I knew there was some creature other than myself lurking in the shadows of these dark, quiet streets. I recognised the bar on the corner from my vision. The name on its flickering neon sign was indecipherable, more of the letters broken and unlit than not.
Whatever I’d come to find, it was close by... My hand tightened around the stake concealed inside my jacket and I headed towards the bar.
The trouble was happening in the side street adjacent to it. Two vampires had hold of a young guy. If not for their twisted, demonic faces, the vamps could have been normal youths. They dressed in brightly coloured, floppy clothes... about as far from demonic as you could get. The man set to be their lunch looked to be in his mid twenties, a little down on his luck, unshaven and shabby.
I edged forward, trying to get as close to them as I could before I made any move. But when one of the vamps prepared to sink his teeth into their victim's neck, I knew I could wait no longer for the sake of keeping the element of surprise.
"Hey, that's not very polite," I said, drawing out the stake. Their yellow eyes shot up to glower at me, taking in the weapon.
'Yeah, you bastards. I know what you are an' I know how to kill you...'
One of them sniggered. "That's got to be just the ugliest slayer."
I didn’t waste any time trading insults. I gripped the stake in readiness and lunged for the vamp who was holding the weakly struggling guy.
The vamp shot out a hand to grab my wrist, stopping the stake an inch short of his chest, but the impact as I barrelled into him was enough to send all three of us sprawling to the concrete.
The vampire landed heavily and, momentarily stunned, his grip on his victim loosed. The frightened guy rolled aside and staggered to his feet, staring back at me and the vamp in terror. The second vampire lunged hungrily towards him and I awkwardly flung out a leg. The vamp tripped over it and landed with a graceless splat on the pavement.
"Run, man!" I yelled to the guy, as he staggered back a few steps, his eyes glazed and stupid from fright. "Get the hell outta here!"
He didn't need telling twice. Lousy coward.
That left me with the two vampires.
I'd lost the stake when I fell, and now I couldn't see it anywhere. I scrabbled around, searching, working blind 'cause my eyes were fixed on the two vamps as they started getting up. They looked more than a little pissed, too.
I skinned my fingertips against the rough surface of the pavement in my panicked fumbling, but found no stake.
Without the weapon, I was suddenly feeling a lot less confident about the whole venture.
The vamp I'd tripped moved faster than I could follow. He lunged forward and grabbed me before I could even attempt to dodge or fight him off. Hauled me to my feet only to throw me against the outside wall of the bar, my shoulder mashing into the brickwork with bruising force.
Unable to catch my balance, I slumped to the ground and my forehead bounced off the pavement.
My head spun. I couldn’t focus... couldn’t see anything but darkness and the abrasive concrete of the road surface. But, 'there are vampires,' some small working corner of my brain reminded insistently. 'Get up.' Dizzily, I slowly struggled up onto hands and knees.
Feet. Two pairs, planted inches away from my nose, filling my vision. Encased in huge black boots. I dragged my eyes up and found the vampires were standing right over me, both grinning down nastily.
I automatically tried to flinch back. The wall hit my shoulders, and as if that wasn’t enough, one of them stamped down on my hand, pressing his weight down hard, pinning me to the ground. My knuckle joints crunched under his boot and I yelled in pain despite myself.
The sound drew a laugh and a sneer, "Did you leave your cape and tights behind, Mr Hero?"
'Great plan, Doyle,' the mocking thought rang out inside my head.
Now, I faced two vampires for my stupidity - unarmed, and with my senses still scattered and reeling.
"You let our dinner get away..." the vamp snarled, backing off a step - I thankfully peeled my squished fingers off the pavement, teeth clenched from the pain. Then the vamp shrugged and grinned a nasty grin as he shot forward again. "Hello, dinner."
I surged to my feet, dredging up some measure of extra energy from somewhere. I managed to throw an awkward punch at his twisted face.
But there was no strength in the blow, and it only made them both laugh. The vampire caught my arm before I could draw it back from the swing and he wrenched me forward, off balance. His other hand shot out to twine in my hair, twisting, baring my neck.
'What the hell?' I thought frantically. 'The others knew... how could these not know? Were they younger, stupider? I'd thought I was safe from that, at least...'
I felt the teeth sink into my neck.
This was what Harry must’ve felt, those final moments, that final day... My life had changed so much since then.
And now, it was going to end...
The teeth in my neck felt cold as ice, threads of chill squirming through my veins towards the wound as the vamp sucked out my blood. The pain was intense. It warred with the lethargy of blood loss which threatened my consciousness.
'Aw, Harry, now I know what it was I failed to protect you from... What a damned awful way to go out. '
Moisture collected at that edges of my eyes, but anger kicked in with the memory as well, and, driven by it, I started to struggle fiercely. Too late, though - he’d already taken enough blood to weaken me too much for it to make any difference.
An instant later, I was flung away again. I landed roughly, but it still felt like a reprieve after the pain of the bite. I lifted my head from the pavement; it seemed to weigh about ten times more than usual. I hazily tried to focus, to find out what the hell was going on.
I could see the vamp bent over, retching my blood back out all over the pavement in red spurts. "Shit," it gasped. "I never tasted anything like that. That was gross. There's something wrong with this guy. He's sick or something."
Using the wall for support, keeping one hand clamped to my neck to reduce the blood flow, I tried to stand. My knees buckled halfway and I ended up back on the ground. I tried again, until I realised the two vamps were watching me with mild irritation and curiosity.
The one who‘d bit me said, belligerently, "Well, if we we‘re going to go hungry tonight ‘cause of this guy, least we could do is share our displeasure."
"Yeah. That sounds like a plan."
I finally got to my feet even as they moved, again, like lightning.
The vamp suddenly in front of me sent a punch my way, which connected with the side of my face even as I raised my arm far too slowly to block. Knocked backwards, I staggered straight into the grasp of the other vamp. Rough hands on my shoulders stopped me from falling as my legs refused to support my weight.
He immediately flung me back to his buddy. Great, they were taking turns in making me a punch-bag. He shot out a kick which struck my face with so much force behind it that the vamp holding me lost his grip. I hit the wall again. I was getting very tired of that wall.
Something happened. As I hit the brickwork and slumped down to the ground, I felt it sweep through me. I felt... changed.
By that time, though, I was almost too far gone to care.
Where I lay on cold concrete, barely conscious, I heard them speak, seeming from a long way away.
"Shit. That is not normal, bud."
"I don't like this. There’s no wonder he tastes lousy. No way is he human. Let's finish him and go."
I became aware I was lying on something - an uncomfortable lump underneath my shoulder was digging into the bruises they‘d made. Surreptitiously, I edged a hand around and my fingers encountered the splintery wood of the stake I'd lost earlier. I gripped it, trying to keep the motion undetectable to the two vamps.
The one who’d bit me was coming towards me again now, and I could tell from his expression that they weren’t intending to play any longer.
The vampire reached down to me, and I twisted and plunged the stake blindly upwards. I felt curiously stronger now than I had a minute ago.
By sheer luck the stake pierced his heart, dead on target. He exploded into a scatter of dust.
As the dust settled on my clothes and on the road surface, I was left crouched with the stake and the stunned realisation that I’d killed it... I’d done it.
His pal looked aghast - about as surprised as I was. "Dude?" he said, mournfully, to the slowly settling dust cloud. He turned to me, and his face twisted into a snarl of vengeful fury I understood all too well. "You killed him!"
A vicious kick took the stake out of my hand before I could move to defend myself. He wrenched me up by my bloody collar, his hands taking a grip on my shoulder and in my hair and twisting, violently, in opposing directions.
The resultant snap reverberated right through me.
He let go and I slumped to the ground. My head lolled oddly. Something felt decidedly wrong in the area of my neck.
Some instinct told me to keep still as the vamp delivered a few final kicks to my side. I realised he thought he was kicking a corpse...
I heard him turn and walk away.
I lay there for several minutes before I was certain he was gone and I wasn't dying.
Cautiously, I sat up. My hands went to my head to hold it in place. Feeling sick, knowing exactly what had happened now I could feel with my hands the angle of my neck, I gritted my teeth and twisted.
It hurt like hell, but my neck snapped back into place. I felt things click back together right.
'How the hell did I just do that?'
It was then I realised the skin on my hands was visibly green even in the dim light of the alley. I reached up to my face and felt the spikes there. I remembered the vampires' words, a hazy memory, I'd hardly been aware at the time.
It had happened again...
I hadn't done it. The demon had. It had saved my life.
I might have made a total mess of what I'd set out to do, but I'd discovered a weapon. Darla's amused scorn retreated almost into insignificance in the face of the discovery.
A weapon alone wasn't enough, though. The night had been more than enough to demonstrate that to me. A weapon was only as useful as the person wielding it was skilled.
I didn't know how to fight this fight. But I needed to learn, and fast. I needed a plan, 'cause I couldn't do this again, unprepared. It was sheer luck I hadn't ended up dead this time.
After a while, I painfully scraped myself up of the concrete, retrieved the stake, and slowly made my way home.
by Mike Dewar
My mind went out of autopilot as I heard the scream. Adrenalin rushed through me in response, but I forced myself to remain calm. The dumpster’s surface felt cold against my face as I cautiously peered around it, carefully checking that my shadow didn’t fall before me and give away my hiding place. The streetlights were dim, but there was no sense in telegraphing my position. Not yet.
There she was, a hundred meters ahead and closing, bleeding from the one shoulder, her face twisted into a grimace of fear and pain. Behind her two black silhouettes pursued, one loping smoothly after her while the other lagged behind, obviously tired. But the first silhouette was definitely gaining on the woman, judging from the panicked looks she tossed over her shoulder every few seconds.
I studied her face in between her turns. Yup, she was the one from the vision, and she was nearly upon me. Time to do my job.
I stepped out from behind the dumpster and she gave a little half-shriek, stopping abruptly.
Her panicked eyes met my own. "Please…please…help me…these people…they’re…"
I raised my hands comfortingly. "I know, darlin’. I know."
"Oh, thank God." She glanced nervously over her shoulder. The figures were closing. "Who are you? Shouldn’t we run?" The questions tumbled after each other.
"No," I said firmly. "It’ll be all right. I’m a friend."
Relief leapt across her face, and her mouth parted to say something.
The stake I shoved into her chest interrupted her.
Her expression jolted from relief to shock and was twisting towards rage as she melted into dust. "Just not your friend," I remarked casually.
Faith skidded to a halt in front of me, Wesley gasping for breath as he leaned against a wall just behind her. "Job well done," she said, not even winded as she folded her arms and tucked her stake away.
"Piece of cake."
Wesley pushed himself away from the wall, swayed once or twice, and lurched over to us. "Yes, indeed," he said breathless but cheerful. "A centuries-old vampire preying off the kindness of people offering charity, now reduced to a pile of powder. Bravo."
"Yeah," I noted dryly. "Immoral and predictable."
"It does make you think, though, doesn’t it?" Wesley asked, gazing speculatively at the aforementioned-pile. "Hundreds of years of unlife, reduced to…this." He gestured at the dust.
"No, Wes, it doesn’t," I said bluntly. "In fact, even if she was around since the Crucifixion, I don’t give a rat’s -" A siren cut me off. In the distance, I could see familiar blue-red lights approaching our position.
"Oh, er, yes," Wesley said awkwardly, following my gaze. "In our pursuit, we did, um, chase her through a clothing store." The sirens grew louder. "Several clothing stores and one supermarket, actually."
"I thought we were goin’ to wait until after she left the mall before we moved in. That was the plan," I said pointedly.
Faith shrugged and tried futilely to look innocent. "I revised the plan. Went off Lone Ranger style. Not unlike some other people have been doing recently."
I ignored the none-too-subtle jab and pushed both her and Wesley into the alley, but Wesley’s mumbled explanation had delayed us, and one of the cruisers was practically in front of the alley before we could find cover. I strained to identity the person behind the flashing blue-red glare. I couldn’t pick out if it was Kate or not, but the lights flicked off abruptly and the car moved on while I was still blinking away the spots across my vision.
"Whoa," Faith breathed by my shoulder. "That was a little hairy. Thought we were jailbirds for sure."
"Old friend?" Wesley inquired.
"Couldn’t say," I returned. "But whoever it was, they’ve just given us a grand opportunity to go home an’ not get arrested for stormin’ through shopping malls, so let’s take it."
"I couldn’t agree more," Wes said firmly. "And while we’re on the topic, Faith, a Slayer is supposed to fight evil in secret. Not in the Wal-Mart."
Faith shrugged again and grinned unrepentantly. "I took the initiative."
As we walked towards the car, my mind was only half on Wes’s stern rebukes and Faith’s casual ignoring of them. The other half was voicing an unspoken answer to Wes’s question. With one exception, I had no friends in the LAPD. Just those who, if a demon got lucky one day, would pause before they started drawing a chalk outline around my broken form.
And those who wouldn’t.
I knew I didn’t have a chance. My only hope was to try and slow my opponent down, to get in one crippling strike to slow the devilish attacks that were sure to defeat me otherwise. And I didn’t think much of my chances for getting any strikes against this enemy, much less crippling ones.
Faith and I locked gazes, our fists raised. Her eyes narrowed with lethal intention.
I judged I had about half a second before she moved. Half a second to plan my attack.
I judged wrong.
Her left hook thudded into my ribs, and then her right smashed my jaw. I managed to catch her lightning-fast kick on crossed forearms and launched a counterattack. She swatted my strike away and drove another blow into my ribs. I twisted away, sweeping my foot around in a defensive arc. Faith ducked under my leg and threw her full weight into my belly.
