Wesley was already hurrying out of the office to correct Carnagan and generally toady up before I could reply, and he didn't look much happier to have me mistaken for him than I was to be mistaken.
"Mr Carnagan. I do apologise. We didn't expect you'd arrive so soon. I'm Wesley Wyndham Pryce." It was possible that the way he seized Carnagan's hand to shake was meant to come off as enthusiastic and genial, but mostly it looked flustered. "This is Doyle, a fellow crusader in the fight against the forces of evil."
He beamed at his rather dramatic introduction. In my turn, I unenthusiastically shook Carnagan's hand. "Uh... nice to meet you."
Carnagan was a large man, fiftyish, grey hair thinning, aging but still undeniably powerful both physically and mentally. The canny, hard glint in his eyes concerned me a great deal more than the casual arrogance and aggression of the Special Ops Team had. He loomed over both of us, and you could've fit two skinny Wesley Wyndham Pryce's into the space occupied by his bulky frame.
His air of authority was only slightly diluted by the fact that he was drenched to the skin, and the tatty, dripping umbrella scrunched up in his hand wasn't much of a plus for his image either. He nodded impassively at my greeting. His tweed squelched as he stepped further into the room, head bobbing around interestedly.
"This is your demon-hunting operation, Mr Doyle?" His polite smile had undercurrents. I saw anew through his eyes the shabby repair of the office; the dingy bare brick, the paintwork scuffed and peeling where there was paintwork at all, the disarray of the papers piled over my desk.
"Yeah. Hence the 'Doyle Investigations' sign on the door," I said, forcing a defiant smirk. "Or did you think we were a financial agency?"
His brows bunched up in annoyance at being mocked, which was fine by me. I didn't have any reason to be polite to these people. Wesley's stony glare had more effect. I reluctantly acquiesced to the frantic psychic waves he was sending out telling me to behave.
"I apologise if we're a little cranky, Mr Carnagan," Wesley said. "As you can imagine, we've all been working around the clock to try to deal with the situation. We're all a little overstressed and overtired, I'm afraid."
I watched Wesley clench both fists at Carnagan's acknowledgement, insulting in itself, and then his fingers deliberately unfold one by one until his hands were relaxed again.
"Where's Miss Ambrage, Mr Pryce?"
"Ah." Wesley stuttered a bit. "I'm afraid the situation has changed somewhat since we contacted the Council. New information would seem to suggest that Miss Ambrage's condition is a result of extremely unwise meddling in the dark arts." He outlined the events of the morning.
Carnagan frowned and nodded his way through the explanation. "Indeed," he said as Wesley finished. "A traitor. Excellent work, Mr Pryce. We've been aware for some time that there was a dissenter at work, someone in the inner echelons of the Council. In fact, I was sent here to investigate their activity in this region. But I would never have suspected Charlotte of such a crime." He shook his head grimly.
"Neither would I..." Wesley hesitated. "You know her, too?"
"We worked on some translations together, not long ago. To think of the knowledge we were dealing with then - falling into the hands of someone willing to abuse it. It doesn't bear thinking about."
"We can't be absolutely certain she did abuse it," Wesley said quietly. "There could be another explanation. She might not be guilty."
Carnagan regarded him a little pityingly, but said, "Maybe not, Mr. Pryce, but you know we cannot fail to act on the likelihood."
Wesley avoided his gaze. "That's... Wyndham-Pryce." He looked as though he'd like to say more.
I patted his shoulder. "C'mon, Wes. I'm sure Mr Carnagan wants to get cleaned up, change into some dry clothes. Wouldn't want to meet the lady lookin' like a drowned rat, would he? Besides, another of those lightnin' fits and we'd end up with Kentucky Fried Watcher."
We were denied the entertainment of watching Carnagan attempt to walk around squeezed into clothing borrowed from myself or Wesley when he brought in a travel bag he'd left in the hallway. Ultra-efficient bastard. He took it into the bathroom and re-emerged shortly, clad in tweeds indistinguishable from those that had been soaked and now dripped dry on the clothes stand in the bathroom, their pattering reminiscent of the endless rain outside.
