon's weight bounced away again.
The machete, knocked from my grasp, skidded across the floor - I didn't see where it went, but I thought the blade had nicked the creature as it crashed against me.
I managed to raise my head in time to see the demon's bulky form diminish into its fragile human one as it picked itself up. Standing in its place there was now a pale, skinny, extremely top-heavy blonde girl, who wore nothing except what seemed to me to be two strategically-placed black ribbons. A gash in her arm oozed blood.
Wesley, having moved to block the path of a demon, spluttered as he found his hands full of apparently very human, very naked, very female flesh. He leaped back like her touch burned him and made no further effort to restrain the demon as it barged past him and out of the door.
"Way to go, lover," Faith snarled over her shoulder at me as she disappeared after Sandy.
I would've found some suitable reply, if I wasn't so preoccupied trying to breathe.
Wesley sighed as he bent down and hauled me to my feet, using his cane as a lever to push our combined weight up from the floor. "It's just not our week, is it?"
Following after Faith, we emerged into the public area of the club at the back of a slightly raised area. I wouldn't have called it a stage exactly, since the clientele lingered on it - but so did quite a large proportion of the dancers and it was the focus of more than a little attention. Wes and I attracted a few odd looks, picking our way across the platform, dodging naked flesh. I hoped they weren't expecting me to spring into a strip tease, what with the bloody stupid uniform I was wearing.
The music pounding away and the strobe lighting joined forces to assault my still-aching head.
Even in that lighting, which flickered first bright white and then blue as I tried to focus, it wasn't difficult to pick out the objects of our pursuit from the crowds. The deceptively delicate Sandy was shoving Halo's outraged clientele aside left and right, and just as they caught their balance or started to pick themselves up, Faith came charging after her and knocked them flying again.
Fortunately for us, by the time we followed the victims had wised up. They cleared out of our way with helpful, speedy respect.
In a flash of painfully intense yellow light, I caught a glimpse of the expression on Sandy's face. She looked so scared I almost felt sorry for her, despite knowing what she was and all she'd done.
After all, this demon had to kill to survive. Decency was not an option.
Unlike that miserable old bastard we'd left upstairs. I didn't know quite what we'd do about him. I could hardly kill some helpless wheelchair-bound old guy in cold blood, and I doubted we'd find any way to pin the murders of the dancing girls on him, considering his connections and our lack of any evidence we could reasonably show the police that would stand up in court.
Distracted by my thoughts, I collided with one of the dancers, getting a completely unintentional handful. I leaped back, stuttering apologies, but not before her hand cracked across my face in a reflex slap.
The girls sure did have good reflexes at this place.
I distinctly heard Wesley, behind me, snigger.
I reached the edge of the platform. Before I jumped down into the crowds, where the general head-height was far enough above my eye-level to obscure my view, I saw Sandy, about twenty yards away, throw herself at one of the bouncers, sobbing. I couldn't hear what she said, but I could see her lips moving frantically and I could hazard a good guess. She took refuge behind the guy, her face tear-stained, and then slipped away into the crowds at his back as he squared himself up to block Faith's path.
Idiot. I only caught glimpses of what happened next through small gaps in the moving crowds - brief, flashing snapshots of actions as Faith floored him with a single, brutal, effortless punch to the jaw and continued after Sandy without breaking her stride.
Beside me, Wesley staggered as his cane slipped on the smooth floors and I gripped his shoulder, keeping him on his feet. I caught his gaze as I did so. "This is way too public!" I yelled over the noise, indicating Faith where she moved purposefully and single-mindedly, her attention fixated only on the chase.
He nodded, and I saw my concern reflected in his expression. "We have to get to her, before she does something we'll all regret!" he yelled back.
Bodies were shifting, the crowds pulling back from the mounting commotion, allowing me a view of what Sandy was up to now. She had turned her efforts to the clientele and was standing in a circle of guys, her mouth working frantically as she pleaded for their help. Evidently they'd seen what had happened to the bouncer who'd gotten in Faith's way, though. That, combined with the expression on her face right then, I think was enough to convince them it was more than their lives were worth to interfere.
Giving up, Sandy just turned and ran. She must have known she couldn't make it. She was running through the dense press of clientele that cleared quickly after her passage in anticipation of Faith following.