I staggered under her charge, crashing up against a wall, barely maintaining my balance. Faith’s forearm slammed across my throat like an iron bar as she pinned me up against the wall.
"Nice try, lover," she sneered. "But you’re out of your league."
"Faith…" I gurgled weakly
Wesley watched complacently from the shadows as his Slayer increased the pressure. I managed to hook my fingers under her rigid arm and pushed her away, freeing my neck as she tumbled back, rolling to her feet easily.
Wesley regarded this change in the battle without the faintest sign of concern one way or the other. He sipped his tea and smiled.
Faith shifted her stance slightly, drawing my attention back to her. She looked content to wait until I made a move, confident she could flatten me when I did so. She was probably right. Hell, she was definitely right. There was only one way to equalize this battle.
I pulled the demon free and struck quickly, using speed and strength she wasn’t expecting.
Not enough speed and strength, as it turned out.
She grabbed my fist, arresting the blow with a grunt of effort. Her other hand slammed open-palmed into my chest as her foot hooked my heel.
Propelled by Slayer strength and skill, as well as my own body weight, I tumbled backwards into the wall. Faith took a step towards me as I lay sprawled, helpless, on the floor before her.
"All right, Faith, that’s enough," Wesley said finally, placing his cup of tea down on a saucer and stepping between us. "An excellent fight all round, I feel."
Faith smirked at me. "The opposition was kinda lacking, ya know?"
I decided to wait until after my inner ear stopped its own private Tsunami before responding.
Wes glanced down at his notepad. "One small detail, Faith. I couldn’t help but notice that your left hook was lagging a bit. You’re not using your wrist enough." He waved his hand in a vaguely aggressive way, as I struggled slowly to my feet. "Like so."
Faith chewed her lip thoughtfully. "Let me see if I’ve got it right." She lashed out and caught me on the jaw as I straightened. My teeth throbbing, I went down again, the floor swaying in interesting ways.
"Excellent," he said with, for Wes, unusual warmth. "Well done." Wes and Faith had actually been getting on pretty good over the past few days, which was a nice change. Unfortunately, the major common ground they had found with each other was disapproval of my little vendetta-based Darla hunt. They were mostly subtle about it, at least Wesley was, but there was always that pointed reminder.
You thought you could handle her without us. You were wrong and she’ll kill again because of it.
Their criticism combined with my own frustration had caused a peak in my liquor consumption unmatched by anything since the weeks after Harry’s death.
"How was I, Wes?" I asked sarcastically from the floor. "My groans of pain convincin’ enough for you?"
"Yes, yes," he said breezily. "Good show. I think we should probably move on to weapons now, Faith."
Faith smiled eagerly, rubbing her hands together in a way that promised pain for me as soon as I stood up again. I shuddered the demon away.
"Uh-huh," I announced firmly. "The punchin’ bag vetoes that decision, Watcher-man. I need a rest break before my next session of catharsis."
Faith glanced at me challengingly. "What’s wrong, lover? Haven’t you got the stamina?"
"More to the point, I don’t have unbreakable bones and iron skin," I told her. "I gotta take a breather if you expect me to continue bein’ your violence test dummy. Unless Wes can do it?"
The Watcher looked considerably alarmed at that. "A five minute break, perhaps?"
"Thank you," I said with feeling, limping towards the elevator.
"Remember, just five minutes…" Wesley’s braying voice called after me. I grunted once and punched the button for the office before he could change his mind.
The office was nearly bare of paper. We had pretty much zero active cases, vision-related or otherwise, and it showed. Particularly in our letters from the bank manager, which were getting longer and more irate by the day. Rubbing a hand across my sweat-sticky forehead, I walked over to the water cooler and hunted for a cup.
The cooler was Wes’s brainchild, installed when the builders were in fixing the damage from Spike’s little visit. He said he wanted at least one cold non-alcoholic beverage freely available in the office, and water seemed like the cheapest option. Both Faith and I stubbornly stuck to drinking beer, but I’d seen her sneak a cup or two down when she thought Wes wasn’t looking. I had admit, there was something refreshing about crisp, icy water every now and again, as opposed to the lukewarm soup that I got out of the taps.
Not that it was any kind of health thing, mind you.
I abandoned the search for a cup and stuck my head under the nozzle, letting cold water drizzle into my mouth as I savoured the growing numbness of my tongue. I flicked the handle to the closed position, hearing something wooden clatter near my feet as I did so. It was a long wooden staff, worn in many places and sharpened at one end.
Faith stood in the doorway, another staff cradled easily in arms that weren’t even as thick as the weapon they were holding. "Time’s up, boss. On with the work-out," she said with a smirk.
I kept my hands free and loose by my sides, sizing her up. She looked relaxed, but the slight tenseness in her muscles told me that if I made a move for the weapon, I’d get a skull fracture for my trouble.
"Can I just finish my drink?" I asked plaintively.
Faith shrugged wordlessly, and I bent over the tap again. "Nice butt," she murmured teasingly and I felt my ears heat up. I cupped my hand beneath the tap and flicked the handle on and off quickly, filling it with water. I raised it towards my mouth and then shoved it out to the side, spraying it at Faith and snatching for the staff with my other hand.
The surprise chill of the water didn’t delay her more than a second, and her staff was whipping across towards my back as my fingers closed around my own weapon. I tucked myself in and rolled over my staff, hearing hers whistle over my hunched body. I continued the easy forwards roll like a kid in gym class, coming to my feet low and directly in front of her, the blunt end of my staff thrusting hard into her belly.
Faith grunted in surprise, winded, and I brought the weapon up and around into her side. She spun away from the strike and I moved to pursue, the staff slipping in my sweaty hands.
I was never that happy sparring with Faith, and not just because of the regular ass-kickings I received. I’d been raised not to fight with girls, particularly not girls who I was sleeping with, and I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of guilt every time one of my attacks struck home.
Faith on the other hand, evidently had no such reservations, as she readied an overhand stroke that would have me seeing stars for weeks. I freed my left hand from the staff and sent it flashing up, grabbing the staff before she could strike. Faith’s brown eyes stared mischievously into my own as we struggled, momentarily face to face. The corners of her lips turned up slightly as she deftly shifted the angle of her grip, running the wooden shaft into my stomach. I gasped for air, losing my grip on her weapon.
A second later, I lost my own weapon as well, her powerful follow-up blow smashing it aside. Just for good measure, she slipped the staff behind my heel and yanked my feet out from under me.
I lay flat on my back as she smiled triumphantly and pointed the sharpened tip of the staff at my throat. "Gotcha, slowpoke."
I held my hands up, fingers spread, preparing to take my defeat with dignity and quietly praying that Wes had run out of fun training exercises, but the sound of metal on metal distracted me.
It took me a second to identify it, since it was such an unfamiliar sound in my new life. But when I recognised it, a rush of cold came with the recognition.
The sound of a gun being cocked.
"Hold it right there," a strident female voice warned, and the cold of fear melted into the heat of embarrassment.
I twisted around, hands still raised. "Kate? Hold your fire, if you don’t mind?"
Kate Lockley stood in the doorway to my office, legs apart, her pistol held firmly in both hands, and a singularly humourless expression on her face. She slowly lowered the weapon, her blonde eyebrows coming together.
"Kate," Faith said slowly, toying with her staff. "So this is Constable Katey, your good ol’ buddy from the pigs."
"Detective," Kate said coolly. Amazing. In less than two seconds, the two most hard-headed women I knew were already deep in mutual loathing.
"Kate," I said, dumbly parroting Faith. "Ah…good to see you."
Faith helped me to my feet, taking the opportunity to slip her hand possessively inside my shirt. I winced, and not just from Faith’s none-too-gentle caresses on my bruised flesh. Kate’s deliberate stare radiated disapproval as I carefully fended away Faith’s questing fingers
"You must be Faith," she said.
Faith seemed surprised. "You heard of me?"
Kate shrugged. "Your name got mentioned in passing."
"Oh." Faith’s eyes were a fraction less antagonistic, and I began to hold out hope for a peaceful resolution.
Kate turned to me. "You actually let this kid fight vampires?" she asked bluntly.
Faith’s stroking fingers suddenly jabbed sharp nails into my flesh and I yelped slightly. "Not exactly let…as such," I said, squirming with combined pain and guilt.
"Damn straight, he does," Faith said aggressively. "Some kind of problem with that?"
I could see trouble on the horizon and frantically planned to head it off. If nothing else, after a few more minutes my chest would be in ribbons. "So, Kate, social call?"
"No," she said irritably. "There’s this little matter of the file I lent you on the Halo case, and how I need to write this little thing called a report, which is very overdue."
"Sorry," I apologised guiltily. "Completely slipped my mind. It’s probably around here somewhere." I waved my hand at the office as a whole. "Tell you what, we can go and chat in my office. Reminisce. Faith, you go see how Wes is doin’. Practise eye-gougin’ or something."
"Whatever. You legal eagles have fun," she said sullenly. The nails jabbed one last time, and then she slunk away down the stairs. Kate and I watched her go in silence.
"Nice girl," Kate said dryly.
"She has her moments," I said diplomatically. "So, can I get you anythin’? Coffee machine’s broken and we’re nearly out of the hard stuff, but we’ve got water."
"You sure about that?" she asked. I followed her gaze and groaned inwardly. The cooler had a large staff-shaped dent in it and the tap was a mangled mess. I made a mental note to clear away the office furniture before Faith’s next training session. I gingerly rubbed my chest. And to get her to trim her nails if possible.
"Well, I’ve got an office," I said wryly. "Pretty sure that still works."
Kate smiled slightly.
Under the brighter light of my desk lamp, I got my first good look at Kate. Her face was drawn and there were black rings under her eyes. Her clothes were rumpled and stained too, and had obviously been slept in.
"You look like hell," I told her.
Kate chuckled tiredly. "You really know how to make a girl feel special, don’t you, Doyle?"
I grinned in response. "My mother always told me the best way to court a lady was with honesty. Though gettin’ her to have sip or two of whiskey helps."
"That work for all age-groups?" Kate asked pointedly.
I raised my hands in surrender. "It’s a long story. But it’s actually quite reasonable when you hear the full thing."
"Somehow I doubt that," Kate said with amusement. "Two words: Statutory. Rape."
"Two more words: Long. Story."
She nodded in surrender. "Don’t suppose I can blame you. She seems like a nice girl."
I snorted. "You’re tryin’ to be tactful, darlin’. It isn’t workin’."
Kate smiled with real warmth for the first time. " It never was my field. ‘Sides, not my business anyway. So, how about those files?"
"Uh…yeah. Files. That could take some doin’. I never did get the hang of the department filin’ system."
Kate rolled her eyes. "It was alphabetical."
"Uh-huh. The alphabet of which language, exactly? ‘Cause I’m damn sure it wasn’t English."
"So you’ve lost it," Kate said frankly, folding her arms.
"Yes. But not forever. I’ll get it back to you, as soon as I can root around a bit," I said quickly, praying that I could. With my luck, Wesley had scrawled Latin incantations all over it or Faith had used it as a primitive firelighter.
Kate sighed. "That was about what I expected." She yawned and blinked her eyes irritably, as if trying to wake herself up.
"Tough case?" I asked sympathetically.
She smiled wryly. "Oh, yeah. All-nighter fun."
"D.B.E. or regular?" I asked, slipping back into cop-talk with surprising ease. Somehow, whenever Kate and I talk shop, it’s just like we still share a patrol car. I sometimes get surprised when her radio crackles and I realise I’m not carrying one.
"Looks like a lone vamp," she answered. "Stalking the streets, feeding off homeless, that kind of deal."
"Need any help?"
Kate straightened in her chair. "You serious? I mean, what about the business? You got time for this stuff?"
"Kate, the business is this stuff, remember? An’ I’m sure I can turn away a few of the queues of Hollywood stars desperately seekin’ my services to help an old friend," I told her as dryly as I could manage.
"The PI business not entirely what it’s cracked up to be?" she asked curiously, but with a hint of sympathy there too.
I shrugged. "Well, it’s good that I’m my own boss, you know, master of all I survey…though if I actually try to give my employees any direct orders, it could get hazardous for my health…it’s all right."
She smiled wearily. "That’s good."
"So, details, details, details," I ordered. "Spill your guts."
She ran her hands through her hair, obviously trying to concentrate. From the look of things, she really was on her last legs. I was surprised she hadn’t called me for help earlier. "Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all we’ve got. I can show the scene photo and bagged evidence and the rest of it when you drop off the file, but we’re drawing a blank. Can’t even find the bastard to stake him."
On second thoughts, I wasn’t surprised. Kate isn’t the kind of person to ask for help, even when she should. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure if we could shed any light on the case if the LAPD couldn’t, but maybe we’d strike lucky. Maybe I’d get a vision. Maybe the Powers would hang a neon sign outside the killer’s house, saying, "Murdering Vampire Here." Whatever.
"I’ll talk to the guys, see if we can dig anythin’ up," I told her.
She nodded, rising to her feet. "I’ll keep you posted."
I walked Kate to the door, half-expecting her to fall asleep before she got there. A brief goodbye later, I shook her hand and she walked out. I turned back into the office, nudging the door shut with my foot.
Faith was standing by the elevator, leaning against the dented water cooler. "So that was the famous Kate."
I nodded. "That was Kate."
"The last thing I need right now is to be babysitting some rookie. Attach him to someone else. Now, I have work to do -"
I couldn't help but hear. A woman's voice, it was filled with anger and bitterness. Approaching Captain Rensen's office, where I was supposed to be reporting, I almost collided with its owner, who was on her way out.