Carnagan clanked around in the kitchen, making himself some tea in the kettle from the other day's rainwater experiments. In harmonious glee we had both neglected to point out to him that we'd been using a pan to boil water since then because of the faint purple and brown residue that wouldn't come off.
Wesley smiled faintly as, through the gap in the door, we watched Carnagan raise the mug to his lips.
"I can't say I think much of this guy as one of your Watcher's Council's best and brightest," I said. "I mean, thinking I was you. Do I even remotely look like a double-barrel surname?"
"Well, in his defence, it's quite likely the Council's records didn't lead him to have the highest expectations of me," Wesley murmured.
"Now, c'mon Wes, I'm sure they don't think all that badly of-" I began, and choked off indignantly. "Hey! I resent that!"
He tried to look innocent. "Well, what I meant to say, of course, is-"
"I know very well what you meant, thank you very much!"
"This really is very good," Carnagan said, wandering in clutching his mug of tea and cutting short our comradely banter before somebody bought themselves a knuckle sandwich. "A delicious aroma and, to the taste, a little touch of something... I'm not sure what. Interesting, though. What brand is this?"
"Erm," said Wesley.
"Just a cheap deal from the local store," I said noncommittally. "Considerin' Wes here drinks enough tea for ten men, I'm not gonna fork out on the expensive stuff, am I?"
"Not likely," Faith snickered, wandering through from the bedroom, closing the door after her. "Mr. Penny-Pinching here doesn't fork out for anything. Not unless it's at least thirty percent alcoholic, at any rate."
"Thank you, Faith. Now, much as I appreciate your contribution to this discussion, shouldn't you be watchin' over Charlotte?"
"Red's getting dressed. I figured it wouldn't hurt to let her do it in private." She smirked at Wesley. "Feel free to go in and take over from me, though, if you wanna."
Carnagan's eyes were flickering dubiously over her. "And this would be the Slayer?"
He didn't look overly impressed.
She returned his appraisal with scorn. "This would be the new tight-assed Watcher?" The cocky sexuality of her body-language visibly increased even as she spoke. Her smile took on a degree of nastiness I hadn't seen in it for some time.
Wesley, red-faced, spluttered, "Faith!" and she, if not precisely subsided, became abruptly tight-lipped.
I'd seen this before. Faith and Wesley's reaction to the Watcher's Council was to pull together in the face of adversity. She'd try not to make him look bad in front of Carnagan, though Wesley might well get it in the neck in double measure when his colleague finally left.
I said quickly, "Faith, this is Mr. Carnagan from the Watcher's Council. Mr. Carnagan - the Slayer, Faith."
They eyed each other warily. Neither made any attempt at a friendly greeting.
"Um. Now that we're all acquainted-" Wesley began uneasily into the silence that had stretched on a little too long.
The bedroom door clicked as Charlotte walked through.
She'd abandoned Faith's T-shirt (probably wisely, it might've given old Carnagan heart failure) in favour of one of Wesley's shirts, but had retained the leather pants. The shirt bagged over her slim form. The pants clung, underneath. The effect was curious, and androgynous, and I felt a certain disappointment. The brief 'huff' of air expelled from Wesley's lips suggested his thoughts were along similar lines.
My own breath caught as her gaze skipped over me with its now normal nervous hitch. If she were to say anything to Carnagan about what she knew-
Hugging her arms across her chest, she crossed the room to us. She stopped, with a jolt, still a few feet away, cutting short her impulse to go to Wesley. Her eyes fixed upon Carnagan.
"I... know you," she said, sounding puzzled.
Carnagan drew in a breath, and his chin rose sharply. "You remember me?" He looked around the rest of us.
Wesley perked up at the possibility that her more recent acquaintance with Carnagan might provide a route with which to start restoring her memories. But after a moment, Charlotte sighed and shook her head. "No. No, I don't remember anything. Only that I've - seen you before. I know I have. Maybe it was in a dream."
