"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.