by Mike Dewar, email@example.com
Bright flashing lights smashed into my skull, while a throbbing sensation pounded against the sides of my head. Through the intense disorientation, I fought to gain a single image from the surreal whirl of light. Faith... twisting... writhing...
“ Could we get them to turn the bloody music down?” I yelled to Wesley.
“ What?” the Watcher screamed back.
“ I said, could someone turn the bloody music down!”
His reply was lost in the pulsing rhythm of the song.
I should have known letting Faith take me out for a good time was a bad idea. So far, her idea of fun seemed to involve strobe lights and the loudest rave music I have ever heard. Wes and I were on the fringes of the crowd, but it was still almost unbearable. Faith, on the other hand, looked like she was having a wonderful time, swinging her body like her bones were connected with elastic, and dancing with five…no, eight guys. All of who weren’t me. To say that I felt a little neglected would be an understatement.
Wesley shoved his way through the crowd to reach me, thrusting one crutch ahead like a knight’s lance. The frantically hopping man finally made it to my side and collapsed into a chair. An expression of faint disgust crossed his face as he reached behind himself and carefully removed a very squashed looking pizza box.
“ Classy joint,” I muttered. Oh, look, now Faith had slung her arms around the one guy’s neck and was whirling him around and around... his clothes were a hell of a lot nicer than mine. And he was taller and built like a football player.
Wesley broke in on my jealous musings. “I don’t mean to be picky, Mr. Doyle, but do you really think this is appropriate behaviour for a Slayer on a Saturday night? I must say I feel it is part of my duty to reprimand Faith...”
I waited. “...only my knee is aching abominably, and I fear that I would not survive another trip across the dance floor...” Wesley gave a weak little smile. “Perhaps you could lend a hand?”
“ And have Faith break every bone in my body for interferin’ with her little orgy over there?” I said sarcastically. “No thanks.”
Wesley snorted. “Oh come now, Doyle. I’m sure Faith wouldn’t break *every* bone...” He paused. “I realise that may not be exactly the most confidence-inspiring thing I could have said, but someone has to discipline that girl. And I am currently incapable of doing so, as you are aware...”
I let go a snort of my own. “Wesley, you couldn’t ‘discipline’ Faith if you had both good legs, a chainsaw and a variety of sedatives!”
Was that creep groping Faith? Was he? Just let me see one hand in a no-fly zone, pal, just one... it was then that I noticed that Faith’s hands were in places *definitely* considered no-fly zones, at least by this air traffic controller.
Wesley hemmed and hawed for several seconds, unwilling to interrupt my seething silence. I ignored him and focused on dreaming up happy little tortures for grope-guy. Acid featured. So did huge demons with slime and antlers.
Eventually Faith pulled herself free of Casanova and oiled her way through the crowd of dancing bodies towards us. “Hey, lover,” she said, squirming on to my lap. “Having fun?”
“ Not as much as you were,” I said bitterly.
Faith glanced back at her erstwhile dancing partner. “Hell, I was just flirting. No harm, no foul, right?” She smiled impishly. “Besides which, you’re cuter.”
I refused to smile back. “Faith, flirtin’ is flutterin’ your eyelids at a guy. What you were doin’ back there is probably considered illegal in five countries.”
Faith looked down at me, a funny little smile playing around her lips. I was uncomfortably reminded that I was trying to scold a girl who could go bowling with my skull without working up a sweat. “I think you’re jealous...” she said teasingly, the smile widening.
“ Am not. I’m just... protective. It’s a guy thing.”
“ He’s jealous!” she announced to the world in general.
“ I have to admit, she does have a point,” Wesley said, adding his unwanted two cents. “You do seem rather possessive - “
“ Fine,” I said grumpily. “I’m just an obsessive, jealous control freak. Whatever.” I would have thrown my hands in the air, but they were uncomfortably full of Faith.
“ Relax, Doyle,” Faith said easily. “I was just winding you up a bit. Checking to see if you actually had any balls to speak of."
I tightened my arms around her. “And did I pass?”
“ I’m not sure,” she said, a wicked smile crossing her face. “I think some additional testing is required. Up close and all." I think I felt my spine fuse together at that.
“ Faith!” Wesley spluttered, turning bright red.
Faith glanced over at him, her face hardening. “What?” she asked challengingly.
“ Um, I, well...”
“ Good,” she said firmly, looking down at me again. “Now, let’s lose the cripple and get out on that dance floor!”
I glanced at the gyrating mass of human flesh she was indicating. “Couldn’t we go and nearly get killed by a pack of demons instead? Please?”
“ The demons can wait,” Faith told me firmly. “Tonight is fun night.”
“ For who?” I muttered as she dragged me onto the dance floor.
As the crowd closed around us, the last thing I saw was Wesley, poking glumly through his squashed pizza box.
I hurt. In lots of places, and for lots of reasons.
Firstly, Faith had tricked me into drinking enough energy drinks to poison a small country. Secondly, while dancing at a rave looks like just moving your arms to a beat, it’s actually a lot more tiring. Particularly with an energetic Slayer as your dancer partner. Thirdly... let’s just say Faith still had lots of energy to burn by the time we arrived at my place. Wesley slept up in the office that night.
And now it was morning and I was an aching wreck. I think if I have to choose between Faith’s idea of a good time and my idea of a good time, which generally involves getting legless and throwing up in people’s pot plants, I’ll have to stick to the liquor. Hangovers are bad, but at least they only really bother the head. The aftermath of Faith’s rave was a whole-body purgatory.
Speaking of the lady herself, she was up the office, wandering around and diminishing my instant coffee supply by the bucket-load.
And while she recovered with the assistance of caffeine, I was stuck down here with Wesley, doing what?
Sharpening weapons. As if there is anything more boring. You can only watch a grindstone go around so many times before you start to lose it. And of course, by the time the grindstone drives you into a psychotic rampage, you have all those nice sharp weapons so close at hand…
Speaking of the grindstone, I have no idea where Wes dug it up. I mean dug it up literally; it looked like it came from an archaeological dig, one of those ones out in some desert somewhere. It was a pathetic little pedal-operated number, which shook more when operated than I did when a vision hit. I wouldn’t have trusted it to sharpen a penknife.
While I tried to coax life out of the stone-age grindstone, Wesley sat carefully adjusting the string on one of my crossbows with a screwdriver. I could hear the cord creaking with strain as the idiot just wound it tighter and tighter.
“ Wesley, I think that’s quite tight enough,” I told him, eyeing the trembling bow.
“ I assure you, I received excellent training in all weapons before assuming my post as Watcher,” he said, smiling condescendingly as he levelled the crossbow at the target he had hung on my wall and fired. The bolt blurred as it leapt from the bow.
I watched with interest. “Nice, Wes. Very nice. If a vampire was sneakin’ up behind you, I’m sure that would have really come in handy.”
Wesley eyed the vibrating bolt embedded in the wall in the opposite direction from the target. “Yes... uh, yes. I meant to do that,” he said unconvincingly.
The bolt was buried in the wall to the feathers. “Sure you did,” I said soothingly. “Sure you did.”
“ Maybe I should just whittle some stakes,” Wesley said in surrender.
“ Good idea.”
“ So, how’s the sharpening going, my brave frontiersman?” Faith called mockingly, as she made her way down the stairs.
I rolled my eyes. “Funny girl.”
Faith yanked the crossbow bolt out of the wall and tossed it on a table. “I should go and do stand-up if the slaying doesn’t work out.”
“ Really, Faith,” Wesley said primly, “I hardly think your calling is something to treat so flippantly.”
Faith didn’t respond. Since Wes’s little commando attempt last week, she hardly even acknowledged his presence at all anymore. Instead she just sauntered over to the table where our pitifully few successfully sharpened weapons lay. “Beats me why you waste so much time fixing these things up. What’s the big deal, anyway?”
Wesley drew himself up. “A Slayer must always be able to trust her weaponry. If the worst comes to the worst, she can always rely on her weapons, if nothing else.”
“ Like her Watcher?” Faith shot back. “I rely on me, Wesley. I don’t need anything - or anyone - else.”
She turned away. For a second, the plastic little Watcher’s mask Wesley wore for a face dropped away and I could see real pain and humiliation there. I have to admit, I felt sorry for the guy. At the time he started his little revolution, he’d probably thought he was doing the right thing.
Wesley noticed me staring at him and the smug little mask slid back in place. “Be that as it may, Faith, you may find yourself in dire circumstances if your weapons are not up to standard.”
“ Huh?” she said blankly. I could tell she had understood what he said, she was just playing dumb to provoke him. Time for an intervention.
“ He means that if you’re tryin’ to decapitate a demon usin’ an axe that can’t cut old cheese, you look like a bit of a fool,” I translated. “Speakin’ of which, there’s an axe in the back of the cupboard that needs demon’s blood cleaned off it. Wes, could you toss it here?”
Faith shrugged dismissively. “Whatever. Anyway, it’s not like anything exciting is going on. I haven’t gotten in a good staking for days.”
Apparently, even the Powers That Be have a sense of irony, because that’s when the vision threw me out of my chair and onto the floor.
The vision was of a purple, horned demon severely in need of some underarm deodorant.
Yes, he was ugly. Yes, he was evil. Yes, he smelt like a pile of garbage.
But despite all that, he really didn’t deserve what Faith was doing to him.
Wesley was standing a careful distance down the street, well out of harm’s way. I was a little closer to the fray, one of my sharper axes at the ready. But really, Faith didn’t need either of us.
The demon hollered as Faith smashed its head into a telephone pole, bending one of his horns into a u-shape. She hit the staggering, bloody demon three times in the jaw for good measure and then swept her knee up in a blow that made me look away with watering eyes.
From the occasional snarled phrase escaping from her teeth, I had a sneaking suspicion she was pretending the demon was Wesley.
“ And that’s for making me do those stupid hypnotism exercises!” she growled, as the demon staggered backwards and fell through a doorway.
“ She does seem rather... enthusiastic today,” Wesley noted placidly, as Faith strode through the doorway like a petite, leather-clad avenging angel.
“ Yeah, enthusiastic,” I muttered, hastening towards the broken remains of the door. ‘Pat’s Bar,’ it read. I doubted Pat was going to be very happy about this.
Fortunately, the bar was almost customer-free, as Faith picked the demon up and began to drive his head repeatedly into a pool table, sending coloured balls everywhere.