She got as far as the queues beyond the main doors. Faith, only yards behind her now, leaped up to grab the top of the door frame and swung outside in an athletic arc. Each foot connected precisely with the face of a bouncer moving to stop her on her way to the ground.
Wesley and I picked our way between the unconscious bodies, stumbling in our haste, although I was aware, sickly aware, that we were not going to reach her in time.
Faith hit the concrete, rolled, and came to her feet directly behind Sandy. Turning, seeing her there, the demon started to cry out "No -!" even as Faith's hands shot out, twisting as they grasped.
The snap rang out on the night air, witnessed by dozens of appalled eyes... Wesley and myself among them.
Faith looked up, an odd expression in her eyes as she met the watching crowds with a kind of surprised wonder... as though she'd no idea why they should have any problem with what she'd just done. I couldn't tell how much of it was acting. "Hey," she said defensively. "She jumped the queue."
"Shit!" I snarled under my breath.
"I can't believe she just -" Wesley's own groan cut off abruptly and I followed his gaze back to Sandy.
The corpse was shrivelling even as Faith released it. By the time it hit the floor, it appeared as the body of an ancient old woman. A second later, there was nothing there but dust.
Of course, nobody believed what they'd seen. After a couple of seconds' shocked pause, some of the queuing people even burst into a smatter of applause as though they thought the display had been part of Halo's floor show. And Faith just stood there looking bemused and lapping up the attention, even giving a theatrical bow... until Wesley and I caught hold of an arm apiece and hauled her away to the car.
I watched from the window as Colridge left the office building and walked across the street. And I wondered, guiltily, whether I had done the right thing. Or whether I could've done anything else.
While Kate knew the truth, the police, as I'd thought, couldn't prosecute Harper Senior, and it looked like the case would remain 'unsolved'. No official connection had been made between the aged bodies found and the missing dancers. Although possibly a few people had their suspicions and private explanations like poor old Perry... I hadn't liked him, but he'd been trying to do the right thing, and he hadn't deserved to die like that.
I turned the cheque over in my fingers regretfully. Much as we needed the money, I'd felt pretty bad taking it, when all we'd done was find her dead. I shoved it into a pocket and traipsed out into the office reception.
Wesley was sitting collectedly in a chair flicking through old accounts with a mildly interested expression on his face, while Faith was adorning a desk with her bored, stretched out, leather-clad form.
"Better take this to the bank," I said, retrieving my jacket from the back of Wesley's chair and shrugging it on over my shoulders. "You guys wanna come? We could pay a visit to a pub or ten on the way back." I didn't say anything about celebrating a case closed and a fee paid. There wasn't a whole lot to celebrate there, far as I could see.
Well, maybe we could drown our sorrows instead.
"I suppose so," Wesley allowed, rearranging the papers into a neat pile as he switched his attention to me. "So long as we don't stop by Halo."
Faith snickered, rolling off the desk, twisting and landing neatly in an athletic little move. Her two-day turn as one of Halo's dancers, short as it had been, seemed to have had something of an impact on her moves, I noted. "They wouldn't let you in anyway, now your posh pals have rumbled you. You do know Colridge told them you're Doyle's secretary?"
"What?" He looked appalled and turned on me, standing up, indignation clear in every line of his abruptly very Watcherly posture. "You told him -"
"Uh, calm down there, man," I said quickly. "I didn't tell him anythin' of the sort... He made the assumption!"
Wesley drew himself up even taller, folding his arms in disgust, and peered down his nose at me. "Well, personally, I thought I did rather better at the undercover work than some people I could mention..."
"Only 'cause you enjoyed hobnobbing with the rich and snotty," Faith pointed out.
"So what if I did?" he protested, slightly too guiltily, turning his disapproval onto her instead. "After some of the places you've dragged me to in this dreadful country, perhaps it made a pleasant change to socialise with a few people with some culture."
"Your 'cultured' buddies there were payin' to gawk at your slayer and those other gals barin' all," I pointed out.
"Well, yes, there is that," he allowed with a sigh. "Anyway, Faith, after the things I heard went on, you can't claim you didn't enjoy 'hobnobbing' with those young ladies."
Bad subject. Faith's mouth tightened into a scowl and she didn't reply.