Blond hair writhed as she flung her head back, flicking the bright mass out of her face. Cold, pale eyes, with a surprising amount of human hurt in them alongside the fury I'd been expecting, settled on me.
They slid away again dismissively. She made to push past, to continue on her way.
Behind her, somebody coughed with intent. Captain Rensen stood there, arms folded across his chest. "Detective Lockley - Officer Doyle," he introduced, pointedly.
The woman looked at me again, and this time those eyes fairly glowed with anger. She opened her mouth, clearly intending to object strenuously.
Rensen wielded a finger at her in a characteristic gesture which even I, not knowing him all that well, could read as a clear sign he was reaching the end of his patience on the issue. "Show him the ropes. If all goes well, in a few months I'll think about reassigning both of you elsewhere... Am I understood, Kate?"
For a moment, she looked as though she was about to snap his head off. And I don't mean that metaphorically, either. But then she sighed and gave in with a weary, "Yes, sir."
Over her shoulder, the police captain shot me a glance that was half apologetic, and half amused.
"All right," she snapped, once we were in the car, reaching across to grab my arm and my attention as I fumbled with the safety belt. "I've a lot to do. You don't get to ask questions. You don't get to talk. You get to follow me around and keep your mouth shut, because I don't have time for this. I've no doubt Renson and the rest of the station finds this all extremely funny, but you're the last thing I need. You wouldn't even be here, if it wasn't for the current crisis, but unfortunately officers are needed right now so the department's taking whatever it can get.
"As far as I'm concerned, Renson's out of his mind accepting you - and the rest of that latest batch they rushed through the training program. You're going to get yourself killed and then we'll have yet another LAPD corpse on our hands. But then, the public are demanding more officers on the streets, and with our people dropping like flies right now, recruitment isn't exactly at an all-time high."
"I know that," I interrupted, somewhat irritably. "That's part of why I wanted to be here, believe it or not -" Or why those damnable visions wanted me here, at any rate.
She stared at me blankly. "You must have seen those pictures that leaked to the press and..." I nodded in confirmation. "You're crazy," she concluded.
I'd seen the pictures, all right. I'd seen them in glorious vision-induced Technicolor as well as front page black-and-white print. They weren't pretty either way. And I continued nodding, since I suspected she was probably right on that second count, too.
She sighed and muttered under her breath something that sounded a lot like, "What the hell. I guess that makes two of us, then."
We set out in Kate's unmarked police car. I watched her as she drove: in return, her eyes stared straight ahead, studiously ignoring me. I noticed there were bruises on the side of her face, and a long scrape on her right hand that was almost healed. Looked like she'd seen a bit of action, recently. She had the air of someone who'd been doing this a while. And I supposed she had reason enough to be stressed out, what with all the killings and all.
We'd been driving about ten minutes when the call came in on the radio in a burst of almost unintelligible, scratchy static. Kate answered, then swung the car around, cursing. "Well, you're about to see what it is everybody's been talking about - and the Chronicle's most notorious scoop of the day - firsthand," she told me.
I didn't tell her I'd already seen it, in vague, blood-soaked flashes which had left me crouched over the sink for half an hour. Minutes later, we pulled up at the mouth of an alley. I could see a couple of uniformed officers already there, but they seemed to be concentrating largely on keeping the curious public out.
The late morning sunlight was streaking down the sides of the buildings to wash the alleyway in a golden glow that was anything but ominous. Kate's expression was grim, though, and I didn't much like the idea of what we were going to find as we walked towards that little huddle of sun-streaked darkness the uniforms were protecting.
There were two bodies, dumped side by side against the wall. From what Kate had said, I knew they'd been cops, but from the mess they were in it would barely have been possible to tell they were human. Somebody had set to work on them with a large-bladed instrument of some kind, like an axe or a meat cleaver. In parts they were practically sliced and diced.
Their clothes were sodden as well as shredded, and the whole mess was bad beyond any chance of distinguishing at a glance if they'd been in uniform when they were killed. Not that it mattered. From the reports I'd read in the news and what I'd heard since I signed up, whoever was responsible for the butchering was doing their research. This was a systematic campaign to wipe out as many of the LAPD as they could get, whether they happened to be on duty or not. Somebody was waging war against the law in this city.
Chillingly, I now confirmed something else that hadn't reached the press - because even with all the gore I could see, there wasn't anywhere near two whole bodies' worth of blood there, although the sheer size of those cuts should have spilled it all.
Although I felt near enough to throwing up already, I knelt down for a closer look at the neck of one of the corpses.
I couldn't not look...
There was a gaping slash in the side of the neck, just where the bite marks would have been. As I studied it, trying to choke back my increasing urge to vomit, a cockroach crawled out of the depths of the wound.
It was the last straw. Kate saw that it was and yanked me to my feet by a fierce grip on my collar, thrusting me away from the corpses. "Don't puke on the crime scene!"
I staggered over to the mouth of the alley and spent several fairly wretched minutes getting reacquainted with what little I'd managed to choke down for breakfast.
I could hear Kate shouting orders and I knew more people had arrived. I was vaguely aware of her voice discussing the matter with another detective, a conversation which ended with her saying she had other cases to attend to so she'd be on her way now, and he should let her know if anything else came up.
Hearing that, I pulled myself together and headed back to the car, fairly dreading what she'd have to say about this. She shot me a weary, irritated look as I climbed in.
I guess I could have hoped for a better start to my first day on the job.
The rest of that day set a depressing pattern for our working relationship over the next few weeks. While Kate wasn't outright aggressive, she didn't leave me in any doubt that she'd be happy to lose me altogether, and I quickly gave up trying to forge any kind of friendly relationship. We simply learned to put up with each other.
I mostly tried to keep my head down, endured the additional trials of my new life, and hoped things would improve.
In those weeks I noticed that Kate often came in to work looking exhausted as hell, occasionally sporting a bruise or scrape that I knew hadn't happened while she was at work. She also, on those days, let a gasp or a wince escape once or twice, as though there were other deeper hurts I couldn't see. Maybe she was taking her work home with her, or maybe she was into dangerous sports. I wasn't about to pry into her personal life. I knew she lived in an apartment across town which was a good deal better than mine, because I'd met her outside there for work a few times. I knew she was single, and not seeing anyone, because of all the jokes around the guys at the station about how she seriously needed to get some.
She seemed to attract more than a few whispers, rumours, and sideways looks. I managed to get a few of the other guys at the station to tell me the story. According to them, she'd basically been self-destructing for some time. Up until several months ago, she'd been a solid, responsible officer. Then her father had died, and it was after that she'd gradually metamorphosed into some kind of maverick cop.
There was a sadness there, something desperate and driven, that powered that outer bitch.
She lived like she expected to die tomorrow. Like she might even welcome the event.
Her view of me didn't improve any, and the incident with the gun-toting maniac at the beach about a week after our introduction didn't help.
Thing was, this lunatic was waving a gun around in the midst of all the kids and the tourists, threatening to cause a massacre. I had a clear line of fire. But I hesitated, and didn't take the shot, despite the fact Kate was screaming at me from twenty feet away to pull the trigger. Another cop took him down a few seconds later, and got a bullet in the leg for his pains.
I knew Kate was right, I should've fired. A whole lot of people could've died because I didn't. I was bloody lucky it worked out all right, and the only damage done was to the cop who took him down, and that just a flesh wound which healed within a couple of weeks.
But what Kate didn't, couldn't understand was that I had this creature within me. Demons prey on people - and me, I was half one of them. I couldn't take that shot because if I killed him it wouldn't be a human killing a human, it'd be a demon killing a human.
I was just too afraid of crossing that line, afraid it might burst the dam and set loose this monster inside me. Even though I still didn't know what it was capable of, and it only spoke to me as a bundle of tracking and fighting instincts when I took on its form, and didn't speak to me at all at other times. Its instincts weren't those of a killer so far as I'd yet been able to determine... but, still, that was a form made to do damage, with those spikes and that strength.
I guess it was the same problem in training. That was why I'd come so close to flunking, though I knew much better how to do the fighting, by then - against vamps, at least. When I went up against humans, I had resources they couldn't tap, I could inflict levels of damage they couldn't touch, and it felt wrong.
I got over that one in time, for the most part.
At work, my relations with others in the department were indifferent at best. I'd found, since Harry's death, that I didn't relate too easily to people any more, knowing I wasn't completely one of them. I took to coming into work with my mind set on a kind of autopilot unless actual immediate danger was involved, saving my energy for the evenings.
I still got those weird visions, and they still needed answering, though I had no more clue as to what they were now than when I'd had the very first one. I told myself it was something to do with my demon half, and subdued the impression I occasionally had that these images weren't coming from anything that was within me.
At any rate, I had these visions, and I had a weapon with which to answer their call... and I was learning, all the time, through those night-time excursions and the job that I hated.
And if it wasn't exactly the best time in my life, it was survival, and I was getting by in this weird world where Harry was dead and I was some kind of monster.
Somehow I was getting through. Doing what was required and managing not to get killed - although it came close a few times. Luckily, the demon was resilient; the neck-snapping thing wasn't the half of it.
Fighting wasn't the only thing I did those nights, either. I was also getting to know a part of this city I'd never had a clue existed. Because I wasn't the only demon out there. There were a multitude of different kinds, who generally had nothing to do with the vamps. They had a world of their own existing within our... the human one; I kept finding more bars and clubs and other hangouts which humans seemed to know instinctively to avoid.
I was making more contacts within that world, too. Even demons are partial to a friendly wager, or a round of drinks, and I picked up a few of my bad habits - not to mention debts - that way.
Not that I wanted to associate with these guys particularly closely. But it was useful to have any extra sources of information, and I was discovering that demon blood could be a handy ticket to a little insider knowledge in these circles.
And I was getting used to the fact that, having access to both worlds and belonging to neither, you had to take what you could get.
"Shit!" Desperately rushing around trying to find where, in all the mess of my apartment, I'd last slung my gun and badge, I skidded on a newspaper I'd left thrown on the floor. I came down hard on my other foot, trying to catch my balance without looking where I was standing, and heard and felt the crunch of glass breaking.
After dealing with the previous night's vision, I'd seen to my cuts and bruises, then downed about half a pint of whiskey and staggered off to bed at around 6am.
Having spent most of the day comatose, I was now supposed to be dragging myself into work again.
The floor was covered by a sea of unwashed clothes, newspapers, research notes, stakes and other assorted junk, including the odd bottle scattered around into the mix. At times, the drink had been all that got me through the months since Harry's death.
She'd have thrown a fit to see me livin' like this, that was for sure.
I snarled out a curse, my mind retreating from that thought, and avoiding the broken glass - I'd see to it later, if I remembered - I kicked aside the junk, continuing to search frantically. If I was late again this week, Kate really would make good her latest threat to report me, and then my new life, such as it was, would be down the drain before it had barely begun.
I pulled aside another empty bottle that looked promisingly like last night's. The badge was underneath it, and the gun wasn't far away.
I glanced at my watch. I had less than ten minutes to get across town to the station.
Swearing, I added gun and badge to the muted Responsible Little Cop ensemble, ran a hand through my hair in place of a comb, and hurried out the door.
Kate and I were working evenings and nights mostly, and like pretty much the majority of the force we were assigned to trying to track down the gang of cop-killers who were still evading capture. I was sure they were vampires, the way they always hid their tracks with that final slash across their victim's throats, not to mention the fact the visions seemed to be steering me towards them... but I wasn't about to offer that particular piece of information up to aid the enquiry.
I hadn't come close to them yet, and wasn't sure what I'd do when I did. There were at least three of them, from the evidence and reports collected. I wasn't sure I was ready to handle three vampires, alone.
It was a relatively warm evening, and a short walk - well, okay, sprint - later I reached the station, sweating, with my jacket over my arm. Kate was already waiting in the car to set out on a case. I climbed in next to her, only a minute or two late after all, hoping Detective Lockley was in a good mood today. Or at least a less bad mood.
I felt hung over, and still sick and shaky from the events of the previous night. I slung my jacket across the back of the seat and, as Kate pulled out, fumbled in the pockets for my lighter and a smoke, in an effort to calm my nerves.
"You just dare light that freakin' cigarette, and I will stop this car and personally ram the whole packet so far down your throat you won't need a surgical team to extract it," Kate snarled between gritted teeth.
No, Detective Lockley was not in a good mood today.
Since she sounded pissed off enough to actually carry out that threat, I sighed and moved to replace the cigarettes in my jacket, a home they were leaving with increasing rarity the more time I spent around Kate.
As the vision hit, my hand closed spasmodically around the packet, crushing it and its contents flat.
'Not now!' I thought. So far, I'd managed to keep the visions and work mostly separate, passing off the few I'd had in more public circumstances as dizzy spells. And so far, I'd managed to hide them completely from Kate.
But I was only peripherally aware of those concerns, and of the side of my face hitting the window as the convulsions shook my body, as the vision swept me up. My brain was far too full of the images being forced into it - of a girl who was about to become a meal for a heavily-muscled, tattooed vamp with host of ironmongery pierced through various body parts. The vision closed-up on a street sign before flashing out of my brain again as abruptly as it had arrived.
Kate was swearing and pulling the car in to the side of the street. When she saw I was more or less back in the world again, she snapped, "What the hell was -?"
"Don't stop," I croaked. I shook myself, still feeling lousy. "We need to be on 106th street. Trouble's going down, near there. Something we need to -"
The protest had no effect on her whatsoever. The car's breaks screeched as she drew it to a halt. "How do you figure that, huh? We're not going anywhere until you tell me what just happened. You've got some kind of condition you've been hiding from the quacks... boy, is this my lucky day..."