The man standing next to the pool table with a cue in his hand stared at her with a mixture of confusion and annoyance. “Are you quite bloody finished?” he asked, his harsh English accent jarring my ears. “People do want to play pool, you know.”
“ Our apologies,” Wesley said politely, his more educated voice raised over the demon’s stunned grunts and Faith’s snarls. “We’ll be out of here soon, won’t we, Doyle?”
The guy had white-blond hair and was wearing a long black leather duster. He looked like a cross between Billy Idol and Sid Vicious. I sniffed the air. Vampire. Wonderful. Another half-an-hour of watching Faith pummel her frustrations out loomed before me. “My advice to you, pal,” I advised the vamp, “run away while you still can. When that Slayer over there has finished with Horny, she’ll start up on you.”
The vamp looked over at Faith with more interest, folding his arms casually. “Slayer. How about that.” He smiled slightly, clearly sizing her up. “A bit more leather than usual for one of them. I like it, very alternative. My kinda girl.”
Faith let her foe slide slowly off the pool table and onto the floor, leaving a trail of greenish blood on the felt. “And who the hell are you?”
“ Spike,” he said simply, as if that was all we should need to hear. He ran a finger over the table and casually inspected the greenish residue left on the tip. “You’ve pretty much wrecked that table, you know.”
“ Tell someone who cares,” Faith bit out, pulling a stake from her belt. “Let’s get this done.”
“ Hang on a bit, will you?” Spike said easily. “I haven’t even heard your name yet. I want to know what to put on your tombstone.”
“ Faith, just kill him and then let’s go,” Wesley ordered. "This bantering serves no good purpose.”
Spike glanced over at him. “Let’s see... suit... glasses... nancy-boy accent... so this would be the Watcher, right? I always like to eat the Watchers first, like an appetizer before the main event.” Wesley swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing.
“ A little cocky, aren’t we?” I shot back. “Three against one, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
Spike walked past Faith, raising his eyebrows. “And who’s this then? Not a Watcher, unless their standards are really slipping.”
“ Doyle,” I growled. His little ‘slipping standards’ crack hadn’t gone down well.
“ Well, Doyley, old son, the Watcher’s a wimp on crutches and I could flatten you with one hand tied behind my back. So no fear here, I’m afraid.” Spike smirked.
I went demon, feeling the strength spread through my body as my spines sprouted. “Really.”
Spike didn’t flinch. “Really.”
“ Screw this,” I heard Faith mutter behind me and then I heard her step forward. Spike spun, whipping the cue across to keep her back, presenting me with a lovely target for my axe. I stepped in, raising the weapon high, and Spike slammed the butt of the pool cue back into my unprotected stomach.
I doubled up, retching my meagre breakfast on the floor. Spike chuckled as he stepped aside, nodding to Faith in a casual way. “I’ll see you round, Slayer. Then we’ll finish this.”
As I bent over the floor, my breath rasping in my throat, I heard the back door of the bar slam shut.
“That could have gone better,” Wesley announced.
The office elevator rattled slowly downwards.
“ I was caught off-guard!”
“ Sure you were…wuss”
“ Listen, you’d wheeze too if you were hit in the belly with a pool cue, I can tell you!”
Faith snorted. “I’d have the brains to dodge.”
“ Faith, as grateful as we are to hear your perspective,” Wesley said snippily, cramped in a corner of the lift, crutches at his side, "might I suggest we focus on angry, dangerous vampires first and criticizing Mr Doyle’s fighting capabilities second.” He paused, as the lift clunked into place. “Though I must say, his defeat was truly epic.”
I snarled in response, yanking the lift door open, feeling a flash of pain in my side as I did so. That Spike sure did swing a mean cue. “ For the last time, he surprised me, hit me while I was vulnerable, that’s all! Now, Wesley, find out who he is so we can kill him.”
“ Don’t you mean until I can kill him, lover?” Faith called over her shoulder as she sauntered for my kitchen. “We won’t need you or Wes, unless you want him to laugh to death or something.”
I glared at Faith’s leather-wrapped back. Cute as she was, the girl sure knew how to get under a guy’s skin - with an axe or with words. Slamming the lift door back into place, I stomped off in the direction of the first aid kit. There was a sharp wooden sound.
“ Uh…Doyle?” Wes called pitifully.
I closed my eyes and prayed for patience. “You got your crutches caught in the door again, didn’t you, Wesley?”
“ Uh…yes. Terribly sorry.”
From the kitchen, Faith called, "Hey, you’re all out of peanut butter -" There was a sound of glass breaking. “And now you’re out of jelly, too. Whoops.”
This was the crack team of vampire hunters that Spike was facing?
“ Help?” Wesley called quietly from the lift.
By the time I’d swept the glass fragments into the garbage, Wesley was hunched over my desk with his collection of Watcher’s Journals and Faith was sprawled on my sofa, eating toast and spraying crumbs over the carpet as she watched TV.
The TV chattered quietly to itself, as I walked over to Wes, brushing glass splinters from my hands. “ Anything?”
Wesley licked his finger delicately and turned a thin page in one of the older Journals. “Well, I’ve found more than half-a-dozen arrogant vampire posers who’ve renamed themselves to Blade or the like…”
“ But no Spike,” I finished. I wasn’t really that surprised - and hell, I figured, no news is good news, right?
“ Not as of yet,” he allowed. "But with the accumulated knowledge of dozens of Watchers of past and present at our fingertips, I’m sure the answers shall come to us.”
I was less confident. Wesley may have thought of himself as possessing the knowledge of hundreds of Watchers, but on a practical level all I had to work with was one young Watcher, and not a particularly impressive one at that.
“ I once dated a guy named Spike,” Faith offered from the sofa, as she messed with the TV remote. “But he wasn’t a vamp.”
“ Nice to see you’re on board with the issue,” I told her.
She shrugged, still not turning to face me. "You wanna know why he was called Spike?”
“ By all means, share,” I said, peering over Wesley’s shoulder.
Faith snickered. “Well, he had a reaally big -"
“ As fascinating as tales of your former liaisons are, Faith, I may have found something.” Wesley interrupted smugly, much to my relief. I really didn’t want to hear the end of the sentence.
“ Yeah?” I said, forcing myself to pay attention to the words in the Journal Wesley was waving in front of me.
“ This report tells of an encounter between a Slayer and a vampire known as William the Bloody -"
“ I think you’re getting a bit distracted here, Watcher-boy. The vamp’s not called Bloody William, is he?” Faith interrupted nastily.
“ …also known as Spike,” Wesley continued, a triumphant smirk on his face. “So named because of his rather charming habit of torturing his victims with rusty railway spikes.”
“ Friendly guy,” I noted. Vampires and their entertainments didn’t often make for All-Ages viewing.
The Watcher stopped waving the blasted book around and planted it solemnly in his lap, turning a page and assuming a contemplative expression. “Indeed. I haven’t got very far into the entry, it’s rather long and boring - unless of course, you have an interest in the fine art of forcing metal spikes in people’s eyeballs - ah, here we go. The Watcher concerned and his Slayer went off to face Spike, and the Slayer -" His brow crinkled as he practically pressed his nose to the page. “Sorry, can’t read this bit very clearly…think the ink has smudged.”
Faith turned around, showing real interest for the first time. “...she what? Kicked his ass? Won the olden-times version of the National Lottery?”
“ No,” Wesley said sombrely, removing his spectacles and gazing at her thoughtfully. “She died.”
“ Died?” I asked disbelievingly. “As in, was killed? By him?”
“ Yes,” he said grimly.
Faith snorted. “Probably just a lucky hit or something. Girl had her back turned.”
“ No, no, I’m afraid it wasn’t like that,” Wesley said slowly, his eyes scanning the entry.
“ How do you know?” she asked, her tone making the question into a challenge. “You weren’t there.”
“ Because he went and did it again.”
I held up a hand. “Hold it. You’re tellin’ us the guy we met in the bar this morning, that very guy, did in not one, but two Slayers?” The very thought was making me nervous. I’d seen Faith in battle and her speed and strength was well beyond what I could achieve, demon strength or no demon strength. And to think of someone who’d survived a fight with someone like that - more than that, had won - it sent shivers up my spine.
“ Unfortunately, that’s exactly what I’m telling you,” Wesley replied, his serious eyes clear of all the usual pomposity and dithering. “He’s killed two Slayers, and my guess is he’d be happy to try for a hat trick.”
“ That’s really not good,” I said quietly.
“ It really isn’t,” Wesley agreed.
“ Oh, come on!” Faith’s laughter broke the grim silence. “You’re acting like this guy is all indestructo-vamp all of a sudden. So he killed two butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-their-mouths Slayers back three hundred years ago - big deal. I can take him. Spike meet stake, end of story.”
“ We’re not saying you can’t beat him,” Wesley said condescendingly, “merely that, considering the evidence, it doesn’t bode well for your chances.”
“ Is that right?” Faith said, pulling herself off my sofa and walking over to face her Watcher. There was a glint in her eye that I really didn’t like the look of, but Wesley seemed to have gone blind and deaf to the danger signs.
“ Yes. I simply feel that, as your Watcher, I should formulate a carefully constructed plan of battle for you before sending you into combat with this Spike. I have only your best interests at heart, Faith.”
Faith put her hands on her hips. “You know what, Wes? Screw. You.”
“ Faith!” Wesley spluttered, taken aback. “I tolerate a certain amount of disrespect from you as a matter of course, but -"
“ Yeah, well I tolerate a certain amount of gutless British bullshit from you too, Wesley, but if you think you can tell what I’m going to do, or how I’m going to fight, well then you’ve got some serious pain coming.”
“ Was that a threat?” Wesley said, his face pinched and pale.
“ Damn straight! What are you going to do about it, spank me?” Faith asked mockingly.
This was going to get real ugly, real soon. A neutral party was needed, and considering I was the only person in the room who wasn’t a Slayer or a Watcher, that meant it was me. Plus, I was the only person in this room who owned this apartment, and if Faith really got pissed I could see my furniture turning into splinters very quickly. “Guys, cool it. Wesley, dial it down a little, and Faith, back off!” I ordered curtly.
“ Or what?” Faith asked me aggressively. Great. I was in for a cold, lonely bed that night for sure.
“ Listen, love, we’re just tryin’ to make sure you don’t get hurt…” I tried. “This Spike guy sounds a bit on the hostile side, so we should be prepared...”
