See chapter 1 for disclaimer.
by Mike and Roseveare
Great. Just great.
I stood up cautiously, hands in the air, Kate's gun following my every move. She rose, equally cautiously. The gun didn't so much as waver.
I tried a smile. "Hi?"
Kate's expression didn't twitch, but her pistol shifted aim to my forehead. I ran the facts through my mind, somewhat distracted by the thought of Kate running a bullet through it instead.
Good vampires. Faith in jail. And Kate pointing a gun at me. I always thought those Star Trek parallel world episodes were lame. Well, lamer than the rest of Star Trek anyway.
"Sorry about the tackle," I said awkwardly. "Heat of the moment, and all that. But, hey what's one tiny error between friends? You remember the part where we're friends - right?"
Kate's eyes narrowed. That would be a 'no', then, from the lady with the gun and the itchy trigger finger. I prayed that my alternate self had never done anything to piss her off. "Doyle's dead. I don't know who the hell you are, demon, but you aren't him."
"Well, that's somethin' of perspective, really. I'm Doyle...just not the Doyle." This argument didn't seem to be winning her over. "You a big Star Trek fan?"
"Yeah, well as I remember, Doyle wasn't a demon," she said curtly. "You, on the other hand..."
Seeing her finger tighten on the trigger, I decided to take a different tack. "Hey, I'm workin' with Angel, aren't I? Angel's a good guy, right?"
And that went down like a lead balloon. "Last time I checked, Angel was several hundred dead people short of ‘good guy'."
Several hundred? Angel and I were going to have words about this, I decided. And if he didn't have a damn good explanation, I was going to stake him. Assuming Kate didn't shoot me first, of course.
The lady in question wasn't finished, though. "And what exactly were you and he working on, anyway? Some kind of black magic? Raise a couple of your demon pals in the middle of the street and have yourselves a hellbeast frat party?"
"What, that? Hey, that wasn't what it lo- well, I guess it..." I laughed uneasily, and tried to start afresh. "We were just doin' a spot of exorcism. Like the film, you know, with the priest and the projectile-"
"Oh really? Demonically possessed street corners?"
I had to admit, to the impartial observer, my story seemed to be full of holes. I didn't give a damn about the impartial observer, but the extremely partial Kate Lockley with a handgun wasn't impressed either. And that I did give a damn about.
I started to back away cautiously, hands in the air. "I can see you're not comfortable with that scenario. Okay, new scenario. You shoot me with that gun. I die human, now you've got a body to dispose of. We already roused a few people gettin' here - at least some of them know how to dial 911. The cops are already on their way. They find you standing here, with a gun in your hand, an' a still-warm body on the floor. Even LAPD could solve that one."
"I'm a cop," she said bluntly.
"True, but then you get to explain one dead suspect to the rest of the guys, and hey, that's a whole lot of paperwork hell you're looking at just to fix me. Might even end up with you getting a hearing and losing your badge, if they smell a rat and that 'I was defending myself from a dangerous suspect' plan you're probably cooking up right now doesn't completely convince. Maybe worse."
Kate hesitated, gun still following me as I continued to back up. I could see the indecision in her eyes - assuming this Kate was a cop like the one in my world, she was reviewing the same possibilities I was...and maybe wondering why a demon would know about them...
I glanced to the side. There was a whole mass of packing crates behind me, irregularly piled up by a forklift that now sat derelict near the doorway I'd smashed down.
It wouldn't be great cover, but it sure as hell beat air molecules.
"...an' let's say you run. Then forensics pull the bullet out of me at the morgue, an' they check it against their records. That your service weapon you're wavin' at me?" Kate's eyes flickered slightly. "'Cause if it is, then the boys at Internal Affairs will pick you apart an' leave you for the vultures in the Justice Department to finish off. Ugly way to end a career."
I spread my hands and smiled as disarmingly as I could, watching the nose of the pistol droop slightly as Kate moved to cover me. "Of course, none of this is a problem if you can't hit me."
I dove sideways as she fired.
There's a reason why people talk about "dodging the bullet" on something. It's a feeling quite unlike anything else. I've had a lot of things thrown, fired or - during one memorable battle with a Slaragsh demon - excreted at me, but there's nothing quite like being shot at.
You're moving before the gun fires, but you hear the shot when you're still in motion and there's a microsecond of hesitation. Was I fast enough? Was the shooter anticipating me? After all, real life isn't like the Matrix. You don't see bullets coming. It's just bang, you're dead.