"I heard the radio," I protested weakly. "We gotta -"
"Bullshit! There was nothing on the radio. Come clean, Doyle."
The girl could be getting dead even as Kate argued with me. I knew I wouldn't get there in time if I got out of the car and ran, and I certainly didn't have time to talk her around. I didn't have a minute to waste, never mind a millennium.
I lunged head-first into the foot-space in front of the driver's seat, and slammed my hand down on the accelerator. My shoulders wedged uncomfortably, but the car was moving and my weight was crushing Kate's legs back against the seat and blocking her from the pedals.
She yelled as the car shot forward. The hand-brake jabbed into my thigh and I kicked at her as she tried to reach it. "You're going to kill us both!" she shouted, trying to haul me up with one hand while her other swung the steering wheel desperately, throwing us this way and that. I clung stubbornly to her legs.
"Bloody steer, then!" I yelled, as she tried to knee me in the face. "106th! There's a girl about to get ea...killed if we don't get there fast!"
Something in my tone, coupled with the insane desperation of my actions, must have convinced or at least made her curious enough to want to find out what all this was about. She did as I asked, although she didn't stop swearing at me.
It was a relief when she finally yelled that we were there and I allowed her to pull up. I did have a momentary concern that she might have driven us back to the station instead, but when I awkwardly clambered out from under the seat I saw we were indeed where we were supposed to be.
"Get off!" Kate's fist impacted solidly in the centre of my back as I climbed over her to the passenger seat. The shove propelled me the rest of the way rather quicker than I'd intended. My hand caught the door handle and I fell out of the car to land in a bruised heap on the sidewalk.
I staggered to my feet and ran towards the almost deserted parking lot I'd seen in my vision, aware of Kate yelling after me.
The events from the vision were playing out in the shadow-ridden far corner of the lot. The vamp had the girl backed up against the hood of a car and was reaching for her throat. She was screaming, but there'd have been nobody to hear her, if not for the vision which had brought me...
And Kate. I didn't know if she was following me or not. Hopefully I could dust the vamp quickly before she saw anything and tell her the attacker had run off.
My stake was in the pocket of my jacket... which was slung over the back of my seat in the car. I cursed.
I didn't slow down as I reached them, but ran straight at the vamp, aiming to knock him aside so the girl could make a run for it. My weight only caused him to stagger a bit. He backhanded me across the face and I fell against the side of a nearby car.
Looking beyond his shoulder, I was relieved to see the girl sprinting hell for leather out of there. I was less pleased to see Kate charge through the entrance to the parking lot, with her gun held firmly in both hands and with an extremely pissed off expression painted across her face.
I kicked the vampire where it'd have most effect, and punched him in the face as he curled over. The ironmongery in his nose and lip shredded my knuckles, but it couldn't have felt particularly pleasant from where he stood, either.
Kate was staring at the vamp with amazement and shock. I couldn't say I blamed her; with his twisted, distorted features there could be little doubt he wasn't human.
But... hell, explaining to Kate that monsters were real was the last thing I needed.
The vampire spat blood and the metal ring from his lip came out along with the disgusting red glob. That seemed to piss him off all the more. He retaliated with a growl and an awkward, angry punch I blocked easily... a mistake, as it turned out. I was still pretty new to this whole physical combat deal. He changed the direction of his lunge, catching my wrist and twisting my arm around almost to the point of dislocation. Using that leverage, he forced me back, pinning me to the hood of the car. I snatched for the gun with my free hand, hoping bullets might be enough to break the vampire's grip even if they couldn't kill it.
Before I'd even drawn the weapon, though, the pressure on my arm vanished, and the vamp was drifting through the air in an explosion of dust.
On the other side of the dust stood Kate, one arm still outstretched. Her hand was clamped around the sharpened stake she'd thrust through the vampire's heart.
We stared at each other. I imagined the shock I saw in her eyes was mirrored in my own.
Slowly, I stood up, brushing the dust from my clothes.
I swallowed. One of us was going to have to speak first. "That's one done and dusted, huh?" I managed to joke, somewhat weakly.
Kate opened and closed her mouth a few times, starting to speak and then biting it off. "You know?" she said finally, her voice a choked whisper. "About the... vampires?" The last word took a long time for her to force it out.
I flopped back against the car, winding up sitting on the floor in a tired heap when my legs gave way. My head couldn't take this, on top of the fight and the vision.
Kate was massaging her own forehead with her fingers, and from the pained expression on her face, her headache was about as bad as mine.
After a moment, she turned around, her expression full of grim determination.
"Doyle," she said, and I think it was the first time she'd said my name without that sneer in her voice. "We need to have a talk... and a drink."
The place we went to was a little bar tucked away from the main streets. We'd both stayed quiet on the way. I know I wasn't sure how to deal with this new realisation - Kate, for all I knew, was just enjoying making me sweat.
She went to the counter to order drinks, and from the way the guy serving chatted to her, she was something of a regular.
She returned with two pints. I could've used something a little stronger, but since she was buying and it was the single friendly gesture I'd ever received from her, I saved the complaint.
The table she'd chosen was hidden away in a dingy corner, about as private as you could get within a public bar. I wondered if she came there often to sit nursing a drink and that pain which coloured her face with bitterness.
She sat down opposite me, and sipped her beer, watching me as though she was taking in everything anew. "Are you hurt?" she asked, after a moment.
It was unexpected, and although her tone was neutral rather than actually concerned, it surprised me enough that all I could muster in reply was a fairly incoherent, "Huh?"
"I said, are you hurt? That fight looked pretty rough." She sounded irritated with having to repeat herself. I tried to scrape what remained of my wits together before I missed whatever small opportunity this might offer to dispel her hostility.
I shook my head. "Bruises. Nothing." I had more from last night. I took a long drink, trying to remember the last time I'd eaten as I felt the alcohol hit my stomach.
After some hesitation, she said, "You seemed to do better fighting that vampire than against any of the human opponents I've seen you attempt to take on... You've had some practice, right?"
"I guess that's true," I said, thinking of six month's worth of nights spent chasing down vamps, both vision-related and not. Six months of beatings and crawling home half dead, for the major part. Certainly in those very early days. "But, something makes me suspect, so have you."
She nodded slowly, clearly as unwilling to share as I was. I'd never thought to have to explain this to anyone. I'd never thought I'd come across anyone I could explain it to.
"My wife," I managed eventually, hoarsely. "We were attacked. I survived, she didn't. After that, and knowin' that those things were out there, I had to do somethin', you know. Didn't have much luck goin' it alone, so that's why I joined up. Get some trainin', go kill vamps..." I scratched at the bite scar that was still in evidence on my neck, although hidden at that moment by my shirt collar. It was disappearing, slowly. It would probably be gone entirely within a few more months.
"And guess what, it's not that simple," she finished for me, with heavy irony. Her eyes had noticed the movement and she leaned over the table to snatch my hand away and pull back my collar.
After a second or two, she let go and leaned back in her seat again, eyes wide and tired and slightly freaked.
"They got my father," she said, curtly.
I'd already guessed that much.
"I interrupted them, but it was too late to save him." She continued reluctantly, obviously thinking she owed it to me somehow. I realised then that she'd taken the bite scar as all the explanation necessary as to what had happened in that first attack, and how I'd accidentally survived. I didn't feel like complicating things by explaining what had really happened. Far less did I feel any urge to tell her I wasn't wholly human myself. "I saw their faces, though, and I saw what they did to him. And, hard as it was to accept the myths were real... well, I accepted. And then I hunted them down and I staked them."
I envied her the revenge which lit a flare within her eyes when she said that. I'd yet to find a trace of the particular vampires who'd been responsible for Harry's death.
If she saw anything of that in my expression, she kept quiet about it. She cleared her throat. "So, are you going to tell me what happened to you in the car, and how you knew that girl needed rescuing?"
I explained, hesitantly, about the visions. The little I knew. She listened sceptically, but she couldn't deny the fact that I had known.
"Visions," she repeated. "Oh, hell, if vampires are real I guess I shouldn't scoff at visions. Let's just not mention this to the station psychs, Doyle - either of us." The humour in her voice was weary. I didn't laugh.
"You... didn't stop when you got your revenge, did you?" I asked. That was why the bruises, the strange hours, the snappish temper - all of which, I realised, I had probably borne in evidence as well. "You've kept killin' these things - extracurricular, like."
She nodded. "It wasn't enough, those first few vamps. These creatures are all over this city. The department doesn't know they exist, and how could I ever try to explain to my fellow officers that vampires are real? But... as long as I know they exist, I'm the goddamn Los Angeles Police force Department of Vampire Slaying right here, and I'm gonna make them feel the weight of the law."
The passion in her voice was clear, and the volume drew a few stares. She hushed it down a little. "After all, I was the only one who could," she added, quieter. Her eyes had no hostility in them now when they settled on me, it had been replaced with something that looked a lot like hope. I wondered what she was seeing - whether it was the same thing I was, looking at her. "I thought I was the only one who could."
She tried to hide the choked emotion there by downing the rest of her pint in an aggressive motion, but it was in vain.
I understood all too well. We'd both been trying to fight this fight alone for far too long.
by Mike Dewar
I was in a foul mood as I elbowed the office door open and stalked inside.
"Ah. Doyle. Have any luck with your network?" Wesley asked, looking up from a book he was studying. Faith was nowhere to be seen. I’d sent her out to talk to a few of my contacts, so we could cover more ground that way. Wesley got to stay at home, since he would last about a minute in some of the places my sources hang out. I eyed the neat way he had laid a cup of tea, scone and container of jam on a handkerchief next to his book. More like a second.
"Guess," I bit out, tossing my jacket into a chair.
Wesley tried vainly to hide a smug little smile. He’d expressed his displeasure with my information-gathering plan the second it was out of my mouth, not really to my surprise. He’d pointed out the difficulty of finding one vampire in a city like LA. At length. "That’s a shame. Still, hardly unexpec - what in God’s name is that smell?" He sniffed the air, and frowned with distaste. "Smells like…rotting sewage. Maybe a hint of sulphur."
I pointed at the stain running down my jacket. "Turns out Malagor’s been eating curry again."
Damn Frilesh demons and their fragile digestive systems.
Wesley winced. "Oh dear. Are you all right?"
"I’m fine, Wes," I said irritably. "Having a five-foot demon vomit on me really is my idea of how to spend a nice afternoon. I may choose to live in the shower for the next four years or so, but apart from that, I’m tip-top."
His nose wrinkled. "I hope it’s a shower far away from here."
Muttering a few choice curses against Malagor and all three of his spawn-mothers, I went to change my shirt. I didn’t think anything was going to save the jacket except a flamethrower.
By the time I was re-shirted and smelling human, well, half-human, Faith was back, and from the sound of it her afternoon had been as profitable as mine.
"Jeez, where does Doyle get off on sending me round to see his creepy demon friends? I’m a Slayer, I slay. Making polite conversation with people with tentacles sticking out of their forehead wasn't in the job description!" I heard her complain as I dragged the elevator grate open.
"It’s only one tentacle," I said curtly to Faith’s leather-clad back. "An’ Yuzak’s very sensitive about it."
Faith fixed a stony glare on me, half-turning in her chair. "Like I care, Detective." Her nostrils flared and she sneezed explosively. "What the hell is that?" she asked, wiping her nose on Wes’s impromptu tablecloth.
"Long story," I muttered.
"Frilesh demon. Curry, " Wesley muttered to her.
"Yuck. That’s nasty." Faith smirked. "You’re sleeping on the floor tonight, mister."
"I don’t plan to be doin’ much sleepin’ at all," I responded. "We have still got a vampire to track and night’ll be our best chance."
"Great plan, boss," Faith said, crossing her arms. "Try and find a lone vampire in LA. At night. And oh yeah, we don’t even know what he looks like!"
"Or even if it is a he." Wesley observed.
"We’ll work somethin’ out. He can’t hide forever."
"Yeah, the truth is out there. Why the hell are we doing this, anyway?" Faith asked. "It’s Blondie’s problem, not ours."
"Because a vampire is killing people," Wesley said firmly. "And slaying it is in your job description, I think you’ll find"
I blinked. Was Wesley actually supporting me in this?
"On the other hand," he said delicately, "while I agree the cause is a good one, I might question our reasons for getting involved with it."
And then again, maybe Hell was getting its own ice rink.
"What’s that supposed to mean?" I asked sharply. "The reasons are the same ones as always. You know, kill vampires, save people? I’m pretty sure those qualify as decent motives, even by Watcher standards."
"Doyle," Wesley said reasonably. "Do you recall your delightful habit of getting shamelessly plastered and engaging in the Late-Night Drunken Cursing Marathon? Well, I haven't actually missed noticing the frequency with which the term 'LAPD' tends to crop up in those aforementioned rants. It does rather beg the question, why are you doing this?"
He studied me intently. Perceptive Wesley had come out to play.
Perceptive Wesley was even more irritating than the regular one.
"So I shouldn’t do anythin’, because I got a grudge with the department?" I shot back. "What, we start havin’ a review board for what jobs we do? Person has to fill in a form before we decide if they’re worth helpin’?" I knew I sounded defensive, but hell, I was defending. I was defending Kate, the case, even the thrice-damned department. And the fact he was making me do so was not improving my mood any. There was a vampire out there killing people, and here I was justifying why I wanted to turn him to dust, to a Vampire Slayer and her Watcher, no less.
Wesley shook his head. "No, of course not. Nobody should judge if someone deserves help. But is futilely combing the city for a solitary vampire really going to help anyone?"
I glanced away. "So our plan of action needs a little refining. ‘Till you guys get a better idea, we comb. Futile or not."