She glared at me. “I was taking care of myself a long time before you or the Pansy stepped in here, Doyle. I can handle myself just fine. You want a demonstration?”
I gave her a weak grin. “Hey, Faith, calm down -"
“ Are we interrupting?” The voice was English and well-modulated, and it took me a second to realise it wasn’t Wesley’s.
Speaking of Wesley, the Watcher looked like he’d swallowed a landmine.
The voice’s owner was standing on the stairs, flanked by two harsh-faced men, smiling at us. That smile said a lot. It spoke of a calm confidence, a sense of surety that no matter what happened, no matter when, that smile wouldn’t even slip slightly. It showed a complete absence of nervousness or apprehension, a complete relaxation that came from being in total control of every situation. It was an expressive smile.
“ Just a little inter-office discussion,” I said lightly. “Not a big thing.”
The man nodded. “Ah. Hello, Wesley.”
“ I... I... what are you doing here?” Wesley managed to get out.
One of the other men raised an eyebrow. “You called us, remember? ‘Emergency’? ‘Demon on rampage’?”
“ Oh,” Wesley said weakly, looking like the landmine had exploded. He glanced guiltily in my direction, and my heart sank.
“ Sorry to bust in on the English tea party,” Faith interrupted, “but who the hell are these guys?”
Wesley swallowed. “Faith, Doyle, I would like you to meet Collins, Weatherby and Smith. The Council’s Special Operations Team.”
“ Basically,” the one named Weatherby said with an unpleasant smile, "we’re the ones the Council calls in when their little research drones get into trouble they can’t read their way out of.”
My palms were moist with perspiration as I managed a sickly smile at the three. I’d heard about guys like these. According to rumour, the Council’s Special Operations units are usually made up of people who shoot first and then say over your decomposing corpse, ‘I hope he was evil.’ Not exactly the types who’d be sympathetic to a half-breed like myself. I silently prayed that Wesley’s reports hadn’t been overly detailed.
“ Well, no demons here,” I told them, spreading my hands innocently. “Thanks for comin’ and all.”
The big talker, Collins, raised an eyebrow. “Wesley? Are you about to tell me we flew across a very large ocean for no reason at all?”
Wesley’s eyes flicked in my direction again. “Uh, I’m afraid so. But I have, um... a... perfectly reasonable explanation... which I will be happy to explain to you over a cup of nice hot tea.”
“ We’re out of tea,” I hissed to him.
He opened his mouth.
“ We’re out of coffee, too.”
“ Nice hot milk,” Wesley said, without missing a beat.
Weatherby glared at us. He was very good at glaring. "Wesley, you called us on a level 5 security warning... and when we come to fight the great threat to your Slayer, you offer us heated dairy products. Is it just me or is this a little strange?”
“ It’s probably you,” Faith muttered beneath her breath.
The last man, the quiet one, Smith spoke. “Slayer’s got a nasty tongue on her.”
Faith smiled unpleasantly at him. “That’s not all I’ve got. Wanna see?”
“ Faith!” Wesley snapped sharply. “Er, gentleman, if you would take a seat... we’ll return with your milk shortly.”
Wesley and I took hold of Faith on either side and propelled her into the kitchen. The second we were out of sight, she spun on us both, eyes flaring.
“ Great! As if we didn’t have enough annoying people from the United Kingdom, now we’ve got the Three Stooges too!” she snapped at me. “I came to you because I thought we could do some damage without Tweed-a-holics Anonymous, and now I find even more of them than before!”
“ Faith!” Wesley said harshly. “Now is really not the time for you to share your oft-expressed distaste for the Council!”
“ Why?” Faith sneered back. “Because I’ll embarrass you and make you look bad in front of your Watcher buddies?”
Wesley leaned forward, lowering his voice to a sharp whisper. “No, Faith. Because your idiotic pride might get us all killed!” he bit out, his jaw shaking with the force of his agitation. “As you may have surmised, I contacted the Team when I discovered Doyle’s less-than-human ancestry.” He glanced apologetically at me. “I didn’t have time to give them any details, thank God, but they were going to take him back to England for interrogation and eventual execution.”
“ Gettin’ that,” I told him, “but first off, ‘rampage’? When did I rampage?”
Wesley gave me a weak half-smile. “I was somewhat overwrought at the time. I may have exaggerated a little.”
“ Exaggerated? Wesley, that wasn’t exaggeration, that was... was... some big new word that means really exaggerated!” Okay, not the most logical sentence, but hell, I was ‘overwrought’ myself.
“ Okay,” Faith said. “So all we do is tell the Stooges to go home, and then we get back to planning to kick Spike’s ass.” She smiled wickedly. “And on the plus side, Wesley gets his wrist slapped for being a naughty boy.”
“ It’s not that simple,” Wesley explained. “Those gentlemen are known for having a particularly... aggressive attitude towards demon-related issues as a whole.”
“ What does that mean, in short words?” I asked impatiently.
“ They’ll probably kill you, shoot me in the head for being a traitor, and drag Faith off to spend five years in a Council training house being rehabilitated.”
“ Oh. That is aggressive.” There didn’t seem to be much else to say.
“ Wesley?” I heard Collins call.
Wesley steeled his jaw and clunked his way awkwardly out of the kitchen on his crutches. But he did so with resolve. Faith shot me a half-amused, half-annoyed glance, as we followed.
“ Where’s the milk?” I heard Smith ask as we entered.
“ Excuse me?” Wesley said.
“ Our warm milk,” the man repeated.
“ It was rotten,” I said quickly. “Yuck.”
“ Oh,” Smith said, disappointed. “I like milk.”
Collins was seated casually at my desk and Weatherby had stretched himself out lengthwise on my sofa, while Wesley buzzed around them like a distressed bumblebee. “So,” Collins said. “Your explanation.”
Wesley cleared his throat. “Ah. Right.” He glanced in my direction again, and inwardly I swore. If the killers were paying attention, Wesley’s eye movements alone could have told them something was up. “The demon is, uh... dead.”
“ Dead?” Weatherby asked. “It was rampaging a second ago, wasn’t it?”
“ Yes, well, now it’s dead. Faith killed it.”
Faith smiled lazily. “That’s right. I stuck a knife in it, twisted it around real slow. It bled and screamed quite a lot, but eventually it died,” she said with disturbing relish.
Wesley glanced nervously at her. “Uh, yes. It died.”
“ Messily. With blood and screamin’,” I added.
Collins shrugged. “Ah, well. All that for nothing. Still, at least the demon’s dead.”
“ Yes,” I said quickly. “Very, very dead. As in not alive.”
He sighed. “Such is life. What breed was it, by the way?”
“ Excuse me?” Wesley asked.
“ What breed of demon was it?” Collins said, frowning. "You did research it, I assume.”
Wesley laughed edgily. “Oh, yes, of course. It was a... Ke’rmth demon. Rather nasty one, too.”
“ Aren’t Ke’rmths extinct?” Smith asked quietly.
Wes’s smile slipped. “Oh... yes, well...”
“ We found a living one,” I lied. “It had been sealed in amber. And then the amber broke, and it got out. So we killed it. Now Ke’rmths are definitely extinct.” I smiled brightly.
“ Amber?” Weatherby said dubiously.
“ Yes,” Wesley said, chuckling nervously. “What were the odds? But now it’s dead. So you can go. Back to England.”
Collins looked like he was about to say something, but then he caught sight of Wesley’s old Watcher’s Journal lying open on my desk. “Hello…Spike, I see,” he said studying the picture. “Seen him recently?”
“ Uh, yes,” Wesley said. “Just this morning in fact.”
“ Hmm. The Council’s rated him Class-A, you know.”
“ Hang on a bit,” I said. “What’s Class-A?” Sounded like a type of quality fruit to me.
“ Very, very bad,” Wesley said shortly.
“ And you couldn’t have said that in plain English because?” Faith asked sarcastically.
Weatherby looked speculatively at Collins. “Class-A, huh?”
“ That’s what the man said,” Smith confirmed.
“ Sounds like he might be worth our time,” Collins said, a touch of professional interest entering his voice. “Got a location, Wesley?”
“ Uh, no, but he was last seen at a demon bar on 5th and East,” Wes said.
“ Why don’t you go there?” I suggested in a helpful tone. Anywhere that wasn’t here was fine by me.
“ I think we just might...” Collins said. “Come on, gents, we’re moving out. Nice catching up, Wesley. Doyle, Faith.”
“ Nice seeing you,” Wesley said politely.
“ Don’t forget to write,” Faith added, waving at them while smiling nastily.
When I finally heard the front door to my office click shut, I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. “ I thought they’d never leave. Who wants coff - hot milk?”
“ Well, thank God that’s over,” Wesley agreed. "Oh, and a cup for me, please.”
“ Got you, Wes. Faith?”
“ Nah,” she replied. “And by the way, Doyle…”
“ Hey, they did it in Jurassic Park,” I said defensively.
“ Actually, I believe that was just DNA,” Wesley said helpfully.
“ Thanks, Wes,” I said dryly. I nodded to him. “And by the way - good work back there.”
“ Yeah, nice going, Watcher-boy,” Faith said mockingly. “Practically every second word out of your mouth was a lie. You should be called Weasely instead of Wesley, doncha’ think? How did it feel lying to the big bad bookworms in the sky?”
Wesley stiffened. “Faith, I did what I did for a very good reason. It was in no way a laughing matter.”
“ Jeez,” Faith muttered. "I don’t get the big deal, anyway. I could have taken out those guys, easy, if they’d tried anything stupid.”
Wesley turned on her, his eyes burning hot. “Faith, I am terribly sorry to disrupt your image of your own invincibility, but just because you’re a Slayer doesn’t mean you cannot lose a fight! How exactly would you have fought them with knives and crossbows, if they came after you with submachine guns and grenades? And that’s how those people fight, Faith. They don’t wander up to you and try and punch your lights out; they come up behind you in the middle of the night and put a bullet in your head! And if you stop those three, more will come! You don’t want to get into a war with the Council, Faith - because you will lose. You will lose and you will die. Now, I’m trying to keep you out of trouble -"
Faith sneered. “Yeah, Wes. You’re really good at that. Seems Watchers are just great at getting people out of the trouble only Watchers can get them into, doesn’t it? Well, screw that and screw you, Weasely.” She tucked a stake into her belt. “I’m going to go find Spike and work off a little tension.”
“ Faith - " Wesley began sternly, stepping in front of her.
