DISCLAIMER: Angel and BtVS characters and concepts belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, etc.
Just borrowing, no profit, yadda, yadda, yadda.
by Mike Dewar
Rayne staggered back, clutching a bloody lip. "Ah. From discovery to pugilism in less than two seconds. Well don--"
His voice cut off in a gurgle as I grabbed him around the throat. A moment later, he was pressed against a wall, and judging from the way he paled, my expression was nothing to joke about. "You," I spat.
"Yes. Uh, me," Rayne managed to cough out. "But not likely to be...for...much...longer..."
I abruptly realised that my knuckles were whitening around his neck. I loosened my grip and listened to his grateful heaving breaths. I was angry with the man, sure enough, but I didn't want him dead. I hadn't even realised I was squeezing that hard.
An uncomfortable memory of how easily I had tracked him came to mind. Maybe the violence of my response was somehow linked to that...some kind of hunting reflex or something. A disconcerting thought, and one I didn't have time for. The colour was returning to Rayne's cheeks, and a foxish smile to his lips, which meant the man was starting to get a handle on himself. The more confident he got, the more likely he would pull a runner. I couldn't afford that.
Deliberately, I tightened my grip again, to keep him on edge. To remind him who was in charge here. "I was just thinkin' about you, Rayne. Seems I'm in the wrong neighbourhood, dimensionally-speaking, an' that's all your fault. Comments?"
Rayne sucked in more air as I let my hand fall away from his neck. "I must say, you've got the threatening down pat. Far more so than I would have expected, given your reputation. I don't suppose you've ever run into a girl named Buff - "
I drove my fist into his gut and stepped back as he gasped and spluttered. "Critique my technique on your own time, Rayne. How do I get back?"
Clutching his belly, the Englishman sagged to the ground, hugging his knees as a shield against more punches. "Back? Was being dead really so fun you want to do it again? You should be thanking me, really - "
"I wasn't dead," I interrupted. "There's been some confusion on that fact. I'm not from around here, Rayne. Different universe or dimension or something. This world's Doyle is still stone-cold - you pulled me out of my world. An' I'm lookin' to go back."
Quite unexpectedly, Rayne laughed. "Oh, that's just marvellous. An alternate dimension? I told those lawyers that resurrection spells were a tricky business...they should have just shelled out for the Urn of Osiris like I advised, rather than make do with budget materials..."
"Great," I snapped. "This is a cautionary tale to dark sorcerers everywhere. Could we get back to my little problem, or do I have to cut off your airflow again?"
Rayne shook his head, chuckling. "My apologies, of course. As a Chaos Magician, I just find the whole thing terribly amusing. I couldn't have planned it better myself, to be honest." He stood slowly, clutching his side. "But there's no need for further violence. I'm sure we could come to some kind of arrangement. My rates are extremely reasonable - "
I raised a fist pointedly.
" - though, it would do my reputation some good to do some work pro bono, too," he added hastily. "If we could just nip back to Wolfram & Hart, I'll be happy to whip up a spell to send you back."
"Not an option, pal. They already sent one big-ass demon after me. I wouldn't trust them if my life depended on it." That wasn't entirely fair - I didn't know much about the lawyers in this crazy world where Slayers turned evil and vampires (occasionally) good. Maybe they were a bastion of joy and happiness in the City of Angels, but somehow I doubted it. Angels - I could go back to Angel's firm for aid, but as Wesley had pointed out, they weren't necessarily about to jump behind a scheme to send me home. Using dark magic, no less.
Wesley. There was my safest choice, it seemed. I could at least trust him for an unbiased opinion, and he could evaluate Rayne's magical skills.
Rayne, who didn't seem capable of shutting up. "Well, it's interesting that you should put it that way, really. About your life depending on it. You see, Lee Mercer, the gentleman who hired me, seems to have done so largely without the authority of his firm behind him. Now you've run off, he's apparently got people looking for you and for me, with guns in their hands and murder in their hearts, so to speak."
That added an entirely different issue to my plotting. "He wants us dead?"
Rayne gave me a pained look. "You didn't think I was hiding down here under a masking spell for my health, did you?"
"Why try to kill me, after all the effort he went through to get me?"
"And try to kill me," Rayne pointed out. "Let's not ignore my plight, shall we?"
"I don't give a damn about your troubles, Rayne," I growled. "Now answer the question."
Rayne shrugged, then winced and rubbed his side again. "Deniability, Mr Doyle. The bricks and mortar of the lawyering trade. If we're dead, no one can connect us to Mercer and bring the wrath of the Senior Partners down on his unpleasant little head."
I shot him a dubious glance. "But you still want me to go back to Evil Inc. with you? Sounds like that would just put us straight in the firin' line again."
Rayne heaved a sigh. "As I said not a moment ago, Mr Mercer is after us independently. It's entirely possible we could get in and out without him noticing. And as repulsive as I find the idea of trafficking with lawyers again, they are the only ones in LA with the items I would need to send you back. Mystic warehouses aren't all that common, you know?"
"What about Rick's? They've got a good stock list." Assuming of course, that in this world, Rick hadn't become a florist or something.