He eyed her for a moment, then retrieved his cane and jacket, and sensibly changed the subject, "I rather thought we were going to the bank."
"Yeah. You go on ahead, Wes, and wait for us downstairs. I'll lock up the office."
I think he got the message. He retreated quickly enough out of the door, at any rate. I collected my keys and herded Faith out. A quick look around reassured that Wesley was using the elevator to descend to the foyer. I opened my mouth as I turned the keys in the lock, but she got there before me.
"Something to say?" she asked sarcastically. She was leaning back against the wall at my side, and her body language was defensive. "Very subtle getting shot of Wussley there, by the way."
I frowned at her, and asked hesitantly, "You are... all right? About Sandy, and all that?"
Her gaze was level, and impenetrable. Like it had been while Wesley scolded her for risking slaying Sandy in public. "I'm fine," she said. "You worry about yourself, Doyle, and let me worry about me. That's the way I operate, that's the way I like it, I keep things that way and everything stays five by five."
She said it as though she was trying to convince herself. Not many people had gotten under that tough skin, I reflected, and wondered why Sandy should, in so short a time. Maybe there'd been something in what she'd said about their being kindred spirits. That thought made me shiver.
"No offence," I said. "I'm just... I just..." I just do worry. But I couldn't say that. I reached out a hand and moved a stray lock of hair back out of her face, my fingers brushing against the skin of her cheek. She flinched her head back out of my reach, but then relented.
"I liked her," she said, after a moment, without inflection. "She was a big murdering demon in disguise. I'm a slayer. I slayed. Job done, no big deal... let's go get drunk."
"Now there's a plan I can live with," I agreed, as she slung her arm in mine and we headed for the stairs down to the foyer. After a moment I added, innocently, "Maybe we could even go do somethin' *boring* to round off the night."
I happily watched her eyebrows shoot up through her hairline in realisation.
A couple of days after we'd closed the case, I was catching up on some paperwork in my office when I heard the door open. The hurled newspaper landed in front of me before I could raise my head.
"Headline news," Wesley said curtly. He sounded annoyed. "How did you do it?"
I stared down at the black print. In bold big letters, the headline read, 'Disabled War Hero Dies in Tragic Accident'. I read further. 'Well known public face, club owner Jacob Harper', it turned out, had fallen in his wheelchair down the elevator shaft of his sparklingly expensive apartment in the early hours of that very morning. Technical problems with the elevator had apparently caused the accident, all very clear-cut. There wouldn't be an investigation into it.
All a little too convenient, though, knowing what we knew.
It was like a punch in the gut - though not entirely an unexpected one. "I didn't do anythin'," I choked, unconvincingly.
"You're lying..." he started slowly, as though hesitant of making that accusation. Comprehension dawned in his eyes after a moment, and then the accusation was there full-force. "What did you tell Colridge? I did wonder how you managed to persuade him to pay us when the girl remains officially listed as missing and we have no proof of what happened to her beyond what most people would dismiss as fantasy."
"I didn't tell him anythin'... I jus' gave him the tape. And it wasn't about the money, besides..."
"The tape... y'know... when we talked to Harper and he was gloatin' happily away about his involvement. You still had that bug on you, an' that little device I was using..." I dug it out of the drawer to show him the slot where the cassettes went. "'Course, I edited out the references to demons and suchlike. Just gave him enough to prove she was dead, and Harper was responsible for it. Hell, money issues aside, the poor guy deserves to know what happened to his lady love. And to have opportunity to do somethin' about it.
"I didn't think he'd kill him," I added.
"That's weak, Doyle," Wesley said disgustedly. "You must have known the possibility was there. In case you've forgotten, we're not in the business of killing people. Not that Faith cares one jot, of course, but I thought you did."
I met his gaze with silence. I didn't really have anything to say. Couldn't explain to a furious Wesley that I knew what Colridge felt. That I'd thought the guy deserved his shot at the revenge I'd never gotten for Harry. That I knew, technically, I was in the wrong - and though I might feel guilty as hell over it, I would do just the same over again.
I wordlessly rose from my desk, paper in hand. Leaving Wesley standing there, I headed down to my apartment to find something to drink.
I dropped the newspaper into the waste bin on the way.