“ Wes, get out of my way or I’ll work off my tension on you,” Faith told him coldly. Her Watcher held her gaze for a second or two, and then stepped slowly aside.
The apartment side door slammed shut as Faith stormed out.
Holding a bottle of milk in one hand, I stared at Wesley, as he slumped down into a chair.
“ You didn’t get this job for your people skills, did you, Wes?”
"Yes, I get the point, but I really don’t think now is the time to discuss my tab! Okay, so I’m banned. Great. There are other bars in LA. Cleaner ones, too. Now, can we get back to the vamp probl -" The click of a disconnecting line cut me off. I slammed the phone down and glared at it.
Wesley frowned at me with heavy disapproval. "Your search seems to be digging up more problems than it's solving," he pointed out. "Just how many people do you owe money to?"
"I don't owe him nothin'," I snarled. "He's... uh, mistaken."
"And the other half dozen, are they 'mistaken' too?"
"That's right, Wes, you're gettin' it." I looked at the next name in my book, cursed, and decided to give that one a miss. It wasn’t as though there was any shortage of other names to try. And I’d already been at this for two hours. I winced at the thought of my impending phone bill. "Anyway, we gotta find Spike before she does. These guys are my best shot."
"I do feel I must point out, Doyle - if Faith cannot handle him I fail to see precisely what the two of us will be able to achieve."
I muttered something uncomplimentary and hopefully unintelligible. I'd been mulling that one over myself, with some concern. Considering Spike had taken out two Slayers, much as it hurt my pride to admit it, I probably wouldn‘t pose that much of a threat. And as for Wesley... But we couldn't very well sit around and do nothing. The three of us working together had maybe stood a decent chance against him... Faith's temper had splintered that.
Wesley sighed. He'd been sitting hunched over the table, moping over that one same page in his books, ever since Faith had stalked out. I’d been trying to avoid looking at the stylised depiction of Spike snapping the neck of a young girl which adorned the opened pages.
"Don't worry, man," I said, attempting to reassure. "We'll find her. Hey, maybe those council guys will get to Spike first and save us the trouble?"
Wesley ignored me, staring at his book.
“Maybe they’ll kill each other,” I added hopefully.
He nodded distractedly. “Yes. I’m sure. Very nice. What did you say?”
“Nothing.” I watched him subside back into book-moping mode. “Look, I’m sure Faith’s all right,” I said firmly. It’s understandable you’re worried, but...”
"If I lose my Slayer because of an argument... the Council will be furious! It'll be back to the dusty research shelves..."
My pity evaporated. I stared at him incredulously. "Really in charge of your priorities, there, Wes," I snapped in disgust. "My Faith's out there facing a guy who's already killed two slayers, and you're worried about your job?"
He stuttered. "That wasn't... I didn't... I..." His voice dried up and he frowned at me, looking thoughtful, for a long moment. "'Your Faith'?" he repeated. "My, we really are getting possessive, aren‘t we?"
"'S just an expression," I growled, sensing a lecture headed my way and cursing that slip of the tongue.
"Doyle, I realise you don't have a very high opinion of me, and after last week I can't say I really blame you. But, considering you saved my life, I feel I owe you some warning nonetheless. About Faith... I really wouldn't get too attached. I've seen her idea of relationships before. I've seen them end. You know what she's like."
"Wes." I shut my eyes and took a deep, calming breath.
"Shut up." I picked up the phone again.
The next guy in my book, Phil, ran a late night corner shop with an extensive stock catering for the needs of the demon community. Stuff like different vintages of bottled blood - y'know; French, German, Italian... He also kept a decent stock of whisky, which was how I came to know him.
Phil was one of the contacts I was on more amenable terms with, not that he was actually on bad terms with anyone so far as I knew. Also, I was pretty sure I didn't owe him any money.
The phone was picked up after only a couple of rings. "Hey, Phil," I said.
"Hey, Doyle man. Been a while... when was it, that poker game at Ben's in March, yeah? Heard you finally quit the pigs. Heard you got your own agency now. How's that going?"
"Tickin' over, thanks. Fact, I thought you might be able to help me with somethin'."
"Scotch? Or something else?"
I laughed, but my laughter dried up abruptly. Something was wrong... I heard a noise on the line that sounded a lot like somebody choking. "Phil? Phil!"
A familiar, harsh, could-be-British voice answered in his stead. "So it is you again, Doyley. Funniest thing, there I was buying some booze, and what should I hear Sunny Jim say into the phone? 'Doyle'. Just piqued my interest, you know, after earlier. Kind of a distinctive name, isn't it?"
I could still hear the choking in the background, but it was getting weaker. "You let him go, you piece of shit..." I growled.
Spike carried on as though he hadn't heard. "I'm guessing you were looking for me anyway. Didn't get enough the first time, huh? You don't give up, do you, mate?"
Wesley, obviously detecting the danger signs from my half of the conversation, was looking on in alarm. He mouthed 'Spike?' soundlessly and I spared him a brief nod.
"Tell your Slayer girlfriend three's the charm, for me, eh? I'll be seeing you."
Before I could reply, the line went dead.
"Shit!" I slammed the phone down and shot to my feet. A fierce twinge from my bruised stomach slammed through me and almost knocked me back down again, a reminder I didn't need of just how well our previous encounter had gone. "We got him... or he's got us. Not sure on that one. C'mon, Wes."
I grabbed a handful of stakes from the table and picked up Wesley’s crossbow. The guy was a handy shot with projectile weapons, if nothing else, as last week had proven.
"We’re off to face Spike?" He looked less than enchanted by the concept.
"Yeah. The good news is, he and Faith have yet to cross paths."
"And the bad news?"
"Think I just got someone killed."
Fifteen minutes later I drew the car up outside Phil’s shop. I was out before the engine had even finished winding down, stake in hand, leaving Wesley still struggling with his crutches in the back seat.
I think I knew, really, there was no cause for hurry; we were already too late.
The door was hanging off its hinges. When I pushed it open, the whole thing collapsed to the floor. Well... I guess there went any chance of a quiet entrance. I stepped cautiously over it.
The store was dingy inside. One of the fluorescent lighting strips in the ceiling wasn’t working - not necessarily Spike’s doing. I could see enough of the place, though. It was a real mess.
From what I’d heard on the phone, Phil hadn’t had chance to put up much of a fight, so Spike must’ve just kicked over the shelf units for the hell of it. The floor was awash.
Edging forward, picking my way through the broken glass and splintered wood, I found Phil himself behind the counter. He was slumped on the floor by the phone, two familiar holes in his neck. I turned away.
I drew on my demon senses for a moment. Among the other smells, the scent of vampire wasn’t strong enough to be current, and it only confirmed what I’d suspected anyway. Spike had gone.
As I was turning to leave, Wesley staggered through the door, crossbow in hand and a fierce expression on his face which might‘ve been funny in other circumstances. He stopped abruptly, gagging at the sight and scent as it hit him. “My God... how many people died in here?”
“One,” I reassured. “All this blood came from bottles.”
“Bottles...?” He blanched. “Have I mentioned you know the oddest people, Doyle?”
“Our pal Spike isn’t gonna be too popular with the demon community, that’s for sure. Phil - or, more accurately, this place and the service it provided - was well liked.”
Wesley still looked ill, and I hustled him out of the door before he could throw up all over the crime scene.
We were about to get back into the car when the police arrived.
A couple of youthful uniforms leaped out of a squad car and started brandishing weapons and handcuffs in our direction. I’d started trying to explain when, rather to my surprise, an unmarked car pulled up behind the squad car. A familiar figure topped with blonde hair got out, slammed the door loudly, and strutted over.
“This is Doyle. He’s a PI. Used to be one of us. Why don‘t you two go find some criminals to arrest?” Kate turned to me as they backed off, her gaze both sour and amused in that unique way of hers. “I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised to find you here,” she remarked.
“Thanks, Kate,” I greeted. I noticed that Wesley, who’d been just about dying from embarrassment at the prospect of arrest a moment before, was now staring, transfixed, at my erstwhile partner. “I’m afraid poor old Phil’s not gonna be treading all over the importation laws any more.”
She sighed. “Let me guess. Bite marks in neck? Drained of blood?”
“She - she knows?” Wesley spluttered.
I glanced at him. “C’mon, now. Most of the LAPD have some inkling. Hard to maintain the disbelief, with so many corpses showin’ up all over the city with the same MO.”
“Who’s your friend?” Kate asked archly, her eyes travelling coolly over Wesley‘s form and coming up Unimpressed.
“Wesley - Kate,” I introduced.
“Wesley Wyndham-Pryce,” Wesley corrected stuffily, juggling his crutches in order to extend a hand which Kate ignored.
“He’s helpin’ around the office. In a research capacity,” I said.
“Research. Right. Is he a demon, too?”
Wesley looked aghast at that one, staring between Kate and myself with incredulity and a hint of annoyance.
“Nah. Just English.”
Wesley started spluttering incoherently and I pointedly took his arm and ‘helped’ him back towards the car. “Anyway, be seein’ you.”
“Wait. You haven’t told me what you’re doing here with a corpse,” Kate said. “Are you working on a case?”
I shook my head, opening the back door of the car and shoving Wesley inside. “I was on the phone to Phil when the vamp came in. Got here soon as I could. Wasn’t soon enough.”
She made an unconvinced noise. “Let me know when you catch the bloodsucker, Doyle, okay?”
“Will I see you next week?”
“Uh... I’ll be in touch.” If I’m still alive.
I slammed the door after Wesley, hopped into the driver’s seat, and pulled out carefully. It wouldn’t be beyond Kate to arrest me for driving offences.
“What a delightful young woman,” Wesley remarked, glancing back over his shoulder at the diminishing figures and squad cars - where a tall, thin blonde was yelling and gesticulating aggressively at her uniformed subordinates.
“Uh, yeah.” I wondered whether I should mention a few of the nicknames Kate had earned from the guys in the police department.
“Nah. She likes ‘em human. Partner. For three years. We still help each other out.”
“Oh...” Wesley looked oddly happy. “I’ll likely be seeing her around, then. May I ask why you didn’t tell her about Spike? It isn’t as though we couldn’t use some extra help.”
“Matter of keepin’ down his list of possible targets, Wes. She’s a good cop, but she’s only human. I’m not bringin’ her into this, too.”
Save me, I thought in exasperation. Well... let him think happy thoughts about Kate. We’d probably both be dead from a fatal case of Spike before she had chance to disillusion him.
