"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.