"No," he said, smiling gently, reaching out his hands to place them lightly on her shoulders. Wesley, in the background, looked pained. "It wasn't in a dream. I know you, Charlotte. It's Jacob. Jacob Carnagan. We met before, two years ago, working on translations of a series of texts containing ancient resurrection rituals and summoning spells for dark spirits."
A flicker of reaction in her eyes before she caught herself, and shook her head again. No way to tell if that had been memory or simply connection. "I don't remember it." A pause while she studied him further, obviously thinking deeply. "I'm told... you can help me find out. Remember who I am. Discover what I've done."
"Yes, Charlotte. I can do that." His voice was kindly, fatherly almost.
Her jaw set in determination. "Then I'm ready. Do your tests. I want to know."
The apartment was flooded with the stenches of various herbal and magical cocktails for the next several hours. I made the solemn resolution that when Carnagan had gone, I would be buying a new kettle. The smells were enough for me to fervently hope that Charlotte didn't actually have to drink any of the concoctions but, not especially wanting to find out, I kept well out of the way of the activity.
Faith went to hang out of a window upstairs, rain or no rain. The smells had risen right through the building, she said when she ventured down later, dripping wet and shivering but without the greenish complexion the rest of us had developed from breathing in the fumes. It was a good thing that nobody else lived in the building, and none of our working neighbours had come into their offices because of the storms.
It all achieved, as far as I could tell, very little. Carnagan, after about four hours, admitted he'd tried just about everything he could think of. Charlotte still had no memories, although she'd been sick twice. The only thing that his investigative efforts seemed to have ascertained was that if Charlotte had tried to summon a storm spirit and lost control of the spell, the backlash could certainly be responsible for her memory loss.
"We need to track the spirit itself," he concluded, pouring away something noxious down the drain. I watched from the doorway, hands over my nose and mouth. My sink hissed and emitted green smoke as the liquid fell on the basin, and I grimaced. The landlord wasn't going to be happy. "Whatever it is that happened, we know they're linked. It's possible that only by returning both to the location of the original rite can we effectively reverse the damage and find out exactly what did happen."
"And it isn't as though we don't have to go after the storm spirit anyway," Wesley concluded. "I believe I have a spell that should track the spirit's emanations to the point where it was summoned. I was going to do some investigating, before the situation with Charlotte erupted." He crossed to the table and sorted through the books and papers there. After a moment, he turned back to Carnagan clutching a manuscript.
"Excellent. Good man." Carnagan picked up his still-soggy umbrella from where it stood on the floor in a corner. "In that case, we've no time to waste, Pryce."
"That's Wyndha- you're going out there?"
"We are." Carnagan pulled on an expansive grey raincoat and started to fasten up the toggles.
Wesley looked at Charlotte who sat, still not looking overly healthy, clutching a cup of tea. She tried to smile at him encouragingly, but the end result looked too sickly for comfort.
He drew himself up taller in decision. "I can't leave Charlotte. I should stay here. She trusts me. Faith-"
I cleared my throat meaningfully, seeing the Slayer's expression take on a distinctly pissed-off cast.
"-or Doyle will go with you," Wesley finished.
Carnagan, unimpressed, said, "If our theories are correct, Pryce, she's still a renegade, a criminal. She certainly doesn't require your coddling."
"Be that as it may, I think it's only humanitarian that I stay. We're not above dealing with our rogues compassionately."
That might've been a small snort of laughter that escaped Carnagan's nostrils, but then again probably not. I think everyone there was well aware that ethical treatment of Watcher's Council criminals-in-custody wasn't what was on Wesley's mind, though.
"Pryce," Carnagan said, with slow intent. "I assume even your Slayer is quite capable of watching over an amnesiac woman without your help. The two of us alone here have the training to combat the storm spirit. Get ready. We're going. Now."
"But if she were to have another fit when I wasn't here-" Wesley protested helplessly.
"Wesley Wyndham-Pryce!" Carnagan snapped. "You will do your duty as ordered!"
"Hey!" Faith's eyes were narrowed menacingly. "You don't talk to him like that." Her fisted hands swung at her sides in a loose rhythm, like she was working up to hitting something.