“Maybe Faith will have got hungry and come back,” I suggested hopefully as we fell back through the door of the office building.
Wesley nodded, looking unconvinced. “She usually has to kill something to throw off a mood like that.”
Ouch. And this was the gal I was dating... I must have a death wish.
The lights were on in my apartment. “See, Wes? What’d I tell you? Faith? Faith!”
Then I saw who was sprawled on the couch with a bottle of blood in one hand. Needless to say, it wasn’t Faith, despite the taste for black leather gear and the big muddy boots rested carelessly on my furniture.
I swore, as a chill of fear crept through me. My stakes, Wesley’s crossbow... we had left them in the car. And he was between me and the rest of the weapons still in the apartment. I remembered how quickly he could move. “How the hell did you get in here?”
He’d doubled around behind us. We‘d gone to the shop, he‘d come here. Caught us off-guard. Clever bastard...
“Nobody lives in this building but you, mate,” Spike said smoothly, unfolding himself from the couch. “And you’re not human.” I gaped at him. He strutted a few feet across the floor, still blocking me from the weapons. “Let that slip your mind, did you, Doyley? You’re passing nicely for human, here, aren’t you? Human business, human friends. You can try to forget it all you want, but it doesn't matter. You can walk like a man, but you're not one.”
He laughed, and knocked back a gulp from the bottle.
“Wesley, go,” I said, quietly, not taking my eyes off Spike.
“I’m not -” he began stubbornly, despite the fear in his voice.
“You’re on crutches, and you’re unarmed. What the hell use do you think you’d be?” I said harshly. “Now, get the hell out of here and fetch Faith, or we‘re both dead!”
After a brief silence I heard him start to make his awkward, halting progress back towards the elevator.
Spike set the bottle down on my table, freeing his hands to give me a brief, mocking applause. “Just you and me, then, mate,” he said.
Drawing on my demon form, I prepared to face Spike.
Spike kept his hands down casually at his sides, smiling in a relaxed fashion. “So, where’s your Slayer girlfriend then? She run out on you or something?”
“ She’s just unloadin’ the car,” I said, returning his smile. “She’ll be right down.”
Spike laughed, shaking his head. “Nice try, mate. She didn’t arrive with you; I was watching from the window. Good front you put up, though, wouldn’t want to play poker with you.”
I shrugged. “Can’t blame a guy for tryin’. Anyway, I don’t need Faith’s help to take you apart.”
Spike smirked at that, taking a single measured step towards me but still staying just out of my reach. Bluffing aside, I wasn’t really in the best situation. My only advantage was that Spike obviously had little respect for my combat skills after that fiasco at the bar. With any luck I could play on that, let him get cocky and then take him down. Then again, it could turn out that he hadn’t really been trying very hard at the bar, and that when he went full-out he’d knock me down with one punch.
But if that was true, then I was already a dead man. All the bluffing was done and it was time to lay out my hand and hope the cards were on my side.
Spike moved suddenly forward, interrupting my thoughts with a brutal punch for my face. I couldn’t get my hands up to block in time, but I managed to twist my head with the punch, absorbing the impact. I ducked under his second strike and smashed my elbow into his ribs.
Spike grunted in pain and surprise, and I rose out of my low stance, shooting a rising uppercut for his jaw. Spike blocked the blow before it got near his face and drove a hard left into my nose.
This time, I wasn’t able to twist with the impact.
My head snapped back hard, my eyes half-closing in pain. Out of the corner of my slitted left eye, I saw Spike aiming a powerful right cross.
I flung myself with the blow, crashing hard on to the floor and rolling away. I ended up lying flat on my back, dizzy and confused, one hand clutching my throbbing nose while I stared at the roof and tried to concentrate.
I heard Spike laugh a meter or so away. “Yeah, mate. You’re really beating me down here. What ever can I do against your ruthless attack of falling flat on your arse?” I heard his boots moving towards me.
As I had hoped, Spike had let over-confidence get the better of him. My plan was working perfectly. I had him right where I wanted him.
Yeah, I was lying on the floor with a bloody nose and him standing over me, but everything was going according to plan. Sure.
Spike spoke again, sounding almost disappointed as he moved right up beside me. “Is that all you got, Doyley? I would have expected more of a fight from your hobbling Watcher chum!”
I let my head loll about, eyes half-closed, like I could barely hear him. Spike drove a boot hard into my ribs and it took all my self-control not to roll away and block.
My moan of pain wasn’t entirely staged as he kicked me again. I folded up around his outstretched leg, clinging on to it weakly.
“ Here!” Spike said disgustedly. “Leggo! You’re gonna bleed all over my boots!”
I rolled on to my stomach, still holding tenaciously onto Spike’s foot.
He groaned. “This is getting really pathetic…”
I felt his leg tense to pull himself free and allowed myself a bloody smile. Then I moved.
Now, if you look at the situation here, bruises and battle aside, Spike was effectively standing with all his weight on his back leg and with me holding on to his front foot. So when I rose from the floor and yanked his leg upwards with every inch of demon-enhanced strength I possessed, Spike was thrown over so hard and fast he practically did a somersault.
As the vampire hit the ground, I rushed forward, picking him up off the floor and hurling him into a wall with both arms. Spike smacked hard into my apartment wall, gasping in shock and pain as he tried to regain his shaky balance.
He took a single, hesitant step forward and walked straight into my right cross. Blood sprayed and I jabbed hard with my left, pummelling his chest and then snapping my fist up for another blow to his face. My right arm shot in again, snapping his head round a second time.
“ Pathetic, huh?” I spat through gritted teeth as I threw punch after punch. Spike was dazed, in pain and off-balance, and growing more punch-drunk by the second.
I have to hand it to him. Usually, in a fight where one fighter gains such a clear and decisive advantage, well, the rest of the combat is basically a formality. The defender is too busy covering up and blocking to get a blow in, and the attacker is on such an adrenalin high that nothing short of being hit by a truck will stop him punching.
But Spike actually stopped blocking. In the midst of a web of pain, taking the nastiest blows I could throw and then some, he was actually able to think rationally and wait for an opening.
I could see this new tactic and I didn’t like it, so I took a single step back and kicked hard for his chest, hoping to knock him down.
Unfortunately, that turned out to be exactly the wrong thing to do.
Spike blocked my kick, grabbed my foot and shoved backwards. The push was pretty flimsy, all things considered, but I had to stagger backwards a few steps to regain my balance, my eyes on the floor instead of my opponent.
And when I looked up again, I wasn’t looking at a bloody, battered Spike who was swaying on his feet.
The Spike I was looking at was, to put it bluntly, extremely pissed off. He was wearing his vampire face and his yellow eyes veritably glowed with pain and anger.
He spat a dollop of blood on my floor and grinned with feral amusement. “Not bloody bad,” he said with grudging admiration. “You suckered me very nicely, mate. And that little tip-me-over move? Bleedin’ brilliant. I am impressed.”
“ So glad to have won your appreciation,” I shot back.
“ Yeah, well don’t be. I killed the last ten people whose fighting impressed me. Constructive criticism.”
“ I’m sure they’ll be very grateful in their next lives.”
Spike smiled, balling his fists. “I underestimated you, Doyley. Let myself get too cocky.” His voice turned dangerous. “But don’t think the same trick’ll work twice. Amateur hour’s over, time to play for the money.”
Spike’s advance was more cautious and slow this time, partly because of his new respect for me, and partly because, all his bluffing aside, he was fairly beat-up.
But then again, in the state I was in, a sloth would have seemed like a dangerously quick opponent. We began to circle.
I made the first move this time, punching high. Spike slapped the blow aside but didn’t retaliate. I punched low. Again, blocked but with no response.
A quick sequence of punches aimed at his face yielded similar results, though Spike sent a few slow, easily-blocked strikes at my stomach.
I was starting to get nervous and I was sure Spike could see it. With him taking such a defensive stance, there was really nothing I could do to get to him and with every blow I made, the chances increased that I would slip up and leave him an opening.
I built up the pace of punches until, finally, Spike did retaliate.
It was like a Chess Grandmaster who distracts you by moving pieces down one end of the board, until finally you leave yourself vulnerable to a single move of his queen that gets checkmate.
As the exchange of punches had gained momentum, I had shifted my feet so as to easily defend from Spike’s occasional return blows by bobbing my head or blocking. Even my hands were up high like a boxer’s stance.
So Spike just hooked his front foot around mine and tugged. It was a simple bloody trip, something even Wesley could have pulled off - if his leg wasn’t broken, of course - but it caught me totally by surprise and pulled my legs right out from under me.
I hit the ground hard and rolled. No chance to play dead here. I heard Spike rushing in as I came to my feet and I knew there was no way I could stay out of the coming assault of blows long enough to regain my balance and focus.
So I didn’t. Instead, I shrugged out of my jacket and threw it straight into Spike’s face.
“ Hey! No fair!” I heard him yelp, muffled by the coat. I punched him hard in the stomach and then grabbed his jacket-wrapped head and smashed it into my knee. I threw him aside as he snatched the coat off his face and flung it away, tearing it in several places.
I winced. Explaining those marks to a tailor would be interesting.
“ All right!” Spike snapped. “Enough is enough. I’m gonna grind your bones into a mushy paste and hand your heart to your Slayer slut.”
“ You know what, ‘mate’?” I snarled. “You’re all talk.”
Considering the mood Spike was in, there was no way I was letting him swing the first punch. I charged him, hands to the sides, my guard totally down.
No, I wasn’t suicidal.
When I was a step or so away from him I flung my torso backwards and kicked both my legs off the floor. Now what would normally happen next is that I would fall flat and feel like an idiot.
And yes, I did fall flat. But thanks to my momentum, my feet went up high and hard and smashed into Spike’s face. Then I fell flat, but so did he.
A nice little flying kick, if not as pretty as the ones Jackie Chan and them do all the time.
Of course, now I was flat on my back. Again. But fortunately Spike was down as well and after having received both my feet in the jaw, he was considerably less ready to get up again.
As Spike lay stunned on my floor, I staggered to my weapons cabinet and snatched at the first weapon I saw.
A double-headed axe in hand, I turned and threw myself onto Spike, pinning him to the floor.
His hands grappled with mine for the axe, but I tugged it from his weakened grasp and raised it up high.
“ An’ by the way, Faith’s not a slut. The girl just likes to party.”
The axe swept down.