Apparently he hadn't, because Rayne nodded. "Excellent choice, Mr Doyle, and in any other situation you'd be right on the money. Unfortunately, the items I need for this spell are somewhat more exclusive." He swallowed. "And are those gentlemen with you?"
I turned, almost expecting Rayne to shout "Sucker" and clock me, but there really were five men not five meters away. Their commando outfits, and the silenced submachine guns pointed in our direction, brought back unpleasant memories of the Watchers' Special Ops Team.
The leader's American accent as he spoke into a walkie-talkie killed that theory. "Subjects located."
Whoever the Tom Clancy rejects were, they were damn good. I hadn't heard them coming, and even without the demon, my ears are pretty sharp and my instincts even sharper.
"So...not friends of yours, then?" Rayne muttered behind me.
"Not so much," I responded, shifting position. The men's guns moved to cover me with cool precision.
The leader listened to a crackling voice from the walkie-talkie. "They're contained," he answered. "We're bringing them in now, ma'am."
Rayne whimpered something behind me as the men closed on us.
I kept my hands prudently high. "No chance this could simply be a case of mistaken identity? 'Cause I don't recall violatin' any national security type laws recently. Admittedly, my tax-payin' is iffy at best, but is that any reason for - "
And suddenly I was flying forward into the men, propelled by a surprisingly-strong shove from behind. Everything went red around me, as their guns fired.
And I was lying on the floor, checking for bullet holes and finding none. "Damn it, man, move!" Rayne snarled near my ear. The redness wasn't my panicked brain short-circuiting - there was a deep red haze around us.
There was more gunfire and panicked shouting all around us as we crawled forward through the red mist. "No!" I heard someone scream. "Not the eyes! The eyes!"
"On your feet!" Rayne snapped, and I felt his hands grabbing at my jacket, pulling me upward and propelling me forwards out of the redness and into what seemed to be an alley.
"What the hell was - what the -" I spluttered.
"Yes, yes, your imitation of a stuck record is indeed remarkable, but if we could just keep moving," Rayne bit out. "I'm not entirely sure how long that spell will last."
"Spell? You cast a spell." I said dazedly, stumbling down the alley, Rayne practically dragging me along.
"Give the man a cigar," he retorted. "Of course I cast a bloody spell. I'd just as rather not be shot as you would, thank you so much. Hallucinogenic spell, to be exact. Those fine military men are currently shooting the walls, each other, and the little Arab terrorist pixies, or whatever else their fevered minds cooked up."
"So why aren't we - "
"Playing with the pixies? I cast the spell, so I'm immune to its effects, and it doesn't affect non-humans. Or apparently half-humans, either."
I shook him off and spun around. "Apparently? You didn't know? What if I had gone nuts with the rest of them?"
"I would have snuck out alone and left you to get shot," Rayne said matter-of-factly. "If we could really keep moving..."
"Don't bother," I said quietly.
"Excuse me? I rather - " Then he noticed the small laser dot dancing around his chest. I hadn't looked down, but I was prepared to bet I had my own, too.
"Good plan, anyway," I said. "It just wasn't likely that a crew like that wouldn't go in without back-up of some kind."
"Of course," Rayne said, looking up at the gunmen on the roofs to either side of us. "Obviously."
Ten crowded minutes later, Rayne and I were seated in the back of a dark black van, being glowered at by two of the GI Joe commandos opposite us. Somewhat to our surprise, we weren't dead. We were handcuffed, which wasn't a great sign, but not dead.
Sometimes you've got to look at the bright side.
I leaned across to Rayne. "Don't suppose you have any more tricks up your sleeves?"
"Plenty. But they all require my sleeves, and the hands they contain, not to be handcuffed," he whispered back.
My assessment of Rayne was shifting fast. From the way he caved when I'd roughed him up, I'd taken him for nothing more than a coward with a magic wand, but he'd handled himself impressively with the commandos. Better than me, actually, though it hurt my ego to admit it. I still didn't trust him even slightly, but I had to admit the trickster was slick.
"Well, this is another fine mess you've gotten us into, Stanley," he said in a louder voice.
I shook my head. "This is your master plan? Quote old movies at people until they go away?"
Rayne grinned. "Got to respect the classics, old boy."
"Shut up," GI Joe number one said.
"But how else are we to while away our journey together?" Rayne said cheerily. "Shall we sing songs or play 'I spy'? Though the lack of windows could prove a bother, I must - "
The commando leaned forward and delivered a quick, impersonal punch. Rayne yelped and raised his cuffed hands to his bruised nose. "People keep doing that today. It's really getting very tiresome - "
Another thud of fist on flesh, another yelp.
I ignored it, my attention on something much more interesting. An attaché case was lying next to the two commandos. An attaché case with two familiar initials stitched in gold on it. Déjà vu all over again. It wasn't a big ugly demon holding me prisoner this time, but I was in the custody of Wolfram & Hart for the second time. Rayne wasn't the only one having repetitive experiences.
I wasn't entirely sure why we were still alive, given Rayne's earlier comments. Unless Mercer had changed his mind for some reason. But I couldn't imagine what that reason might be. If he'd found out that I was from another reality, that would make me even more useless to him. So that couldn't be it. Somehow I doubted he'd had a crisis of conscience.