Carnagan didn't look at her. He'd stepped closer to Wesley and leaned into his face so their noses almost touched. "I have seniority here. You know that. Call your delinquent Slayer off."
"I'll be all right," Charlotte said. "I'll be all right here with Faith and Doyle." Her voice shook.
Faith's fists swished in the air.
A tiny, tight smile tweaked the corner of Wesley's lips as he nodded to Faith. "Mr. Carnagan is right. Our duty is to work with him."
She rolled her eyes in return, and shrugged, holding her unclenched hands up and out in a humour that was nonetheless also defiant. It was a moment of almost psychic communion between the two, and Carnagan looked annoyed, while I... I realised for the first time that in some ways maybe Faith and Wesley, both very much the black sheep of their respective roles, weren't so different after all.
In Wesley's absence, there wasn't a lot that we could do. We sat in front of the defunct TV, Faith swearing as she tried to coax some reception out of it. Eventually she gave up. We waited staring at a blank screen instead of a snowy one. Time passed. I made tea. Time passed. Faith made tea. Proof enough that she was dangerously bored.
"Wanna play cards?" she asked eventually. At least boredom had worn down the abrasive edge of malice that had been in her tone whenever she spoke to me lately.
"All right. Charlotte?"
She nodded, smiling, looking grateful for the offer of a distraction. I wondered what she'd been pondering, locked in her quiet thoughts the last few hours.
We gathered around a small table and the clock hands drew around towards evening and then night. The storm outside increased its fury to the point where we could hear it faintly even in the basement.
"Never thought I'd be hoping for Wesley and The Cardigan to come back," Faith said uneasily as the lights flickered for the fourth or fifth time. "It's not like we know how to handle this magical shit."
The lights flickered again a few minutes later as Charlotte scraped another round's winning across the table towards her. Wesley hadn't been kidding when he said the lady had a brain. She had a cunning mind at least when it came to cards. Faith and I were holding about equal with each other, both some way behind her.
Concerned, I left the game to check on the conditions outside. I didn't like the idea of venturing out of the front door that shivered on its hinges with the force of the wind and rain, so I took the stairs to the top floor landing. I peered out of the window in the hallway outside the locked-up offices of our chiropodist neighbour. Half the city lacked its customary overgenerous sprinkling of lights in the darkness, but was lit up periodically anyway by startling flashes of red illumination that made it almost as bright as day. The noise was deafening. It surprised me that the windows were holding up against the barrage.
I swore, thinking of Wesley still outside - although the thought of The Cardigan, to use Faith's name, out in that brought some measure of cheer.
I headed back down into the apartment. It was only as I descended the steps to the basement that the roar of the weather and its assault upon my ears began to fade and I heard the screaming. I ran down the last of the steps and into the living room.
The scene was much like the previous night. Charlotte screamed and convulsed as Faith held her to the floor, and red lightning flickered around them. The lights in the room had blown and everything was lit up in red.
There was no Wesley on-hand to deal with things this time. My initial rush for the books strewn on the table was stalled by the realisation that I had no idea what spell it was that Wesley had used the previous night, and I probably wouldn't be able to pronounce it even if I could find it. I moved to help Faith instead.
I yelped and went demon as my hands made contact. The jolt wasn't any better than it had been the time before. I took one shoulder and Faith the other, and I only hoped we could ride it out until whatever was getting at Charlotte settled down again. At least, I hoped it would settle down and we wouldn't end up getting electro-shock therapy until Wesley and The Cardigan decided to return.
Faith looked across at me, her face contorted in pain, lips stretched to reveal grit teeth. "Shit, Doyle," she yelled haltingly. "I'm really - sorry - I laughed - yesterday." Another flash lit up her bones and I got an intricate view of Faith's anatomy that I could've well lived without.
Charlotte quieted gradually, the room descending into darkness as she did. I'd had my doubts about whether Wesley's spell had really been what stopped her fits, last time, and was grateful to have them proven founded. As she stilled and lay as if asleep, Faith and I struggled up to kneeling, leaning exhaustedly on each other for support. She was shaking as much as I was. I wrapped an arm around her shoulders and our shudders merged. I couldn't tell whose were whose.