Faith reversed herself fully in the chair, dangling her arms over the back as she faced me. "I got a better idea. How about we let Blondie go and play super-sleuth. If she finds our boy, we go and slay, stakes all round. This Sherlock Holmes shit is getting us nowhere. I signed on to kill and maim things, not interview every horned slime-ball in town until we find something useful."
"Well, gee, Faith, did you read the sign on the door?" I spat sarcastically. "We’re a PI agency. We investigate. That’s pretty integral to the whole concept."
Whatever she was about to say next went unsaid, as the phone on Wesley’s desk rang loudly. Faith grabbed it off the cradle. "Who the hell is it?" she snarled. I was pretty sure I heard the plastic receiver crack as she listened to the response. "Scully calling for ya, Mr Investigator, sir," she said darkly, tossing me the phone.
I pressed the receiver to my ear. "Kate? What is it?"
She sounded only marginally less angry than Faith. "New body. Morgue. You want in on the autopsy?"
"Shit," I said with feeling. "Who was it?"
"Still working on the ID. She looks about mid-teens."
"Oh, great," I said bitterly. "A kid."
Kate’s voice was as harshly sad as my own. "Uh-huh. See you in half-an-hour?"
I nodded, then belatedly realised she couldn’t see me. "I’ll be there."
"Right. And bring me my damn file back while you’re at it."
I listened to the dial tone for a few seconds after she hung up, then followed suit.
"What did she say?" Wesley asked cautiously.
"While we were busy squabblin', they found another body. Teenage girl," I announced coldly.
He sighed, toying with his spindly hands. Faith just sat there, her mouth working like she was chewing on air, staring at nothing in particular.
I glanced at them both, as they sat still like statues, and then scooped up my keys. "Some vampire hunters we are."
You leave a place, and you change. It always happens. It’s part of living, I guess.
You go out and do things, things are done to you, but you always expect the places you’ve left behind to stay the same, just like you remember. You store away little memory-snapshots of everywhere you’ve been, permanent records that will fade, but never alter.
The precinct was so close to my memory that it was shocking.
Some of the faces moving around me were different, but the expressions and emotions that played upon them were all too familiar. Boredom, anger, exhaustion, the same old feelings about the same old crimes and cases.
I nodded to the uniform at the entrance desk as I passed, still staring around me. The twin scents of nicotine and caffeine filled the air of the station house, and the discontented chatter of cops at work enveloped me.
"Doyle," Kate said.
"Uh-huh?" I murmured, still watching the people go past. It was creepy, how familiar it all was, how quickly the little details came back. The paper-crowded desks, the phones that were very seldom allowed to rest in their cradles, the discarded Styrofoam cups of coffee that lay around the chairs of detectives who were pulling all-nighters, and half-a-dozen things I hadn’t even realised I had remembered were all there.
"Um…you have to get one of these before we can go any further," she said awkwardly.
I turned. "What? Oh." I stared dumbly at the small white badge in her hand. A visitor’s badge. "Right. Of course," I said quickly, flushing as I scooped it out of her hands. The clasp didn’t fit properly onto my jacket, so I propped it up in the front pocket of my shirt. "Sorry."
The uniform regarded me with a mix of contempt and amusement. "Okay. Get a move on, this isn’t a stinkin’ tourist attraction."
"Sorry," Kate muttered as we headed for the morgue, my newly-acquired badge flapping against my chest. "Policy and all."
"Nah, no problem," I replied dismissively. "Should’ve remembered it the second I walked in the door. My mistake."
I glanced around a second time, my nostalgia slightly dampened. "So, the ol’ slave pit doesn’t seem to have changed much, huh? Everything still looks like it’s workin’ fine, even without this particular Defender of Truth, Justice an’ whatever the third one was."
"Integrity, " she supplied quietly. "Doesn’t mean you weren’t missed."
Doesn’t mean I was, either. Still, Kate was too polite to bring that up, and the situation was awkward enough as it was.
"Lockley! Hey, Kate!"
"Yeah, Fritz?" Kate asked, glancing towards the shortish guy who’d called out, and who was now struggling to keep pace with us.
"They’re ready for you in the morgue," he said, studiously ignoring me.
"Thanks. I’m on my way."
"Hey, Fritz, how you doin’?" I asked pleasantly. "Wife still givin’ you trouble, or did you ditch that ol’ bat?" Fritz’s marital troubles were a long-running joke around the stationhouse. They’d been separated four times, but she kept on dragging him back in. Fritz swore that one day he was going to take his .38 home and make her sign the divorce papers at gunpoint.
Fritz’s eyes flicked once in my direction and returned to Kate. "Frosty’s waiting on you. You know how cranky he gets if he has to mess up his work schedule."
I got the message. I was an outsider now, a stranger, just another random piece of flotsam on the waves of people who cruise in and out of the LAPD every day.
Funny, that. They say that in the army, you’re always part of a unit, that even years after your duty ends, you have a bond between each other. It’s not like that for the police. Every cop is a solo player, a loner, isolated from his peers. And to this bunch of antisocial misfits, the United States Government issues guns and handcuffs. I never did figure that part out. Most of the cops I knew shouldn’t have been given driver’s licenses, much less gun licenses. But fragmented and erratic as they were, now I didn’t have the badge, I wasn’t one of them anymore.
Not that I’d been Mr Popular while I was still wearing blue, that is.
"Sorry," Kate said a second time, as we started walking again. In fact, ever since we’d got inside the department, her entire demeanour had been slightly apologetic. Like she was apologising to me for the coldness of her co-workers.
Or to them, for bringing me here.
"Nah, no problem."
Passing a few more hostile stares from people I’d worked with for three years, I was starting to get sick of the whole affair. It was not unlike being gently whipped with soft string, and about as irritating.
"Well, what have we here?" an expansive voice asked. The string was replaced by big spiky chains.
"Carlson," I said flatly.
Carlson. Six feet of bad attitude, bad temper and bad habits. And, I remembered with a wince, he’d been pals with Newton, too.
He grinned viciously. "Doyle, haven’t seen ya around for a while. What’re ya doing here?"
"Standin’ in a corridor, old buddy. What’s wrong, your contacts givin’ you trouble again?" I smiled back at him.
Carlson flushed. He always took any reference to his short-sightedness very badly. "You’ve still got a big mouth, Doyle. Maybe you should keep it shut." Sometimes I think Carlson learnt how to speak from bad gangster films.
I patted him on the shoulder. "Good advice, Blinky. Thanks." School ground, I know, but it was fun.
"You should rein your boy in a bit, Kate," he said threateningly. "Looks like he’s forgotten he’s on foreign turf now."
"I’ll be sure to do that," she said easily. "Goggles."
Growing tired of the game, I brushed past him and continued on. I heard Carlson snarl behind me, as menacingly as any vampire, but even he wasn’t stupid enough to let it go any further, not here.
Besides, I could kick his ass, and he knew it.
"You know, I get the impression I’m not exactly welcome here," I remarked to Kate.
"Same old Carlson," she said.
"Big, nasty Rock of Ages," I observed. " But it seems a little more than that. First Fritz in the corridor, and now just about everyone seems to be staring at me like I have big antenna stickin’ out of my forehead. A bit more than just general grumpiness, you know?" We turned down the corridor to the morgue before Kate responded.
"The department wasn’t exactly…happy about letting someone who wasn’t a relative into the morgue to see the bodies. You know how the pencil pushers get."
Especially if the someone in question was me, I added sourly. Still, I couldn’t really blame them. I hadn’t exactly covered myself in glory when I quit the LAPD. And there were still enough nasty rumours about my less-than-normal heritage to ensure my alienation. I was a fool to think a few months would change that.
Kate sighed. "Sor - "
"Don’t even say it."
I once heard an old superstition that if you are in a certain line of work long enough, you start to take on some of the…attributes of the field. So a long-time jockey would look like a horse and a fisherman might have a slightly…scaly skin tone and not blink often. The person telling me this particular fable blushed quite red when I asked him innocently what would happen if someone was a gynaecologist for twenty years, but, boy, would he have gloated had he ever met David ‘Frosty’ Wilson.
To be blunt, had the man crawled out of a grave at three in the morning, I would have staked him without a second thought. He was pale, his skin was waxen and smooth and his fingernails were long enough to put some demons to shame. He’d been the Medical Examiner for longer than I had been a cop, longer than Kate had been a cop, hell, longer than anyone I ever asked in the department had been a cop. But he did have a reflection. I’d checked, just in case.
It hardly required a mental stretch to figure out how Frosty got his nickname. The man looked like he had to chip the ice off his body every morning when he got up. Cops are big on nicknames.
Unsurprisingly, Kate and I had heard every single X-Files joke ever told during our partnership. LA’s Mulder and Scully, they called us. I sometimes wondered which they thought was which.
Frosty was hunched over his latest guest’s neck as we entered the morgue, his long white-gloved fingers gently probing the white skin that nearly matched his own in shade.
Kate cleared her throat.
"If you’re here to fix the air-conditioning, get over to the box at the back right now. The bodies are getting a bit ripe already," he said without looking up.
I sniffed the air. "They are smellin’ a bit strong, aren’t they?" At first I’d thought it was me, but the smell was different from Malagar’s distinctive odour. Which isn’t to say it was anymore pleasant.
Frosty looked up, his stretchy features pulling themselves into a smile. "Detective Doyle! And Detective Lockley! How perfectly lovely to see you!" He rushed across and pressed my hand into his own chilly ones.
I fought the urge to snatch it back. "Uh, hey, Frosty. And it’s just Doyle now, remember."
"Oh, of course, so sorry," he said regretfully. "Yes, that was a distressing incident, wasn’t it? Such a shame, I thought, when you left us."
What a surprise. For the first time in months I had returned to my former workplace of three years, to people who I had worked and sometimes even fought beside, and the only one who was pleased to see me was the weirdo mortician.
"So, Frosty," Kate said firmly, breaking up our little reunion and thankfully causing Frosty to drop my hand, "I hear you have news for us."
"Oh, yes, of course," he said, skittering back towards his desk. "I do hope you don’t mind if I eat in front of you, but it’s my lunch break," he said, busily unwrapping some kind of cold meat sandwich as he talked. The meat between the slices of bread looked only marginally more appetising than the body on the slab.
"The dead person?" I hinted. "Helpful clues?"
"Right. She was killed approximately three hours before discovery, I place it." Three hours. That would have put the murder just after sunset. "Cause of death - "
"Blood loss," Kate cut in. "Get to something we don’t know."
"Actually," Frosty said pointedly, "it wasn’t. There was blood loss, true, but not enough to kill. Her neck was broken, too, probably when the killer realised she might survive the bleeding."
I felt my gut twist. Much of the time vampires didn’t need to kill to get enough blood to survive. It was just fun if their victims died. "Anythin’ else? Maybe a little name tag on her toe so we can figure out who just died for no good reason?" I asked bitterly.
"I’m afraid not," Frosty said with some asperity. "I’m sending off the bite marks for dental records, we’ll have to wait and see."
"Dental records?" I asked incredulously. It wasn’t like vampires needed a filling or two after a few too many jelly doughnuts, so what the hell was Frosty playing at? I wasn’t sure if he knew about the undead, but he had to have seen enough bodies to recognise a supernatural death when he saw one, and to know the regular tricks wouldn’t work.
"Why, yes," he said with some confusion, biting into the revolting sandwich.
I pulled the white cloth away from the woman’s neck, refusing to look at her face. Instead of the neat puncture wounds I was expecting, there were rows and rows of shallow indentations, all of them in shallow semi-circles, like bloody furrows in a field of white. Not like vampire teeth at all.
But I recognised the bite marks none the less. Frosty’s putrid sandwich bore similar ones.
"Human teeth," I said disbelievingly.
"What? You’ve got to be kidding me." Kate pushed past me and took a long, hard look at the woman’s neck. "God. I just skimmed the coroner’s report and assumed…" her voice died away.
Human teeth. Which meant whatever - whoever - had killed this woman had gnawed away at her throat until he broke skin and then killed her when his blunt teeth wouldn’t do the job properly.
We weren’t looking for a vampire, after all. We were looking for an ordinary human being, with a soul and conscience.
God, I hate police work.
"There must be better ways to earn a living," Kate remarked, a slightly self-conscious laugh in her voice, as she tucked in to the culinary creation on the plate in front of her, where salmon and creamy sauce had been arranged in a delicate, elegant design that her fork shoved aside with disregard. "I don't even want to try figure out what percentage of my salary this meal is eating up."
"There must be less expensive restaurants in LA," I shot back, knowing money was the very last reason she had for doing what she did.
"It's a night out. Eat. Enjoy. For tomorrow we eat take-out." She gestured emphatically with her fork, and said with some sarcasm, "Is something wrong with your food?"
"Nothin'. It's fine. Great. There's not a huge amount of it, granted, and I can't fathom why they felt the need to create a master-class sculpture with the vegetables, but..."
Kate smiled. "Doyle, you wouldn't have issues with these surroundings, would you now? I could also mention that if you'd made an effort to dress a little more, uh, formally, perhaps the waiters wouldn't keep watching you so closely." She flicked her head illustratively in the direction of the nearest, who turned away hurriedly. With the movement, a wing of blond hair swept back from her face to reveal the curve of her cheek and the bare skin of her neck.
I turned my eyes down to my plate, conscious of how I'd been noticing how good she looked in that low-cut top and that she was far from unaware of it - and her choice of dress for this evening couldn't be an accident. I felt a stab of guilt. The last and only other time I'd been in a place like this, it had been with Harry, upon our engagement. Come to think of it, Harry's comments over that meal hadn't been too far different from Kate's.