I might as well have hit Spike with an axe-shaped hammer. He grunted in pain as it rebounded off his shoulder.
Betrayed, I stared at my weapon. The bloody thing was blunt! I was so surprised I lost hold of my demon form.
Then I looked down into Spike’s grinning face and swallowed.
I felt like someone had glued my eyelids together with treacle and then an octopus had wrapped itself around me.
“ Come on, sissy boy,” I heard Spike mutter. A hand slapped my face, none too gently.
I opened my eyes just in time to receive another slap.
Spike chuckled. “Nice to see you’re back with us, Sleeping Beauty.”
The ‘octopus’ of my semi-conscious musings was in fact quite a lot of tight rope that Spike had wrapped around my upper body, tying me into a chair in the centre of my apartment. I struggled with the bonds as my captor stepped away from me, admiring his handiwork as he took a swig from his bottle of blood. He was human again, and the bruises and marks from our fight had nearly vanished from his face.
“ I should have been a Boy Scout,” he said cheerily, watching my efforts with amusement.
“ You cut off my bloody circulation,” I muttered, tugging futilely at the ropes as my fingers tingled unpleasantly. The chair was borrowed from upstairs and it shifted slightly on its castors in response to my movement.
“ I’m sobbing with guilt, I am,” Spike laughed, sprawling down casually on my sofa. “That was quite a fun little affair we had back there, wasn’t it?”
“ I don’t really call fightin’ for my life ‘fun’,” I said sarcastically. “But maybe that’s just me.”
Spike snorted. “Liar. Why else do you spend your time fighting all us nasty, non-productive and unpleasant types, then?”
“ It might be ‘cause your charmin’ habit of killin’ people offends me,” I said, finally giving up on my ropes. Spike sure did know how to tie knots.
“ Really. So you’re just the big Dark Avenger, huh? Well, okay, short, badly-dressed Irish Avenger, then.” Spike sat up and smiled unpleasantly, poking me in the chest. “I’ve got news for you, mate. You’re part demon, same as me. Just because you tramp around with a Slayer and can walk in daylight doesn’t mean you’re any better.”
I glared at the vampire, filled with loathing. “I don’t kill people.”
Spike folded his hands behind his head and leaned back casually. “Well that all depends, don’t it? After all, you’ve killed lots of people, if you consider demons people, that is. And if you don’t, then you’re not a person, are you? Quite the moral dilemma.”
“ Spike, you don’t have any morals, much less dilemmas,” I retorted.
Spike seemed immensely pleased at that. "Yeah. I don’t. It’s so much more fun my way.” He took another pull from the bottle. “But you’re letting me get off topic, Doyley. I didn’t leave you alive just to blab about ethics all day long.”
“ So why did you? Not that I’m not happy to still be counted among the breathin’ or anything.”
That had been eating at me. Spike had every reason to kill me and judging from Wes’s research, he didn’t seem like the mercy-giving type. Whatever his reason was, I didn’t think I was going to like it.
Sure enough, I didn’t. “Your girlfriend. Faith. When’s she coming back, then?”
“ You called it right the first time, Spike. We had a fight; she took off. She could be gone for days.”
Spike frowned. “Bloody hell! Girl doesn’t even have the decency to stay put so I can kill her. Now I call that inconsiderate, don’t you? She got any other place to run to besides this joint?”
Something else had been preying on my mind. “How’d you find us, Spike? We couldn’t find you, so how did you track us?”
Spike laughed. “Well I’m not in the phone book, am I? You, on the other hand… Doyle Investigations. Real subtle. ‘Course I visited a Doyle Plumbing and a Doyle’s Pet Store first, but I was hungry anyway.”
“ Lovely.” Poor bastards. Just having the same name as me had got them killed.
Spike sighed. “All that effort, and she’s gone and buggered off somewhere else. Still I suppose she’ll come running back when Crutches finds her. Got to save her dear little Doyley-snookums, hasn’t she?”
“ Uh-huh. An’ then she’ll stake you an’ I’ll set Wesley to work washin’ your dust out of my carpet,” I told him.
“ We’ll just have to wait and see about that, won’t we?” Spike said smoothly. “I hope she gets here soon. I’m getting bored.”
“ Poor you.”
Spike smiled suddenly. “But why should I be bored when I have such a perfect way to while away the hours? I mean, all these medieval weapons... you, tied to a chair... time flies when you’re mercilessly torturing someone.”
“ Couldn’t we just play Scrabble?” I asked as Spike picked up a large knife from my weapons cabinet.
“ Nah. I’m not really the literary type. More of a hands-on guy.” Spike grinned as he brought the knife to rest against my throat. I closed my eyes in anticipation, trying hard not to swallow.
There was a long pause, and then I heard the knife thud against the floor. “It’s just not the same without her!” Spike complained brokenly. I heard him slump back onto my sofa.
When I hesitantly opened my eyes, Spike was lighting a cigarette. He slipped his metal lighter into his pocket and ran a hand through his white-blond hair, taking a long drag on the cigarette.
He smiled sadly. “The torturing was her favorite part, too.”
“ Okay…an’ who was this lovely lady?” I asked nervously, eyeing the gleaming knife lying on the floor.
Spike looked up at me as if he’d forgotten I was in the room. “Oh. Drusilla’s her name.”
“ That’s a nice name. Very, uh, gothic.”
Spike grinned. “Oh yeah, my baby’s got style. Great dress sense.”
Killer figure too, I imagine. In more ways than one. “Sounds like quite a catch, huh?”
“ She’s the best,” he told me. “Totally bonkers, though. I miss her little spastic fits and the way she used to talk in nonsense words.”
Figures. Like a guy called Spike would have a normal girlfriend. “That’s nice... in a dada-esque kinda way.”
Spike chuckled in memory. “Once she went through an entire year thinking she was a daisy.”
“ I’m sure that was fun.” I wonder if she wanted fertilizer?
“ Uh-huh. You know, sometimes I used to get annoyed with her rambling and stuff, but now I miss it so much. Sometimes I go and sit in cellars and mutter about dolls and flowerpots to myself, but it just isn’t the same.”
Great. So now, not only was I trapped in my own apartment with a murderous vampire, but I was with a murderous vampire who had just been dumped and who was probably looking to release a lot of repressed anger.
“ So…why’d you two split? You sound like a perfect match,” I said with total honesty. Maybe if I could stall Spike with reminiscing, Wes could have enough time to find Faith and save my soon-to-be-tortured butt.
Spike blew a cloud of smoke into my face and sniffed. “It all started because of Prague, you know.”
“ She left you for a city?” I asked quizzically
Spike rolled his eyes. “No, you bloody pillock. We were vacationing in Prague, and well, we got a little bit over-enthusiastic... there was this mob...”
I nodded wisely. “I’ve had holidays like that myself.”
Spike waved me into silence. “Anyway, Dru got hurt really bad. She was very weak and she kept on getting worse and worse…so we decided to go to Sunnyhell to see if we could get her rejuvenated.”
“ Where hell?”
“ Sunnydale,” he said by way of explanation. “We thought maybe the Hellmouth could recharge her, give her system a little ‘oomph’, if you get my meaning.”
“ Like a health spa for the undead,” I suggested.
“ Exactly. So we arrive, and I mean this place is just unreal. Crawling with vamps and every other kind of demon to ever ooze its way out of Hell.” He chuckled. “Man, that town redefines the words ‘lively nightlife’.”
“ I suppose it all depends on your point of view,” I said diplomatically.
Spike didn’t appear to hear me. “And slap bang in the middle of it all is this great nightclub called the Bronze. Local kids used to hang there, but then the Master made it his own private hideaway. Much better than the crypts vamps usually meet in. The kids still hang there, but now they hang on meat hooks. Great joint.”
“ So? Sounds like the perfect honeymoon destination,” I said ironically. This was the town Wesley had wanted to send Faith to? Idiot.
“ Yeah, well, Dru was back on her feet in no time, all those demonic energies worked wonders.” A smile creased Spike’s face. “She was all excited and happy - it was like she’d been turned for a second time. Only problem was, the Master is very traditionalist, big on the whole ‘obey thy elders’ crap. And, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m a bit of an independent thinker. Not his favorite kind of person. I got into a million arguments with the wrinkled old fart, so one night I finally decide that enough is enough, time to hit the road. Only Dru disagrees, see?”
“ She’s like all, ‘Hellmouth wonderful, the Master wonderful,’ and I’m like, ‘Hey! He’s a shrivelled old prune who hasn’t paid attention to the world since the wheel was invented!’ So we had a huge fight, but I thought we were going to make up again.”
“ You obviously didn’t,” I observed.
Spike scrubbed at his eyes with his sleeve and sniffed again. “No. I wake up the next night, there’s this big empty space next to me in our bed. Turns out she’s just moved into the Bronze with the Master and his chums. She didn’t even have the…the decency to tell me to my face! I pitch up at the Bronze, she’s flirting with a couple of slimy demons! She told me that ‘It was fun while it lasted!’"
“ That’s harsh,” I admitted.
Spike nodded in agreement. “Yeah. Bitch. And it was just so…callous, too. Like I didn’t even matter.”
“ Love is tough.”
Spike sighed. “Yeah. So what about you, then?”
I hadn’t been expecting that. “Me?”
“ You and your Slayer. You are an item, right?”
“ Yes. Well, kind of.”
Spike nodded wisely. “Ah. She flirts with everyone, doesn’t she? Never pays attention to you, but if you say ‘Hi’ to a pretty skirt then you’re being unfaithful. And she’s just ‘having fun’.”
“ Uh-huh,” I agreed, remembering Faith at the rave. “We were at this dance an’ she just ignored me. Like I was a piece of furniture.”
“ I know, mate. And when you bring someone to eat home, you're expected to share. But when she does and you want some, you're 'being mean'.”
I remembered the way Faith always appeared just when Wes and I ordered takeaway. “Yeah.”
“ And she always wants everything her way. Never any compromise.”
“ An’ it doesn’t help that she can beat me flat in a fight. Kind of humiliatin’, too,” I said. “An’ what’s worse is she’ll rub my nose in it! She’ll poke me around until I’m close to losin’ my rag an’ then cross her arms and say, ‘Whatcha gonna do? I’m the Slayer, remember?’”
“ Women. Who needs ‘em.”
Spike stood up and stubbed out his cigarette on the armrest of my chair. “You know, I feel like we’ve really bonded here, Doyle. You’re a nice sort, even if you keep bad company.” He smiled pleasantly at me.