Either way, the idea of sticking around didn't appeal. If Mercer had by some miracle turned over a new leaf, he could share the joy from a distance, by phone. And then I would go and ride to meet him on a flying pig.
After a few smacks, Rayne had subsided into silence. I glanced at him. Not much help there. His lips twitched in a kind of amused resignation. As for our captors, they just sat there, solidly immobile. The van was walled off from the cab section, so I wasn't sure who was up at front. At least two more, though. I could maybe bust the van doors if I charged them in demon form, but I was in no state to fall out a moving vehicle again.
No, whichever way you looked at it, I was stuck.
At least until the van stopped moving. Which it did about five minutes later, with a screech of brakes. The commandos eased past us and kicked open the back doors, revealing what looked like the interior of a parking garage. Grey concrete pillars surrounded us, flashy cars parked between them. Judging from the flashiness of the cars, we were in W&H's garage. Only lawyers or actors can afford cars like that.
The commandos roughly grabbed us and half-pulled, half-shoved us out. There were more of their comrades outside the van, standing in a rough semi-circle with weapons ready.
I let my legs buckle and fell against my captor. He swore and dragged me upright. "Keep moving, freak."
"Sure thing, boss," I said, standing upright and going demon. He yelped as spines jabbed his hands, leaping back. I helped him on his way with a kick, snapping my cuffs with my enhanced strength. "Movin' fast enough for you?"
"Whatever you're thinking, I hope it's considerably less suicidal than it appears." Rayne said, as the commandos around us raised their guns. Hammers cocked.
I smiled, as I brought my hands around in front of me and let them all get a good look at what I'd snatched off my captor's belt. "Probably more so, actually. How do these grenades work again?"
The men tensed as I tossed the pineapple-shaped explosive from hand to hand. Rayne took several steps away from me, towards the gunmen. "I'm not with him," he said hurriedly. "Really."
"You wouldn't," my former captor said, still down from my kick. "You'd kill yourself, too."
I grinned. "Really? 'Cause I've never tested exactly how strong this body is. Could be it could shrug off one of these. Well, better than you folks could, anyway. Wanna find out?"
"Let's not do anything stupid," another commando said. "Maybe we can work something out."
"Shut up, Riggs!" the man on the ground snapped.
"Yeah, shut up, Riggs," I agreed. "What's the delay on this thing? Three seconds or something, right?" The tinkle as the grenade's pull ring landed on the ground seemed very loud in the quiet lot.
And then the men were running away from me, as I tossed the live grenade casually in the air and caught it again.
And they were diving for cover as I spun around and flung it into the back of the van, slamming the doors shut as it clattered inside.
Even with the van containing the impact of the blast, the shockwave knocked me backwards. But that was fine by my standards, because it propelled me in the direction of the toll booth exit. I scrambled to my feet and kept running, leaping the barrier and sprinting out onto the sunlit street.
As I expected, no shots followed. I was wanted alive.
But if they wanted that, they'd have to catch me first. And well-trained and athletic though those guys were, they were no match for an adrenalin-pumped Bracken half-demon with a hefty head-start.
Run, run as fast you can, you can't catch me, I'm the exhausted-covered-in-spikes-demon-man.
Exhausted, I practically fell through Wesley's elevator doors. I managed to raise a trembling finger to punch the right floor number and sagged back against the wall as the elevator creaked upwards. My fingers still shook from the insanity of my recent activities. Having to dodge petrified pedestrians until I could shed the demon hadn't helped, either.
I've handled live grenades before, you know. SWAT uses concussion grenades to stun dangerous suspects, and they never miss an opportunity to show off their cool gadgets to their less-militant fellow cops. Still, those were just to stun. Worst you could get was a ringing headache, temporary deafness and a brief attack of blindness. As opposed to say, being blown in half.
Maybe my bluff was accurate - maybe my demon form could have handled a grenade in close proximity. I hoped like hell I'd never have to find out.
Still I couldn't help but feel a crazy type of triumph. I'd gotten away for the second time, done it from better and smarter foes, who were expecting it and armed to the teeth. I'd gambled with my life and won. Won big.
I was humming along under the influence of a heavy adrenalin buzz as I staggered along the corridor. Liberally sautéed in macho self-satisfaction, my heart still racing in an irregular little polka beat and my breath coming in gulps, I fell through the doorway of Wesley's apartment.
"Hey, Wes, your crazy roomie's home. My walk ran a little long. Oughta keep that door locked, you know - "
What I wasn't expecting to find was that the sly goat had company. The sight of the elegantly-dressed woman seated opposite Wesley stunned me into silence. Fancy executive outfit, expensive shoes and perfectly-styled hair - this one I'd never seen before. This one I would have remembered.
They sat intimately, either side of the dining table, arms rested on the table top, faces leaning in towards each other, she draped sideways across her chair, the longest legs I'd ever seen crossed sedately to the side of the table rather than under it, he hunched a little, legs apart and ungainly, not precisely a romantic picture.
Wesley. And one of the classiest brunettes I'd ever had the fortune to lay eyes on?