"I'm gonna kill Carnagan," she stuttered, looking more ragged than angry in the faint light trickling from the kitchen's open door.
"It wouldn't have made much difference if Wesley had been here," I said, and explained my reasoning.
She nodded, then, looking over my shoulder, her expression froze. "Doyle. I think you need to be a human 'round about now."
I turned my head and saw Charlotte sitting up, looking at us blankly. Her expression didn't change when I switched back to human. Something in her eyes was... odd.
I reluctantly disengaged from Faith, and was warmly encouraged by her own similar reluctance but it wasn't really a good moment to start with the hopeful thinking about the possible ramifications that had for our deceased relationship.
"Charlotte?" I said, crawling over to her on hands and knees. I waved a hand in front of her face and her eyes didn't track it. "Charlotte?" I snapped my fingers in front of her nose, and her eyes settled on me in irritation, briefly, in an expression I'd seen on Wesley's face, before fuzzing out of focus again.
"Wake up, Red." Faith caught Charlotte's shoulder and shook her, but she remained limp and unseeing.
"Don't slap her," I warned, anticipating her next move. She pulled a face. "Charlotte, come on, talk to me. Pretend I'm Wesley."
"Wesley's human," she said distinctly, and something about the way she said it suggested it wasn't entirely a response to my remark.
"Yeah, and he's not a short, Irish drunkard either," Faith said with wicked humour. "But use your imagination, like the rest of us hafta."
I glared at her shadowy figure, then almost wrenched my neck when Charlotte's next words yanked my attention back to her.
"I remember it now." There was no emotion in her voice. "I remember the summoning rite."
"Damn," I murmured. I'd hoped that the inevitable would be avoided somehow, that the conclusions we'd drawn would turn out to be wrong. I didn't want to think about Wesley. I realised that, somehow, Faith's hand and mine had ended up clasped together, and she was on the verge of breaking all my fingers.
"I remember... Darkness. Tunnels. Sewers. Black, all around. The vessel screamed as it was dragged down the tunnel to the chamber. Treachery... treachery. Screaming again when the spell was cast over it..."
The specifics of the spell wouldn't have made for all-ages viewing. Faith and I backed off slightly and listened with growing horror to the details Charlotte recounted.
Hell and damnation, Wes, I know you think I'm crazy dating Faith - ex-dating Faith - but she'd never be a party to anything like this...
"He lost control, and the magic flowed away. Not enough left to finish the binding into flesh. Finish me. Broken... in pieces... incomplete..." Her chin suddenly jerked up and she let out an ear-piercing shriek of despair. I noticed even in the semi-dark that there was moisture running down from her eyes.
I swore as realisation hit.
"What's wrong?" Faith demanded. "What's she talking about? Who's 'he'? What the hell's going on?"
"She thought she was human," I said numbly. "Now she knows for certain that she's not."
"What?" Faith was moving to help Charlotte as the older woman collapsed into sobs.
I pulled her back. "Don't. I don't know how much of Charlotte is left in there."
"What the hell?" Faith's hands curled into fists around my shirt collar. "Cut the shit, Doyle, what's happening?"
"She didn't relate the events of that ritual as the caster. She didn't cast that spell." I struggled to unhook Faith's hands, and caught her head in my own hands, turning her to face the moaning Charlotte. "That," I said, "Is our storm spirit."
"That's the storm spirit?" Her eyes were wide in disbelief. "She's the storm spirit? If she's the storm spirit, who the hell performed the ritual?" She had to shout to be heard, because Charlotte was chanting again. I recognised the words and the rhythm and rolled my eyes. I was getting pretty fed up of hearing that spell.
Then I froze, because Charlotte's voice was changing, distorting, as she spoke, and a moment later, it wasn't Charlotte's voice that was emerging from her lips at all.
"You gotta be kidding me," Faith said. "But that's-"
"Jacob Carnagan," I finished.