And you're so wired up, so totally focused on that one tiny piece of lead, that when the impact comes it jolts your entire body. And it takes you a moment to release that it's not a bullet, that it's just your body hitting the floor, and there's a sense of sublime relief. You did it. You're still alive.
Of course, the shooter still has the rest of the clip to kill you with.
Which was why I rolled and kept scrambling until I was behind three crates piled in a rough triangle. It wasn't exactly Fort Knox, but as long as I was hunched over I was pretty safe.
Despite that, Kate popped two more rounds over the top of the crates. I wished for a shorter haircut.
Still hunkered down, I skittered backwards and rolled behind a different pile of crates, then slung myself to one side and rolled again. As I ducked down beside the forklift, I was pretty sure I'd managed to confuse Kate enough to buy me some time. Sure enough, peeking through the driver's windshield, I could see her scanning the crates uncertainly.
"I've considered your argument, demon, and come to a decision." she announced. Then turned and pumped three rounds into the windshield. I dropped back, glass pelting my shoulders. "I want you dead. Screw the paperwork."
Shaking glass from my hair, I staggered around to the back of the forklift, hearing her footsteps approach me. "I wouldn't be so hasty. Those Internal Affairs guys are pretty damn nasty. And have you met the lawyers in this town? Now that's malevolent."
Kate kept walking, calmly, methodically. Like an executioner. That's what she was basically gonna do, anyway. An execution. I had no weapon and she had a loaded semi-automatic, and she was going to walk right up to me and put a bullet in my head. My friend, my partner, was about to blow me away and she wouldn't even mourn. I was just another demon to her.
Another dead demon.
She stopped walking. Bad sign. Either she was about to give up, which seemed unlikely, or she'd got close enough that she was confident about her chances to blast me no matter which way I moved.
But fortunately for me, the forklift's driver had left the keys in the ignition. For a moment or two, I toyed with the idea of actually starting the engine and driving towards her, but I abandoned it. The forklift probably had the acceleration rate of a golf cart, and I'd be an easy target. And even if I did hit her, the impact would probably kill her.
And that wasn't an option I wanted to consider.
I snatched the keys from the ignition and flung them left. I heard them jingle as they hit the floor, waited a heartbeat, and dove.
It's a stupid trick, and I knew Kate would be wise to it. Which is why I dove left, following the keys' trajectory, and she spun right, expecting me to use the distraction to go right.
I heard her curse and adjust her aim in time to snap off a quick shot. A shot that came far too close for comfort, whizzing past my right ear, close enough for my eardrums to hurt.
I hit the ground and rolled and kept on rolling, hearing another bullet skip off the floor. I came up behind a single large crate, standing upright. It was pretty high and pretty thick, so I didn't expect any bullets to get through. On the other hand, it was about the size and approximate shape of a coffin. That was hardly comforting.
Scraping sounds...Kate was picking her way towards me. She paused for a second, and I heard the clicking as she extracted the nearly-spent clip from her pistol and slapped in a fresh one. So much for running rings around her ‘till she ran out of bullets. I silently cursed whichever LAPD firearms instructor had taught her good ammunition discipline.
That same discipline had kept me alive so many times...I'd never expected to be cursing that aspect of Kate's personality. Her abrasiveness, yes, her regular flares of temper, yes, her rabid anti-smoking policy...
Kate fired another shot, and my heart skipped a beat as it thudded into the crate. But whatever was inside was obviously pretty dense - the only thing staining my shirt was sweat.
I stood with my back to the coffin-shaped box and listened to her approach. There was no way my earlier trick would work twice on a cop of Kate's calibre. Besides, I had nothing else to throw.
So I waited, feeling dampness collecting in the small of my back.
She was barely meters away now, and I heard her stop and take a deep breath.
I did the same, and let the change come with the air, tightly controlled. The demon's strength flowed through me and I pressed my back against the coffin. My enhanced senses picked up the scent of Kate's perspiration as she took another step.
I pushed backwards and felt the heavy crate toppling. Kate yelped in surprise as it tumbled down at her. She reacted fast, for a human, rolling away from the tumbling wood and trying to regain her balance. Not a bad move, all things considered, and very fast.
For a human.