"Hey. Staring off into the distance with that mildly constipated expression on your face is not the way to enjoy our expensive romantic dinner," Kate said, snapping her fingers in front of my nose, beginning to get irritable. "Surely it isn't too much of a chore to eat a nice dinner, especially when it barely consists of enough to feed mice?"
I stared at her blankly, as my mind took in what she'd just said. Romantic. She'd said romantic.
And, okay, she'd said it with an edge of biting sarcasm, but all the same...
I was going to have to tell her sometime soon, wasn't I?
The mere thought of it made me feel ill and closed my throat against any chance of speech.
Even after over a month, I still hadn't worked out how to tell her I wasn't even human - or even if I should. I mean, how do you work a conversation around to "Hey, by the way I'm a demon, I hope you're okay with that"?
The general consensus among the guys at the station seemed to be that weird Detective Lockley had found herself a similarly weird soulmate, and the way most of them treated me now wasn't a whole lot different to the way they'd treated Kate in the beginning. Weird Officer Doyle. Yeah. It was almost funny, from a certain angle. If only they knew how...
I was still trying to figure out how to answer Kate when her cell-phone rang. Cursing, she picked it up from where she'd placed it beside her plate, work as ever kept close to hand. "Lockley," she acknowledged, with irritation. A tinny voice squawked at her for a few seconds. "Right. We're on our way."
She lowered the phone and stabbed the keypad with an aggressive finger to end the call. "Come on, you've been reprieved. We have to be elsewhere." She hurriedly returned to her plate to shovel the last few forkfuls into her mouth, and cast a sour glance at what was left on my plate. "Next time, it's the hotdog van," she promised darkly.
"If you say so." I tried to force my mind back to police work. "What was the call about?" I asked as she ushered me out to the car. Her mouth had thinned into a worried line, and there was something in her urgency which was starting to make me suspect this was important. Surely it couldn't finally be...
"They've got them," she said.
"Got? Them?" The gang of cop-killing vamps had eluded capture for months now, their killing spree continuing to cut down the ranks of the LAPD. It had begun to look like they would never be stopped.
"In a manner of speaking. Their latest victim managed to get a call out before the attack, thought he was being followed - the team that were sent out managed to catch them with the body. Chased them, but they took refuge in a warehouse with civilian hostages."
"Who -?" I began, my mouth dry.
"Alan Bain. Sergeant. You didn't know him." Her fist thudded into the steering wheel violently. After a moment breathing slowly to collect her composure, she started up the engine.
She said, with quiet venom, "It's way past time these bastards got their due."
The scene that greeted us was pretty chaotic. We pushed our way through the huddle of curious spectators which a uniform was trying without much success to usher away, the painfully bright flashing lights forcing me to snatch glimpses of the world through blinks. On the other side of the crowds, an officer stood staring grimly at the frontage of the modern warehouse building. He was looking worried and he fingered a radio in one hand.
"What's going on?" Kate asked crisply.
His expression shrugged, the concern there intensifying. "Cobin and Reilly went in. I wish they hadn't. It's been too long."
Kate and I exchanged glances. They had no idea just what they were dealing with in there. Somehow, I doubted Cobin and Reilly would be coming out.
"How many?" Kate rapped.
"Four, we think."
"Just knives. Frickin' meat-cleaver blades, but just knives. No range weapons, no guns. They've threatened the civilians inside the building, but if you ask me anyone that was in there was dead already. These shits have got no qualms about killing, and they don't seem to care too much about the consequences."
A few more similarly clipped questions brought us up to date.
"Right." Kate drew and checked her gun. "We're going in."
The harried officer began to stammer a protest, but stopped when he saw the expression on Kate's face, and just looked resigned. It didn't stop him from voicing the quiet statement, "These sick bastards, they get a real kick out of killing cops. I can't help feeling we're giving them just the excitement they want."
"Don't write us off just yet, man," I said. It came out a lot more confident than I felt, and he still looked unconvinced at that.
"Give us half an hour," Kate instructed. "After that... hell, I'd say nuke the place, but I don't see you getting approval for that."
The officer gave a derisive snort in reply to the sarcasm. "You're both mad."
"That would seem the general consensus of the department, yes," Kate agreed. She looked to me. "Ready?"
I swallowed. This was the big one... Mind you, if I got killed tonight it was probably past time, really. "Sure. I guess we'll need to get the, uh, special gear from the car."
"The 'riot' gear," she agreed.
The officer watched us with suspicious incomprehension as we retrieved the real tools of our trade from the trunk of Kate's car - although the stakes, crosses and Holy Water were packed into a discreet bag and he could not possibly see what was within.
There was no doubt the warehouse was occupied and in full working order - no abandoned shell, this. It wasn't just the well-kept machinery and well-swept floors that suggested it, because it had even been well night-patrolled. The two bodies dressed in security uniforms that we came across in the worker's lounge off the foyer after we'd snuck in through the side entrance testified to that. For this size building, I imagined they wouldn't be the only ones in the firing line. If these guys had been on their break as the abandoned coffee cups - their contents dashed across the floor alongside the still forms - would seem to indicate, then there'd probably be one or two more somewhere.
Maybe they were even still alive.
There was also no doubt in my mind upon seeing those dead men that this was indeed the gang we'd been chasing for so long. These hadn't been bitten and they hadn't been mutilated; probably the vamps hadn't been able to spare the time. But the neat, ugly slashes across - almost through - both chests were drawn by the same kind of cleaving blade that had done so much damage elsewhere, a sight which had become far too familiar.
Kate knelt down beside a body and gripped a wrist. I knew she wasn't looking for a pulse, because both men were obviously way beyond help. "Still slightly warm. They haven't been dead long." She extended her fingers and gently closed two pairs of staring eyes without flinching.
She stood, wiping her hands off on her thighs and drawing her gun again, and we ventured further into the building.
The rooms which greeted us were all very much the same, vast areas of storage and loading space, packed with crates in neat aisles. The occasional hazardous looking heavy-lifting vehicle slept in a corner.
"This could take all night," I said, after we'd quartered the second such maze of stacked wooden boxes and moved on up an elevator and out into a corridor which led to two further rooms.
"You want to split up?" she looked doubtful and to be honest I shared the sentiment, but after a moment, chewing her lip thoughtfully, she nodded. "You're right. We gave the guys outside half an hour, and we really don't need to have to explain what's in here to the department at large." She looked at her watch, then pointed to the doors in turn, "You do that one, I'll do this. Reconnaissance only. Five minutes, then back here. Right?"
I nodded. "No lone heroics - check."
"You better believe it." Gun in one hand, stake in the other, she disappeared through the doorway into her room. After a moment's hesitation, I cautiously stepped across the threshold into mine.
I knew when I stumbled across the body of a third security guard that I was on the right track. I probably should've gone back, then, to get Kate - but I continued on, wanting to be sure.
I heard them before I saw them; the long aisle of stacked crates I was walking down effectively blocked me off from the rest of the room. With the sounds of laughter ringing in my ears, and holding tightly onto a stake, I approached the end of the aisle and cautiously peered around the corner into the open space where the noises were coming from.
There were four vamps, and they were clustered near what looked like some kind of foreman's office station at the edge of the room. On the corner of an almost-empty desk squatted the phone they'd used to ring out to the police. The exterior wall was across at the other side of them, and had windows looking out to the front of the building, although their black blinds were drawn firmly down. Not that it would have done any police shooters much good if they hadn't been. Only one of the vamps was making any effort to guard off further police interference; he was crouched near the window, occasionally peering through a crack at the edge of the blind - in between watching what the other three were doing to the unfortunate Cobin and Reilly.
I flinched as a blade flashed, and blood splattered as the guy who was still standing - Reilly, I thought, although I only knew both men very distantly - nearly lost an arm.
The vamps snickered as he tried to hold his shoulder together with his other hand, staggering and finally falling down to his knees.
The floor over there, upon which his partner already lay unmoving, was red and sopping. The red splashed up as the vamp holding the blade stepped forward, his foot coming down forcefully. The two men, the injured one and the one who might very well be dead, were covered in shallow - and a few more not-so-shallow - scratches. Cobin was lying face-down, and I couldn't guess at what damage might be hidden from my sight.
"This is getting dull," another of the vamps snarled, picking up a twin to the blade his fellow held. "Let's finish them."
"Not yet." The one who'd been inflicting the damage, presumably their leader, sneered down at the two bleeding cops in disgust. "They haven't suffered enough yet."
All four of the vamps were youngish men, or rather had been at some point, and they wore gang colours and other identifying paraphernalia. I guessed I understood now what they were about. These were the kind of people who'd probably been at odds with the cops all their lives. Now, some idiot vamp had turned them and given them inhuman strength and immortality, not to mention no conscience to speak of and no more need to fear human law enforcers or their guns.
I was willing to bet the vamp community - if you could indeed suppose there was such a thing - would be considerably less than happy with these four if they'd learned about them. Discretion was important, when your immortality depended on people not believing and not knowing how to kill you. There were a lot more humans in the world than vamps, after all, and indiscrete mass murder was far from wise. These vamps had overstepped the line.
The blade descended again in another shallow arc even as I watched. I shook myself as Reilly gave a choked-out cry and tried to cross his arms over to stem the blood flow from both the near-matching wounds in his shoulders.
I had to do something. If I went back to fetch Kate, it would probably be already too late by the time we both returned.
Remembering something I'd seen on my way across the room, I quietly backed off and retraced my steps.
It was there as I remembered. I climbed into the driver's cab and twisted the key I found there to start the engine. I urged the fork-lift forward as fast as I could make it go, steering clumsily through my unfamiliarity with the controls.
It was going pretty fast as I emerged into the space at the end of the stacked crates, clipping the edge of the stacks and spilling their contents as I turned around the corner. The vamps had inevitably heard it before then, and their tight grouping had dispersed slightly as they looked around in confusion for the source of all the commotion.
The lead vamp was standing over the two cops, so I swung the vehicle aside, aiming for the other three who were a safer distance from their victims.
One leaped aside and I didn't think I'd done more than clip him, causing little if any damage. Another caught the full force of the vehicle right in the face, and the collision at speed flung him back across the room to crush several empty crates in a violent landing. The remaining vamp got skewered through the chest by one of the prongs of the half-raised lifting gear on the front of the vehicle, and such was the force behind the impact that he was left dangling, his face inches from mine on the other side of the window with several feet of blood-stained metal protruding out from his back.
He jerked and thrashed, but seemed to be stuck tight. It wouldn't kill him, of course - the prongs were metal, not wood - but man, that'd gotta hurt.
I shut down the engine, feeling sick and also rather hyper from the adrenaline. The face inches from my own growled and twisted in pain and fury. An arm came up and bashed through the window, reaching for me, and I ducked as glass splinters scraped furrows in the skin of my face. In the same motion I was already kicking the door open and sliding out of the cabin.
A broad, flat blade nearly took my head off. The vamp I'd clipped had been waiting for me.
I yelped and brought up an arm to fend off another strike, fumbling in my jacket for the stake I'd had to put away in order to drive. It caught on the lining; fabric ripped but didn't give when I tugged harder.
I hoped the two I'd incapacitated would stay out of the action a while. And that the leader, blocked from my view at present by the bulk of the lifting vehicle, wasn't even now finishing off Cobin and Reilly before I could get to him.
That thought gave me an extra burst of strength and purpose. I shot a punch into the vamp's twisted face, hard as I could. He snarled and the blade whipped back around, scoring a narrow, stinging slash across my ribs as I desperately breathed in.
I didn't have the time for this. I finally dragged the stake out of my jacket and rammed it forward with clumsy desperation. I almost got myself skewered on the knife and avoided it only by chance because my foot skidded on the floor, changing the position of my midriff enough that the blade slid past my ribs again, this time just scoring on my jacket. But my loss of balance only added to the force behind my original thrust. As the stake hit its target, the resistance of undead flesh vanished and my hand burst out from the other side of a cloud of dust.
My momentum pulled me over and I fell to the floor on hands and knees. My hand landed practically on the handle of the dusted vamp's knife and I tightened my fingers around it.
A sound caught my attention, my gaze darting up to see the lead vamp had rounded the back of the fork-lift. He cast a disgusted glance at his skewered fellow, who was just easing himself off the last foot or so of the thick metal spike. Over by the pile of wrecked crates, I could see a hand scrabbling to emerge from the rubble.
The odds were about to get impossible.
I shot unsteadily to my feet. Blood was seeping through the cut on my ribs, soaking into my shirt. I hadn't initially thought it a deep cut, but... well, those blades were made to do some serious damage.
Holding that thought, I swung back the cleaver I held, cutting clean through the neck of the skewered and currently still defenceless vamp. Dust showered over my arm and shoulder as I spun back around to face the lead vamp.
A double-fisted blow to the face sent me flying backwards even as I completed the turn and realised I'd cut it too fine.
The metal of the lifting prong clipped my head as I passed it, and I lost consciousness for an instant.
Then I was several yards further across the room, sprawled on my back. I could feel dampness soaking into my clothes, and after a moment of panic I realised I was lying at the edge of Cobin and Reilly's steadily pooling blood.
I struggled up onto one elbow, looking to see what the vamps were doing. They obviously thought me safely out of the action for the time being, because they weren't paying me any attention at all. The leader was currently engaged in dragging his sole remaining ally out of the mess of mangled crates.
"Doyle...?" a weak voice choked out from behind me - the question in it probably largely due to the fact he wasn't entirely certain that was my name, not knowing me any better than I knew him.
I looked around and found Reilly's agony-filled eyes fixed upon me. He was deathly pale from blood loss, and clearly needed medical help urgently.
