by Mike Dewar
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?”