“ I'm still going to rip your heart out and hand it to your Slayer lover with a ribbon tied around it, but tell you what, I'll snap your neck first, before I extract the heart. Less painful that way.”
He patted me on the head in a friendly fashion.
Spike grabbed the top of my head. “Okay, now hold still…”
A female voice purred, “Hey, boys…starting without me?”
I tried to look behind me and nearly broke my own neck. Faith and Wesley stood by the side door into my apartment. Relationship gripes aside, I could have kissed her.
Spike glanced at his watch in annoyance, stepping back from me. “About bloody time!”
Faith grinned in a predatory fashion. “Getting impatient, were we, Spikey?”
“ I like her,” Spike told me. “She’s got sauce.”
“ I’m all yours, Spikey,” Faith said teasingly, pulling a stake from her belt. “Have you been a bad boy?”
Spike chuckled throatily. “Oh, yes. Want to punish me?”
I looked from Slayer to vampire. “Faith!” I said desperately. “Quit flirting an’ start fighting!”
Faith glanced once in my direction. That was a mistake. She really shouldn’t have taken her eyes off Spike for a second. The vampire shot past me, crashing straight into her and bearing her to the floor. Wes yelped in surprise, hopping out of the way of the struggling foes.
Hopping while on crutches is not an easy task.
With a bone-rattling crunch, he slammed into the floor, his crutches going flying.
Swearing under my breath, I lifted my feet upwards and pushed hard against my sofa. The chair skidded backwards on its wheels, nearly toppling. Now I was much closer to the fight, but still unable to do anything.
Faith managed to shove Spike off her and she lunged upwards with her stake. The vampire sneered as he batted the weapon out of her hand. Faith, always ready to improvise, stomped on his foot.
Spike snarled and went vamp, smashing her across the face with his forearm. As she reeled backwards, he advanced, flashing me a fanged grin over his shoulder.
I did the only thing I could.
If you push hard enough with your feet, a chair on wheels can pick up quite a turn of speed.
Spike growled as the chair, with me firmly attached, slammed into his side. He staggered for a second, and then grabbed a hold on the back of the chair.
“ Piss off, Doyley,” he snapped. “I’m busy.” With a shove of his hand, he sent my chair careering away from him again.
The chair wobbled and teetered on two wheels as I shot across the room. For a second, it seemed about to right itself.
I tried very hard not to move. Or breathe.
Then the chair toppled over like a falling tree and I crashed to the ground beside the prone Wesley.
“ This is not going well,” he observed, his bespectacled face inches from my own.
“ As always, you’re the king of understatement, Wes,” I grunted, yanking hard at the ropes. But the damn knots were still tight.
Wesley began to drag himself past me on his hands and good knee, gasping with exertion.
“ Useful,” I said sarcastically. “What are you goin’ to do, gnaw on their ankles?”
Then I saw what he was going for. Spike’s dropped knife.
My chair-lunge had given Faith enough time to regain her balance and she was holding her own against Spike. In fact, more than holding her own.
Spike spun away from a sweeping roundhouse kick, dodging and diving furiously. The vampire had obviously been more hurt by our fight than he had seemed, because his movements were infinitesimally slower and less efficient than before.
Against Faith, that kind of margin can get a guy killed.
Inwardly, I cheered as she backed him up against a wall with a violent barrage of punches. Spike was getting hit more than he was blocking. In fact, he hardly seemed to be blocking at all any more.
I recognised the pattern.
As I opened my mouth to warn Faith, Spike made his move. Faith was too fast for him to pull another block-and-shove stunt like he had with me. Instead, he just ducked.
With every ounce of her Slayer-strength behind it, Faith’s fist plowed straight into my wall. I heard the pop of her wrist dislocating and her gasp of pain.
But that wasn’t enough for Spike. The bastard reached up and grabbed her damaged wrist and twisted.
For the first time in my life, I heard Faith scream. She went down on one knee as Spike twisted her already bent hand. His face twisting with victorious glee, he flung her backwards and raised his fists.
“ Wesley!” I snapped, glancing at the Watcher. He had the knife in hand and was crawling back as fast as he could, his eyes on the deadly confrontation.
Faith looked up at Spike with pain-dimmed eyes, grabbing her wrist with her good hand. I heard the horrible grinding sound as she forced it back into place, a hiss of pain escaping her lips.
Spike applauded mockingly. “Impressive, Slayer. You’ve got guts!”
Faith glared at him wordlessly.
Spike smiled. “By the time I’m done with you, you won’t have any. At least not inside you. On the walls, mayb -”
Faith hurled herself forward, punching him in the face.
Wesley pulled himself up behind me and began to saw at the ropes. There was a scraping sound and then a pause.
“ Uh, Doyle?” he said plaintively.
“ Yeah?” I rasped.
“ This knife is blunt.”
I glanced at him. “You’re kidding.” He shook his head slowly. “What the hell happened to ‘A Slayer must always rely on her weaponry above all else’?”
“ There’s no need to be snippy.”
I ignored him, straining against my ropes. They were a bit frayed, but at this rate, it would take Wesley a year to free me. And it didn’t look like Faith had a minute.
Spike swayed out of the way of her weakened blows and grabbed her by the throat.
“ Third time’s the charm,” he remarked, tightening his grip. I heard Faith gurgle as she fought for breath. Spike grinned. “Congratulations, Faith. You’re my hat trick.”
Not if I could help it.
I probably should have warned Wesley beforehand.
The change came slowly and with difficulty as I gritted my teeth and used every inch of the control it had taken me three years to learn.
I heard Wes yelp and draw back from my spines as they sliced into the weakened ropes around my hands. But the ropes still held
Doyle the human couldn’t have busted them. But for Doyle the demon, it was no trick at all.
I tore myself free of the chair and hit Spike with the first thing that came to hand.
His glass bottle of blood shattered as it collided with his forehead. Blood, both his own and the bottled, ran down his face in a hideous river as he threw Faith to the ground and spun on me.
Spike’s fist shot into my jaw and the world seemed to spin around me as I fell, my momentary burst of demon-boosted adrenalin fading. Spike grinned as he bent down over me.
There was an explosion of noise by my ear and something invisible seemed to pick Spike up by the shoulder and toss him backwards. He staggered and nearly fell, clutching at his bleeding arm.
On the stairs behind me, Collins carefully levelled the slim-barrelled pistol in his hand for another shot. Behind him, Weatherby and Smith raised bottles of holy water to throw.
I hastily shook off the demon, hoping they hadn’t noticed my spikes in the shadows. But they didn’t seem to be paying attention to me at all.
Collins’s pistol spoke again and Spike lurched drunkenly, his face reverting to human. He stared at all of us, suddenly seeming weak and faltering, blood running down his black duster.
“ Bloody hell,” he gasped. “Six on one is getting a bit ridiculous, isn’t it?”
Collins smiled cynically. “And you were expecting what? Queensbury rules?”
Spike snarled once, a furious, animal sound. “All right. You win. But I’ll be back, and you and yours will be in for a very nasty - ”
He hissed in pain as scattered droplets from Smith’s holy water hit him. “Can’t you even let a man finish a sodding sentence?”
Spike turned and dove for the sewer grate in my apartment floor in a flurry of motion. Collins’s pistol spoke four more times, but Spike was through the grate before the bullets found their mark.
The trio of killers moved swiftly for the sewer grate, but I could have told them they were wasting their effort. With someone like Spike, you have to have him right in front of you when you pull the trigger, and even then you have to be lucky.
You see, Spike’s a survivor.
But the thing he hadn’t allowed for, I realised as I surveyed my wrecked apartment, is that so am I.
Wesley said, "Perhaps you should have stayed at the office. You still don't look so good."
He wasn't just saying that. I knew exactly what he meant. I'd got something of a shock myself when I'd got up that morning and looked in the mirror, to discover the bruises that had developed to their full extent during the night. My demon healing could only do so much.
I'd staked a lot of vampires, and Spike had been one of the toughest I'd ever faced. I was less than happy knowing he was still around somewhere, probably plotting revenge. And, irritatingly enough, Spike probably wouldn't even be feeling any of the mementos of our encounter by now.
"I want to see them leave," I said darkly, under my breath.
He nodded and sighed, following my gaze to the three figures. They were currently engaged in a steadily mounting argument with an airport employee, over next to the malfunctioning vending machine which had eaten Collins' cash but failed to deliver anything in return.
Faith was eating a chocolate bar as she watched them with increasing annoyance while the seconds ticked past and the three showed no sign of peeling off to go and catch their imminent flight.
If they delayed much longer, they were going to miss it. Something the three of us would prefer to avoid at all costs.
The thin thread of Faith's patience finally snapped, and she irritably walked over to the vending machine. She delivered a hefty kick to it, so hard the heavy hunk of junk actually rocked from side to side. It spat out a can of soda, settling the debate.
She returned, chomping aggressively on the chocolate, and from her expression I knew she'd rather be kicking her frustration out of the Special Ops Team themselves.
"How long now 'til we can lose the Stooges?" she growled, casting an expression of absolute disgust back at Collins, Weatherby and Smith. I had the feeling that if she'd had to work with them for much longer, someone - possibly several someones - would've ended up hospitalised.
"Three minutes less than when you last asked," Wesley told her, with an unusual degree of patience. A day spent in the company of the Watchers' Council guys had made Wes and Faith allies, at least temporarily.
I suppose she was getting a taster of the fact that her assigned Watcher could have been considerably worse. As for Wesley, he seemed to have some kind of defensive pride thing going on, like he wasn't going to argue with 'his' Slayer in front of these guys.
"Crap. Is that all?" She crossed her arms and continued to scowl at the three men in concentrated hatred.
Her right wrist was encased in a light splint. Slayer healing or no, the damage Spike had caused was going to take a few days to repair itself. The muscles and tendons were all stretched out of shape, the wrist liable to pop out of joint again. It had taken a considerable amount of persuasion on the part of myself and Wesley to get her to wear the damned thing.
Events since we'd seen off Spike had been frustrating in the extreme. The Special Ops Team had crashed in the office that night, drinking my beer and generally making the place untidy. And I'd thought Faith was bad...
I'd spent most of the last twenty-four hours praying not to sneeze, while Wesley's Good Little Watcher mask had hardly slipped once - and Faith, in an unusual show of restraint, had kept her biting comments to herself or muttered them, under her breath, to me or Wesley.