"Yeah?" I said. My head ached. I tried to keep one eye on the remaining vamps.
"They ain't human," he rasped.
"They still die," I said, resisting a giddy impulse to say neither was I. "Hang on there, man. Help's on the way."
But his eyes had closed. He'd slipped into unconsciousness again. I hoped he wasn't dying, and tried to figure out with my not-currently-too-clever brain how much of thirty minutes had passed. And surely it must have been over five, now, since I'd parted company from Kate? Where was she?
Probably swearing about me and my curiosity, back where we'd been supposed to meet, I thought sickly.
The remaining two vampires were approaching, their steps quickening as they saw I was conscious. I dragged myself to my feet with some effort, preparing to fight again. They looked mad and, yes, they were both wielding those big scary butcher's knives.
I'd lost the stake and the knife I'd picked up, although I still had my gun, for all the use that was against these particular criminals.
"Gonna arrest us?" The vamp, whose clothing was peppered and pierced with splinters off the wooden crates, obviously wasn't feeling very forgiving. He waved the knife around menacingly, seeming to enjoy the way my eyes followed it.
"Wasn't plannin' on it, no," I said, drawing my gun and aiming at him, starting to press down on the trigger.
He was already lunging forward when I fired, and he only snarled angrily when the bullet sank into his stomach. He continued to swing the knife around and I had to flinch back to avoid being cut. A kick took the gun out of my hand and sent it sailing across the room as I made a somewhat undignified landing, the blood on the floor splashing up around me. I was pretty much drenched red all over by that point.
I dizzily hoped that the sound of gunfire would bring Kate running. Some backup would be nice round about now.
"Officer Doyle, yeah?" I blinked in surprise at the recognition as the lead vamp stepped forward to join his buddy looming over me, toying with his knife. It occurred to me with a chill dread that the position I was in now wasn't far from poor old Reilly's situation when I'd first arrived. "Yeah, we know who you are. You probably know we take an interest in those assigned to take us down. Wouldn't have been long before we decided to take a more detailed interest in you, anyhow. You and that bitch Lockley. Not that you've even come close to us, these past months."
"Really? Cause it looks like I kicked your pals' butts good enough," I snapped, probably unwisely.
I twisted away from the brutal kick that would've shattered bone if it had landed, my hands splashing down in the blood as I flipped to my feet. The other vamp was just finishing the backswing of a slash with the knife I hadn't even seen, but of all the dumb luck it too had missed when I moved.
The lead vamp was sniffing the air suspiciously. He squinted at me. "Strange. You don't smell like a human."
"You don't say." I let the demon surface even as I threw my next punch, hitting him square between the eyes with all the force of the demon's unnatural strength. He staggered back against the side of the lifting vehicle.
The other vamp blocked me before I could press the advantage, and I grappled with him. Getting caught up in close-quarters combat wasn't the best of ideas - he was larger and stronger than I was and I wasn't a practised enough fighter to compensate for it. My arms strained as he twisted them in his grasp, and I did my best to return the favour.
"Demon cops." The leader was getting up, spitting blood and shaking himself, but looking amused all the same. "What will they think of next? Vampire detectives?" He snorted. "What in Hell are you, anyway? I ain't never seen anything like your spiky ass before."
I wasn't about to tell them I wasn't even certain. I shot a kick backwards to keep him away, preoccupied trying to prevent the other from ripping my arms from their sockets. I had a mounting feeling of dread, because I didn't think I could take both these guys in a straight fight.
He grabbed my foot and twisted, in a move that ripped me away from his buddy and practically flung me up into the air. Spinning away from the vamps, I only just managed to control my descent and reclaim my balance to land safely, a few yards from them, facing them both.
"Didn't your demon-momma ever tell you you're s'posed to be evil?" he continued, sneering.
I never did get to answer him because right then the familiar voice snapped out, "Don't move. You're under arrest."
Kate was standing by the aisle of stacked crates I'd originally approached from, her gun levelled steadily, but all the same something in her gaze was slightly freaked. The lead vamp predictably ignored her, hefting the knife, and she shrugged and forced a smile. "All right, then. Suit yourself." She opened fire, cutting him down first with the resulting barrage of bullets. I saw her hand reach inside her jacket for the stake she intended to surprise them with.
She was firing somewhat wildly, I noticed with alarm as a line of bullets mowed down the second vamp. If she wasn't careful she was gonna hit me.
Then, it occurred to me which form I was wearing at the moment - and that she wasn't trying not to.
My automatic response was to make the switch back to human immediately. Which was a bad idea, because the bullets had already been fired. I felt them cut through my human shoulder and back an instant after.
Kate's choked gasp of horrified astonishment sounded even as I fell. "Doyle?" she yelled, desperate disbelief in her voice. "I didn't - Doyle! What the hell...?"
I couldn't answer. Too busy being in pain. But she was cut off anyway, her attention diverted. Her distraction had cost her the advantage of surprise against the two vampires. The leader, first to recover, hurled himself at her, snarling and bloody. She stood frozen with the stake slackly grasped in full view, her arm dangling unprepared at her side.
She brought the stake up too slowly to be holding it in any position to strike as the vamp barrelled into her. His weight knocked her backwards, and they both fell to the floor, rolling out of my line of sight.
I lay on my back on the floor, feeling numbed by how quickly everything had changed. Even if we survived, things would never be the same.
I'd always known I couldn't get away with not telling her. Not someone whom I worked with so closely. She'd have found out inevitably. I'd just delayed in telling it because I'd never known how to do so, and now I'd lost irrevocably the chance to do it properly, on my own terms, and do it well.
I heard Kate grunt in pain, a reminder for my hazy brain that we first had to live through this before we could start thinking about the consequences of the rest.
My blood was flowing freely from the holes in my skin to expand the pool on the floor yet further, but I didn't want to think too much about that.
If I changed back to the demon, it might lend me the strength to fight on. But even if I could find the energy to make the switch to my other form... I couldn't bring myself to do it, not with Kate there. And as a human, it was all I could do to roll over so I could see what was happening more clearly.
Pushing myself up onto one elbow involuntarily drew a gasp from me as something shifted, setting alight a line of pain right through my shoulder. I managed to drag myself forward all of an inch before it became unbearable.
Helplessly, I sank back and watched Kate throw the lead vamp away from her, adding a savage kick to his belly which propelled him several feet across the room, only to be dragged to her knees as the other vamp launched himself at her and landed with all his weight crushing down on her shoulders, bearing her down. The knife in his hand cut into her arm more by accident that design and she yelled as it drew blood.
Her elbow thrust back brutally, twice, the first blow winding her opponent and the second swipe knocking his grip loose and pushing him aside. She scrabbled on hands and knees for a moment, and I shouted a warning as I saw both vamps were getting to their feet, coming back for more.
She looked over to me for the briefest of instants, her eyes just visible through the straggle of blond hair mussed by the fight. Then she shoved off the floor, coming to her feet, and I saw what she'd been scrabbling around for.
Her hand was clenched around a fragment of one of the broken crates. It was rather too large and too blunt to make a particularly effective stake, but evidently it was the best there was to hand.
The lead vampire stepped forward with the meat cleaver raised, and she jabbed the improvised stake forward. I could see from where I was that the thrust wasn't nearly powerful enough to force that chunk of wood through flesh - but it was a feint. She slapped the wood aside before it even reached his chest. The broad, flat edge of it hit his hand and sent the knife sailing through the air. It clinked in protest as it hit the wall then clattered to the floor behind the foreman's desk.
Her next thrust bunched every ounce of her strength behind it as she gripped the wood in both arms and drove it forward.
Kate spun around, her face stretched into a snarl to match her remaining opponent's, and the other vamp paused, his knife raised. He backed away slightly.
I didn't blame him. She was looking downright dangerous.
For a moment my doubts and worries dissipated. She'd been killing these things for longer than I had, and she was still a better fighter than I was, demon or no. But then the vamp charged forward again, and I realised his hesitation had been a ruse.
She'd known that, and he didn't catch her unprepared. But he was stronger than she'd allowed for, and the blade slammed straight through the piece of wood which she raised to block the blow, splintering it into two and bursting out the other side to sink into her flesh.
I screamed her name, and only realised afterwards that I'd done it.
She gaped and collapsed, her body curling over around her stomach, her legs failing. Even as she started to fall, her arm shot up and clutched the vamp's neck, her fingers fastening tightly, that grip the only thing which kept her on her feet.
The movement of her body had ripped the knife from the vampire's hand, and it clattered to the ground between their feet a second later. My eyes fixed upon the new blood dulling the polished metal of the blade.
The vamp, unconcerned, fastened a hand around her wrist, not trying to shift her grip but holding her in place. He punched his other hand forward low, aiming for the wound. She gasped in pain as it connected, and he brought his bloody fingers to his mouth to lick her blood from them.
The sight of her face twisting in agony while the grinning vamp fed on her was all I needed. It was more instinct than intention that brought the change flooding through me with screaming pain. It brought me lurching to my feet, the movement tearing at the bullet wounds, and carried me the half dozen yards to the combatants. I had enough energy to rip the vamp away from Kate with a drunken, clumsy lunge before my legs gave out. I fell on top of him and tried my best to pin him down.
I heard Kate gasp behind me. The split-second glimpse I caught of her showed her fallen to her knees, one arm held over her side. She was reaching for something on the ground. Then, my attention was back to my own fight as the vampire struggled to throw my weight off. A punch to my face left me seeing stars with my demon form melting traitorously away. Human again, I slumped weakly, and the vamp had no hard task at all to shove me aside.
I rolled, my vision blurring. The room spun once, the floor passing in front of my eyes, before my gaze was back upon the vamp who lay sprawled on the floor.
Just in time to see the knife fall, and part his head from his shoulders.
Kate looked at me over the falling dust. She straightened slightly, although she did not get to her feet. I could see now that the wound wasn't so serious as I had feared. The knife's force must have been cushioned by the wood. But even so, that long, shallow cut must hurt like hell.
She hesitated before coming to my side, crawling slowly, easing her body along on hands and knees, wincing at the movement. Her hands flapped helplessly as she rested next to me, her instinct clearly to help, but just as clearly not wanting to touch. Revulsion in her face. Her jaw dropped, making the journey it had never had chance to complete earlier. Agony and guilt in her expression. "You're... what are you?" My mind flashed up the image of a different face contorted in pain, and the time I'd heard those words before. "You're... not one of them."
"There are... other things," I said with difficulty. "Not all of them evil."
"God!" There were moist streaks beginning to trail down from her eyes. "You're not human! Why didn't you tell me you weren't human?"
"I'm... half..." I expelled the word with more force than I'd intended.
She laughed, a thin, high-pitched sound, and there was hysteria there, and pain. She didn't seem to have even registered my protest. Maybe it didn't mean anything to her. Maybe it didn't make any difference. Anything we'd built these last few months was now firmly over.
I sighed and concentrated on breathing and trying to stay conscious, dimly aware that I'd lost far too much blood.
Still choking a few stifled coughs of laughter, Kate brought her radio out, and in quavering tones she called in backup to come and scrape us both up.
The lights in the private side-ward that I'd been installed in felt too bright for my eyes and so I kept them closed, mostly, shutting out the view of the stark, white painted walls and the empty room. The lack of 'get well' cards adorning the table beside the bed illustrated exactly the number of people in the world who would have cared if I hadn't pulled through.
Nobody, any more.
I had spent most of the two days since regaining consciousness in that hospital bed trying not to stare at the blankness of that little room. My distractions had been limited. There had been the visits of the Doctors and nurses on their rounds - and the unwanted distraction of desperately trying to field their surprised enquiries about my faster-than-could-be-expected recovery. It occurred to me that if I was ever really seriously hurt, hospital tests might reveal what I was to the scientific and medical world at large and land me in a lab somewhere. Once that thought had taken root, I spent most of the time praying not to sneeze.
The police had also been allowed in briefly, early that morning, to ask questions and explain finally in full what was going on. That had been a weight off my mind, since I'd only previously heard the fragments of information the hospital staff knew.
Among other things, I knew now that Cobin was dead - he'd been dead when the back-up Kate had called in arrived, and there was no way of knowing whether he'd been dead from the start, from when I'd first come across the gang in the warehouse and seen his body sprawled on the ground. Reilly, though, was going to pull through, which was something of a comfort to know.
Kate was in a ward just down the corridor, and well enough to be griping about every moment spent confined to a bed instead of doing police work, apparently giving the hospital staff hell.
I wondered what Kate would do with the knowledge she now had. I couldn't see us continuing to work together, day after day, but nor could I see her getting me canned from the force on account of my being a demon.
Maybe now would be the best time to quietly quit, and go independent. I hadn't learned all that I'd wanted to, but I had some things to take away with me, some skills that might keep me alive for a while longer, fighting this fight. It might be best to go while I was a hero, and before things turned sour.
It was funny that for all there had been no bodies to be found, people had taken it as given that the cop-killers were destroyed. We'd answered no questions on the issue - hadn't been in any state to - but we didn't have to say anything. It had simply been accepted.
People were starting to believe. Maybe they weren't sure what of, precisely, but they were starting to realise there was something.
It was drawing into late evening on the second day I'd been in there - at least according to the clock on the wall which I hoped was correct - and visiting hours had long since finished, when the door of my room finally pushed quietly open.
The figure who cautiously entered wearing a white dressing gown draped loosely around her, the bulk of bandaging pushing the material slightly out of shape around her middle, was the last person I'd expected to see.
She still moved gingerly. She didn't speak, only caught my eye for a second and then looked away again and, thus avoiding my gaze, took a few steps forward and slowly lowered herself down to perch on the end of my bed.