I bounded over the crate and straight into her, knocking her as flat as the crate would have. Of course, had the crate hit her, I wouldn't have had to worry about her kneeing my stomach. I gasped for air, and heard her gun go skittering away as she lost her grip on it. I tried to grab her wrists, as one might do with a person having hysterics, and she headbutted me for my trouble. My own grunt of pain mingled with hers - the spikes on my face weren't kind to such manoeuvres. But the headbutt stunned me enough for her to get away. Blinking away tears of pain, I snatched at her leg, bringing her down again for a second, but then she slipped free, planting a foot in my face for good measure.
I could see her standing a few metres away, grimfaced and angry, as I staggered to my feet, wheezing. I hadn't exactly figured Kate for a pushover, but even with demon reflexes, I was down several bruises and unpleasantly winded. On the plus side, her hair was pretty mussed.
Some demon I was.
Speaking of, I decided that was an opportune time to winch in the spikes. The gun was gone and maybe if she saw me revert to human she might decide to talk instead of attacking. Unfortunately, she didn't so much as waste a breath on me, instead stooping to draw her backup gun from her ankle holster.
A puzzled expression crossed her face, which darkened to a frown as I held up the little leather holster. Pointedly, I emptied the gun and threw it aside. Okay, so maybe I'd done more than just muss her hair.
I grinned. "I don't suppose we could just give this up? Have coffee or somethin'?"
Kate wasn't buying - she turned and dashed for the door.
"Maybe later, then?" In pain, and still trying to fill my aching lungs, I was happy to let her go. Happy, that is, until she stopped halfway to the door and bent over the duffel bag she'd been carrying. There was the sound of a zipper and then metal flashed.
Kate hefted a fireman's axe and starting walking towards me. "Nah. I had three cups already today."
I started to back up again, retreating behind the fallen coffin-box. "Uh-huh." My voice squeaked embarrassingly into upper registers. "So you're gonna work off all that excess energy by choppin' me into itty-bitty pieces?"
The axe swept round and I dodged hastily to one side. The blade chomped into the coffin-box, and Kate extracted it with a businesslike tug. "Pretty much."
"Ever tried racquetball? Or ping-po-"
I ducked another swipe and managed to snag a broken plank from the floor. Kate was coming dangerously close with that axe of hers - she'd obviously been practicing this Jack Nicholson number for a while now. I shifted the plank to my other hand and tried to get a decent grip on it. At least it had the advantage of reach, although as easy-to-wield weapons go, it ranked somewhere up there with a cement mixer.
I swung it anyway, and Kate stepped to one side and slashed with the axe. With the sound of tearing wood, I lost the advantage of reach.
I shifted my grip on the shortened plank, putting one hand firmly near each end, trying not to wince as the splinters protruding from the severed end dug into my palm.
Kate eyed the half-plank balanced between my hands, judging the wood's thickness. One good swing...
She brought the axe back for an overhead swipe that would destroy my shield and probably most of my face as well...and I smashed the plank down onto my knee.
Picture the scenario. One wooden plank going down...one knee going up...The plank broke in the middle and its two sharp splintered ends both spun upwards, following the upwards angle of my knee...to point directly at Kate's throat.
And abruptly Kate had gone from about to bring a heavy axe down on an unlucky enemy, to having said axe raised uselessly high, while said enemy had two sharp pieces of wood brushing her throat.
I might not have Kate's axe-wielding flair, but after years of killing vamps there's nothing I don't know about pointy pieces of wood.
And now, watching her muscles tremble with the strain of holding the axe upright, watching her eyes stare intently into me as they searched for a way out...it was only a matter of time.
With a disgusted sigh, Kate let the axe fall and stood there, trying not to flinch away from the impromptu stakes at her throat.
"Doyle! No, wait-"
And suddenly Angel was diving between us, knocking myself and Kate both sprawling, sending the sharp ends of wood skittering out of my hands.
I blinked up at him as he rounded on me, and my protest was turned into a choke when he hauled me up by a not-so-friendly grip on the collar of my jacket.
"What the hell did you think you were doing?" he snapped.
I angrily twisted out of his grip, which seemed to surprise him. He wavered, my motion having apparently unsettled his balance, and didn't come after me again as I backed off. Instead, he turned to Kate, who didn't look especially happy to see him. Although, in fact-
My thoughts froze. I frowned at Angel, narrowing my eyes to focus on Broody-Avenger-Vamp. "Wait. You really thought I was going to-?" I looked at Kate again, and thought back over her reactions.