The usual argumentative chaos of our working relationship was a happy holiday by comparison.
When they'd started talking about staying in the office with us for a few weeks, to give us the help we 'so obviously needed' to see off Spike if he returned, Wesley had employed honey-tongued diplomacy and a truly astonishing show of manipulative skill to finally coerce them into returning to England this afternoon.
Overall, the guys had made it clear they weren't impressed with our operation, and however much it was going to be a relief to be rid of the smug bastards, I was somewhat concerned about the potential trouble their reports back to the Council could cause us.
We badly needed a victory in the next few weeks, I mused. Pray for a vision. But not for a few days yet. Easier to fight evil when just standing up doesn't make you dizzy.
Faith noticed me looking at her and, draping an arm over my shoulders, held up the remainder of the chocolate bar. "Wanna share?"
I didn't particularly but, uncomfortably reminded of the conversation I'd had with Spike, I nodded just to see if she would. She stuck the lot in her mouth. Smirking, she then planted her mouth on mine. The result was messy, but not unpleasant. Even if I did have the distinct feeling she was only doing it to annoy the Special Ops Team, who were walking back to rejoin us. She pulled her lips away as they drew near. I wiped my mouth. She didn't bother.
"Well, I guess we've finally found some more annoying gooseberries than the cri - uh, Wesley here," Faith drawled, just loud enough for them to catch.
I found her hands were abruptly and none-too-subtly all over me. I chased them around, trying to catch and restrain them, finding the setting a little too public for just how frisky she was getting. "Hey!" I hissed into her ear. She broke my grip and very nearly my wrist too, and what she did next made me jump. I slapped her wrist and tried to even out my breathing again.
"Spoilsport," she hissed back.
Wesley, looking thoroughly humiliated at being associated with us as a couple of passers-by made lewd or disgusted comments about the display, stared in fascination at some point on the ceiling.
Weatherby and his pals just leered, amused by the show. They'd stopped a few feet from us while Collins checked their luggage. I wondered how they got their private armoury through customs. Probably some sort of spellcraft. Either that or the Watchers' Council's influence. Not that I'd ever seen Wesley employ said influence to any degree...
I gave up wondering. Faith was making it kind of difficult to think straight.
"Bye, bye," she said, waving pointedly at the Stooges. "Don't you people have a plane to catch?"
Weatherby sneered at her. "That smart mouth of yours didn't appear to be doing you much good when we came in yesterday. Another minute and boyfriend here would've been a corpse."
Collins took up where he left off. "And you not long after, by the look of things, Slayer. Take care of that wrist, won't you? Not to mention that charming overconfidence. Can anyone say 'next'?" He snapped his fingers in front of her nose.
Abruptly grateful for our proximity, I curled an arm tight around Faith's waist. While outwardly a gesture of affection, the move actually disguised the effort it took to hold her back from a lunge which would probably have ended in her stabbing out the guy's eyes with her fingernails.
Quite possibly to be followed by the sharp retorts of his companions' guns - and she unfortunately lacked our new pal Spike's capacity to recover from multiple bullet wounds.
Faith was obviously furious, but she managed to curb her impulsive reaction. Her fingers closed around mine as she stopped struggling.
I was proud of her reserve.
I joined her in glowering at the Special Ops Team. We both could've done without having to be bailed out by these assholes.
Although actually, there was a part of my brain still guiltily a little pleased she was getting to experience what it felt like for me, a lot of the time, with her around.
Faith wasn't used to being bailed out by anyone. I didn't want to try and imagine what had been going through her mind these past twenty-four hours. Still... perhaps she'd learn something from it. I hadn't yet figured out whether her unusually subdued behaviour was a good sign for the future or not.
Smith said, "Slayer's right. Time to board."
"We'll be seeing you, then," Weatherby's tone was neutral, but he still managed to make it sound like a threat. "Pity about the demon. Still, save the next one for us, eh? The Council can always use interesting new study specimens." I winced. "Goodbye Wesley."
Looking exceedingly uncomfortable, Wesley voiced polite, goodbyes, following whatever Watchers' Council decorum there was for these sorts of occasions. Playing the Good Little Watcher again - except I didn't imagine 'lie like a weasel', as Faith had put it, was in any of his manuals.
He was telling that lie for me. Betraying the organisation that seemed to be everything in his life, for my sake. I stayed very quiet throughout those final exchanges.
Until the Special Ops Team walked away from us and vanished among the airport crowds.
"Really, Doyle," Wesley said, peering up at me with concern as I balanced tenuously on the chair, hammering a cross to the panel above the door. "I realise you're somewhat upset, but this display of paranoia is rather excessive..."
"Yeah. Right. And you're not the one who isn't human enough to keep the vampires out. Pass me up another nail, will you?"
"Look, I may not know precisely what Spike said to you. But I heard enough before I left to hazard a guess, and..."
"Another nail, Wesley. Please."
He handed one up as requested, sighing. I carefully placed the nail and continued hammering.
It made me cringe to think of all that time I'd spent relying on the protection of a humanity which had never been there. All those times I could have died, because I was vulnerable and never knew it. But then, I'd always been hunting the vampires, before... A lone Dark Avenger, as Spike might have put it, in that sarcastic Cockney sneer. They hadn't come looking for me.
Anyway, I was going to make damned sure it never happened again.
The only bright point I could think of was that at least it hadn't occurred to the Special Ops Team to question how Spike had been able to get into my apartment.
"How many more of these are you intending to place?" Wesley asked. Out of the corner of my eye I could see him poking wearily through the contents of the box. A cross spilled over the edge and thudded to the floor. He shifted, trying to get the leverage to lean down and pick it up, hampered by cast and crutches. After a moment, he gave in and straightened again. "Well? How many?"
I swung the hammer in time with my words, punctuating aggressively. "As many... as bloody necessary... to cover every... single... possible... way in." I hit my thumb, breaking my rhythm, and cursed. I stopped hammering and climbed down off the chair. Stood back to survey my work. "And then some more, just to be absolutely bloody certain."
I picked up the box and studied the rest of the apartment. "That sewer grate, next."
Wesley sighed and rolled his eyes. He hesitated, but then ventured, "They're not so reliable, you know, that a vampire is incapable of passing them. It wouldn't prevent a really determined fiend from entering. Burn, yes. Slow down, perhaps..."
It wasn't what I wanted to hear, and it wasn't as if I didn't know all of that anyway. I snapped, "Well, what the hell am I supposed to do, when the only other alternative is 'nothing'?"
He shook his head, obviously able to offer only negatives, but limped over to help me haul up the sewer grate and stood on hand to help while I tacked the cross to its underside. After a moment, I apologised for snapping at him.
As I stood and wiped my hands off on my shirt, he said slowly, "I have no conception of how something like this must feel... but, believe me when I say it does not matter to me how much of you is demon."
I raised my eyebrows, the memory of last week still all too fresh. He flushed and stammered, "Well, it was something of a shock discovery, yes, but... You've proven your good intentions to me more than adequately, then and since. It's regrettable that I dare not try convince my fellows at the Council to share my understanding. Being that there is too much danger they would not... understand." He sighed.
He looked kind of worn and hollow and hopeless. Understandable enough. He'd gone up against his Council, however subtle and well-meaning his treachery, and his loyalties had been shaken.
I could've done without the pep-talk, actually. I didn't particularly want to care and share. But I couldn't just ignore him.
"Thanks, Wes," I said, awkwardly. "I realise what you did wasn't easy."
"I couldn't very well do anything else," he mumbled. "After all, I caused them to come here."
"And if you hadn't, those guys wouldn't have been on hand with the save and we might all be dead," I pointed out. "So, whatever the reasons for callin' them at the time, I reckon I'm kinda glad now that you did."
He smiled, unconvinced, and the door swung open, putting an end to the uncomfortable conversation.
Faith walked in with her arms full of aromatic bags of takeout. "Hey, my guys," she greeted. "Are we done smiting the evil walls yet? 'Cause if you're still busy I'll start without you. Probably won't be much dinner left by the time you get around to it, though." She grinned, setting out the packages on the table.
'To Hell with Spike,' I thought, shaking off the memory of his words. Something I'd been having to do far too often. Evil vampire or not, the guy had a whole lot of insight. 'I know that was a joke.'
Later, Wesley retreated up into the office to continue researching Spike in slightly less chaotic surroundings, leaving Faith and I to my trashed apartment.
I looked around the mess and decided I couldn't really be bothered with finishing the clean-up job right now. I went to dig out some whisky from the kitchen instead.
Faith had been sprawled on the couch when I left. Now, as I walked back through the door into the main body of the apartment, knocking back a large gulp from the bottle, I found her pacing restlessly.
"Seems a while since we had some alone-time," she said, her eyes avoiding meeting mine. She seemed awkward, and sorta nervous. Odd.
"Somethin' wrong?" I asked, reluctantly setting aside the whisky.
Spike had related to me, him with his crazy vamp girlfriend. His crazy vamp ex-girlfriend. That was not the most reassuring of things to recall, facing Faith now.
Abruptly, she met my gaze directly. There was something strange in her eyes, something at odds with the customary aggression of her body language. "Aw, shit, I guess what I've been waiting to say is, you saved my butt. I know I wasn't real nice to you the other day. Then you have to go and save me from Spike and all, so there's me feeling kind of stupid. Not to mention you almost dying. Then all that time, not being able to talk properly in front of those Council assholes, stewing over my own thoughts... I guess what I'm saying is I'm, uh, sorry I was so crap to you, Doyle. I, uh..."
She hesitated. I stared, all my nerves on edge waiting for whatever it was that would come next, not quite believing this was happening.
"I need you," she said finally, her voice a rasp, barely more than a whisper.
Astonished, and knowing I ought to say something of comparative significance, I opened my mouth. And stopped. All the things I'd not dared voice because I knew she'd have turned around and laughed at me rushed through my mind. I had to pick one, and quickly, before I missed the opportunity I'd never imagined I'd have...
That was when she shrugged off her leather top over her head, "C'mon, Doyle," she said enthusiastically, "I've been hornier than hell ever since I lost that fight. Got to work off some of that steam, now the cripple's finally out the way and the Stooges have gone home."
I gaped, spluttered incoherently for a moment, then resignedly forced a smile.
It wasn't as if I could complain, really.
Still... for a minute there, it had been nice to think that maybe, just maybe, there was something more staring back at me from those dark-smudged eyes.