"Hey," said Kate, awkwardly.
"And you." I was confused, and unsure how to react, nursing mixed feelings about what was left of our relationship. On top of the closeness which I'd felt to her not forty-eight hours before, there was now piled so much other complicating baggage. I was in pain, and annoyed because that was down to her, but I was also stingingly, guiltily aware that I had almost gotten her killed by not telling her the truth about myself, and it was I who was ultimately responsible for what had happened, not Kate.
"So. You're a demon, then," she drawled - her gaze, finally ceasing to avoid me, captured and pinned my own. "What's that like?" The sharp edge of her sarcasm was unmistakeable. I winced, and knew I deserved it.
"Pretty new, actually, if you'll believe me," I answered. "I didn't know, not until Harry -"
"Ah, yes. How you survived," she concluded, cutting me off. "Your blood didn't do anything for them, right?"
"Right... no." My hand went to my neck, where the marks had almost faded. There had been too many half truths told about things already. It was time to dispense with them once and for all. "This happened later, but yeah, that's the general gist."
Kate nodded, her expression unreadable. "The rest, though, that was all true? The dead wife, the mission against vampires, the visions?" It was almost more a statement than a question. I nodded. "And you're not evil?"
"No, I'm not evil, Kate," I sighed. "Just real, real dumb. I should have told you about that along with the rest. But I didn't know how. I'm sorry. Are you all right?"
She grimaced. "I'll live. You too, I've seen the doctors' reports. Remarkable recovery rate, apparently. Shucks. Who'd know, huh?" She fell silent for a few seconds, and then said, more subdued, "I guess I should apologise for shooting you."
"You shot a demon. It's not your fault I didn't tell you enough to know the demon happened to be me."
"I know. I'm still sorry. Doyle, you almost died. Your little guilty secret almost killed you. Not only that, but it almost caused me to kill you. And if I had..." Her face was drawn, and I didn't want to think about what I'd nearly done to her. She had enough to contend with, without adding guilt to the list.
"We wouldn't be having this conversation?" I finished lightly.
She snorted. "Is that all, then?" she asked. "No more secrets?"
"No more secrets."
"Because I might not be so forgiving next time," she said. "Against my better judgement, I might add."
I'd hardly dared hope. My surprise must have been all too obvious, because she relented her anger and shifted a little closer to me on the bed, reaching out and putting her hand over mine where it lay on top of the sheets.
"I've been thinking about this," she said. "For two days, I've been lying in that bed thinking about nothing else. And whatever you might be, I know you. When I first saw that demon, I fired blindly. But even wearing that face, you intervened to save my life, and I knew that was my partner and the... spikes-" she wrinkled her nose "- didn't change that.
"I can't say I would've been able to accept you if I'd know from the start, I don't know that. I resent the fact you lied to me, but I can't say you didn't have your reasons. I know how I felt when I saw - but that's not the point. It happened this way, not any other way, and I don't see any reason why we should let it stop us from continuing to work together.
"I don't see any reason why we should let it stop us from staying... friends."
But - hearing the slight emphasis in her voice, looking into her eyes and seeing the faintest hint of revulsion that remained - I knew that was all, now, we would ever be.
"A... human," Wesley repeated slowly. Something about his voice on the other end of the phone sounded odd, but I wasn't sure if it was just a dodgy connection.
I was leaning against the wall in the police station corridor with the phone hugged to my ear, trying to keep my voice down so that nobody passing would hear me bring yet another outsider in on the case. I was already receiving enough chilly stares as it was.
"Yeah. Pretty bloody unbelievable, huh? Some sick bastard. Anyway, the mortician got some of the other older bodies brought out again - not a smell you wanna experience, let me tell you - an' we got them checked over once more. Turns out, this guy doing the vamp impersonation had been makin' the bite marks with some kind of surgical knife. He must have actually drank at least some of the blood after the incision was made, they found the traces from his saliva on the wounds. Another look at the scene reports does show these bodies were found with a whole lot more blood around them then your usual vampire kill. Kate had just taken it to mean that her vamp was a particularly messy eater. Most of the cops here are used to getting these DBEs with no explanation or conviction ever likely, and these looked too much like more of the same to get examined too closely."
The slightly sickened cough from the other end of the line told me that was probably more information than Wesley particularly wanted to hear. "DBEs?" he asked faintly.
"Deaths By Exsanguination. Anyway," I continued. "This guy who's doing this has gotta be some kind of a nut job. We're workin' on the basis he's seriously wantin' to be a vamp, fantasizes about it, wants to act it out. This time around, with this latest kill, the guy's pushin' his delusion to the next stage. He actually thinks he's really a vamp. Thinks his teeth'll do the job for him, without his tools. Thinks wrong, obviously, and gets his fantasy shattered big-time. Goes wild and kills the gal by the most convenient method handy, a quick snap of the neck."
"Doyle, this changes things. I don't know that this is our kind of case any more. I mean, it's hardly demonic..." Wesley began.
I took a breath and ran on, talking over him. I wasn't sure how long I had before somebody wanted to use the phone. "Anyway, the upshot of this is that, yeah, we got DNA traces and we can nab this guy, eventually, and book him official-like - but that takes time, and that means he might kill again before we can get him. Now, I was wonderin' if maybe we might be able to do that just a bit more quickly with some of your expertise with the spellbook... ack!"
I broke off as the familiar pain stabbed down through the centre of my skull. The vision slammed my head back against the wall and the phone slipped from my hands. I was minimally aware of Wesley's voice, ridiculously small and high and tinny, shouting through the line, "Doyle? Doyle! What's happening? Are you all right?"
Then I wasn't aware of anything but the dark street, and the demon that slid around in the shadows there, its form an indistinct, bulky silhouette. Close up on the creature's big, drool-dripping, yellowed teeth - the PTB have a dramatic flair, I guess, at least they seem to let it loose on my brain often enough - before flashing up the street name painted directly onto the brickwork on the corner of the warehouse where it laired.
I came out of the vision to find myself twisted up against the wall, with the phone set that was fitted into the plaster digging into my back, supporting a lot of my weight. I slid down the wall to sit on the floor, even as Kate turned around the end of the corridor, saw me, and started running.
The receiver was dangling down, rocking on its cord and bumping against my shoulder, Wesley's voice still yelling from it. I reached out with a shaking hand and caught it on the second try, my co-ordination in pieces. "Yeah?" I said numbly. Kate drew to a halt a few feet away and I held up a hand to stall her response while I cleared things up with Wesley.
"Oh, thank goodness," Wesley said. "I thought something had happened. Erm... what did happen?"
"Vision." I tried to steady my voice. "Some creature that's set up home in a warehouse downtown. Didn't see much of it. What I did see looked big and nasty." I took a breath, and felt recovered enough to pull myself to my feet, leaning against the wall. "We need to figure out what this thing is, and how to kill it. I'll come back and see if I can ID it from the books -"
"Doyle," Kate protested, waving a sheath of papers at me. "We've got a new lead we need to follow up. Will this take long?"
I sighed, and nodded to her curtly: I'll deal with it. "Wesley," I said. "I'm comin' back. Wake up Faith, or drag her away from the TV, or whatever. We need to sort this out. I'll see you in about fifteen. Okay?"
I set down the receiver without waiting to hear his answer, and turned to Kate. "Don't worry," I said, "We'll work something out. Can you drive me back to the office?"
When we got there I asked Kate to wait in the car, bearing in mind Faith's intense dislike of her and aware that my chances of keeping this quick would be better if I kept those two apart. I hurried inside the office to find Wesley was standing expectantly over a pile of opened books and Faith was laying into a punch bag she'd strung up from a ceiling support, which at least made a nice change from her usual trick lately of laying into me.
"Right," I said, snatching at the books. "Big demons. With lots of teeth. Come on, Wes, not a lot of time here - help me on this." I flicked through pages with a lack of regard for the welfare of the fragile old books that prompted a squawk of protest from Wesley.
"What? What do you think you're... Doyle, what do you mean 'not a lot of time'? The demon's going to kill someone?" At that realisation, he lunged for the books in earnest himself, so he missed my shake of the head and I had to explain aloud.
"No, Wes, I don't think the vision's urgent. Far as I could see, the demon was just lairing, there was no sense of immediate danger." I flicked through pages of no-go's. "C'mon, c'mon," I muttered.
"So what's the urgency, then?" Faith asked, between punches, keeping up her assault on the punch-bag with a notable lack of concern.
"Kate's waitin' with the engine runnin' outside."
"What?" Two faces snapped up to glare at me in outrage. The bag swung free and slowly spun to a halt.
"Oh, come on, I already got a case on the go here. Wesley - you wanted demon stuff, right? Well, here's some demon stuff. Unless you two don't think you can handle it without..."
Faith pointed one knuckle-wrapped hand at me dangerously, the punch bag completely forgotten in favour of other targets. "Oh, yeah? You say it and I break your face, 'Mr Lone Avenger'," she snarled.
My temper snapped. I'd just about heard enough from her lately. The frustration which had been mounting up with every small dig about my failure to kill Darla, every sneering remark about Kate, abruptly came to the fore. "If you mention that once more, Faith, I'll break more than your face, slayer or no."
Wesley glanced at each of us and swallowed. I guess it's gotta be an unnerving experience to act as mediator between a demon and a pissed-off slayer, at that. "Now, now, children," he said faintly, taking a - mightily brave, I thought - step forward to place himself even more literally between the two of us. "I'm sure we can resolve this calmly."
"Okay," I said, taking a deep, calming breath and attempting to drag the tone of my voice back to a semblance of 'reasonable'. "Where's the problem here?" As I spoke, I found the demon I was looking for, opportunely quickly for once, and slapped the book down on the table with the creature I'd seen in the vision staring upwards toothily from the opened pages. "You, slayer - here, demon. Go slay."
Faith's lips bared back to show her own teeth, which were almost as scary as the demon's, especially given the expression on her face along with them. "Yeah," she agreed nastily. "Me, slayer - here, demon." Her finger poked me in the shoulder, hard enough to bruise. "Maybe I should be exercising that slayer duty I've been neglecting."
"Faith!" Wesley exclaimed, in shock. "You are not going to..."
"No, she isn't," I said, still nonetheless keeping a sharp eye on Faith's movements. I pointed at the book. "Here's the demon I saw." I dug the scrap of paper out of my pocket where I'd scrawled the details of the location. "Here's the place I saw it. Do what the hell you like with it. And if you don't want to deal with it then leave it and I'll go sort it out later."
I was on my way to the door when Wesley snapped out, "Wait!" with a command and a fury I'd never before heard him inject into that mild, cultured voice. The surprise, more than anything else, stopped me in my tracks and made me turn back.
Wesley's face was wearing a stern expression to match. He said, his every word weighted, "This one isn't yours - isn't ours - to do. It's police work, your average human serial killer, and you're as likely to get into serious trouble for interfering with it as anything else, especially given that as you've mentioned you have enemies on the force. It's not your job, Doyle - not any more. You don't have to do it. You don't have to put yourself through this."
"Yeah. Leave police-bitch to sort it out by herself. It's her job," Faith put in, unhelpfully, and received a glower from both of us in reward.
"No, you don't understand," I said, my voice emerging choked with unexpected emotion. I hadn't meant for this to hurt them, I hadn't meant for it to become a choice, but I could see that it would and it had. And it wouldn't change what I was going to do - what I had to do. "For three years there was one person in the world, one person, who cared whether I lived or died. And that's Kate. You saw how she looked earlier. I can't leave her alone in this. I owe it to her. For three years and a whole hell of a lot more history than you two and I share... so don't ask me again not to do this."
Wesley drew himself up straighter. "I want to help Ms Lockley as much as you do -" In the background, Faith let out a derisive snort "- but right now you have other responsibilities. This demon..."
"The demon kills people. So what? This human guy kills people too. And this case is destroying my friend. I've got my priorities."
"But the Powers - the vision - it's obvious which one of these is meant to be your responsibility. Ms Lockley should have the authorities to back her up. The whole might of the Los Angeles Police Department is on the chase after this fellow. But as far as this demon is concerned, there are only the three of us who can stop it. I'm sorry, but I can't sanction your pursuit of this matter. Faith and I have our responsibilities to protect the world from the things the police can't fight - and so do you, or you wouldn't have these visions of yours. Did they ever point to anybody in trouble from a human threat?"
"Screw the damned visions," I snarled, old venom rising up much quicker than I'd have expected at the provocation. "I never asked for them, I don't know where they sprung from. In fact, I never asked for any of this. If there was ever a rule manual, I wasn't given it. I handle things as I see fit. All I know is that the visions hurt like hell and I've answered every single one that ever came my way and for this one time, I'm sayin' no. I got other things to be gettin' on with."
"Like police-bitch?" Faith asked, eyes glittering with malice - and something else. Was that actually hurt I could see there? Surely she couldn't be jealous? It was beyond ridiculous - but it was also, apparently, so. "You had some big old romance with this girl back when, right?"
"No," I said softly. "No. She was my friend. Only ever..."
But there had been a time when I'd wanted more, and that must've shown through, somehow, because my protests didn't get me anywhere. Faith's expression only darkened. "Bullshit," she hissed.
"Faith," Wesley said. "He isn't, you know. He wouldn't -"
I didn't allow myself to contemplate the very real danger inherent in a slayer who thinks she's being cheated on. This was wasting time, and Kate was outside in the car with the engine running, and this, like Darla, was a duty which ran deeper than my few months' acquaintance with Faith and Wesley.
"I'll see you later," I said, and walked out of the door without looking back.