Oh, hell. Angel wasn't the only one. She'd actually thought...
"No," I said. A stupid gulp that was half a giggle escaped my throat, and my voice squeaked as I protested, "You can't honestly have thought that I'd... I *know* her. Kate-"
I moved towards her and she redoubled the efforts she was making to stand. Succeeded and sprang away from me, her feet scuffing on the floor with the clumsiness of fright.
I stared. I could barely believe it.
Angel looked between us and seemed to calm down quite abruptly. He held out both hands, palm down, in a pacifying gesture, and kept his body placed carefully between the two of us. "Okay. Let's all ease things up here. Doyle. Kate. We can sort this out rationally."
Rationally? I was in a crazy alternate universe where my best friend had just been convinced I was about to kill her and I was being told to act rationally by a goddamn vampire cursed with a conscience! But... okay, I guess I could see his point.
Kate didn't look so rational either, to my mind. And, studying her again now, trying to trace something of the woman I knew inside her face - finding so much there the same that it really was hard to credit-
Then her gaze fell upon Angel, and her whole face changed, conflict blazing into being behind her eyes.
I didn't think I could ever remember seeing Kate look quite like that. There was such a cold, all-encompassing fury residing there now, drowning out much else of what I had recognised. And, mixed all up within that, something else entirely...
Shit. Whatever the rest was about - and there sure as hell was something nasty lying between them - she really had it bad for the vamp, too.
"Angel," she said. She spoke his name like a curse. "I'm here to stop you making a mistake. You think he's your friend. I get that. But you're wrong. Your friend's dead. He's just a demon. I saw him change-"
"He was always a demon, Kate," Angel said, curtailing her.
She was left standing with her mouth half-open. I could see her weight shifting on legs planted firmly and a measured distance apart, fight-or-flight posture.
"But he died. You told me."
"It's complicated, Kate."
So was the way those two were fixed on each other, enough almost to make me feel like I should just slink out of the room and leave them to it.
"Doyle... was a demon," she repeated slowly. She shot a glance over at me again, but I got the distinct impression that my presence had become incidental. "A dead demon." Her eyes narrowed to slits. "I guess, that's a back-from-the-dead demon."
"More or less. He isn't a danger. But let me guess who dropped the idea on you that he was. That whole deal with the stalking game today? Some old friend from a certain law firm been paying you visits again?"
"I only listen to *them* because they're telling me the *truth* and you're breaking the *law*. Harbouring murderers, last time. I've yet to hear you explain that one away."
"I was trying to give her a chance."
"Did you tell that to your colleague Wyndham-Pryce?" Kate nodded with satisfaction as Angel's jaw closed and bunched. "Yeah. We got his fingerprints on record - he was picked up some months back in Texas on some minor charge, sleeping rough or suchlike. I know who was in that apartment with her. The one who did the bleeding. Pretty big damn mess we had to pick through, after. I think I'd want to see anyone who did that to me or to one of my friends pay for their crimes."
"She's paying. And... he's chosen not to press charges," Angel began, seeming a little off-balance still at Kate's approach, although it did seem the current Wesley Situation was something that had him a fair bit off-balance in general.
Kate shook her head and apparently dismissed the tack in an instant. "What about Cordelia?" I didn't like hearing that trace of a sneer in her voice. I'd never known Kate to be so petty, and could only conclude it an illustration of how significantly this weird relationship with Angel screwed with her head. "Does she sprout horns and a tail at will, as well? Or would that mess up her hair?"
"Cordelia's human." Angel said sharply. "Kate, you need to let this go. I didn't kill your father. I'd have saved him if I could. You can't let what's between us allow Wolfram and Hart to get their claws into you. They've manipulated you before, and yeah, so you've got your doubts about me, and maybe some of them are justified - but you *know* they're evil."
"Go to hell." Kate spun on her heel, bent down in a swift move to retrieve her gun from the floor (I realised then that she'd been slowly working her way around closer to it throughout the exchange) and then she'd bolted through the nearest exit, just pausing to pick up the second gun on her way out.
Vampire reflexes considered, Angel could probably have caught her in an instant, but he didn't move at all, just watched after her.
He looked at me, his body language distinctly uncomfortable and almost at a loss.
I looked back at him.
Neither of us said anything at all.