Rating: PG-13 with a particular warning for violence and gore in part 3.
Summary: Kate Lockley hunts a demon. Set sometime after "The Prodigal", and before "Sanctuary".
Disclaimer: All Angel characters are owned by Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, WB, and so on and so forth. Grr argh.
Note: I'm largely ignoring the fact Kate found the information on vampires and Angelus with such ease in "Somnambulist" because it doesn't really make sense to me that she should have done so. So she got lucky with it once. This is how I think it would go, as she tries to feel her way into this new weird world.
"How can I reconcile what I see with what I know?"
Although she hadn't really known what she was looking for, once found it was impossible to mistake.
The drunken figure staggering down the road away from the establishment was... subtly not quite right. There were odd angles and shapes composing that shadowy silhouette.
Her recently developed sensitivity to such things screamed the words through her mind.
Yeah... this was it, all right.
Detective Kate Lockley made her way to one of the windows. It was unwashed and dirt-encrusted, and it was probably left that way quite deliberately. She squinted through, trying to examine the dimly lit, smoky bar room within. She couldn't see much, but after some concentrated peering she came to the conclusion that, although some of the beings whose forms her eyes could just make out inside might be human, very probably none of them were.
The door she had watched the figure emerge from was tucked deep in the shadows, as though the proprietor didn't want it found by chance. She took a step towards it, then hesitated, forced to think again about just what she was doing.
Damn it, she had to do this. She couldn't work blind. She needed contacts. Information. Right now, she was lost - and she wasn't going to start getting any less lost until she did something about finding those things.
Her gun was at her side, a familiar weight against her hip, hidden beneath her bulky padded jacket. She had a badge, and a radio, and way too many years of police training and experience to be letting nerves get the better of her like this.
Then again, not every cop was handed quite this situation. Most of them wouldn't even have believed it if the proof was paraded right before their eyes.
'Yeah, demonstrably,' she reflected sourly.
She walked around to the door. Steeling herself, gathering all the confidence or at least all the appearance of confidence that she could muster, she shoved the door open and stalked inside.
Fear dragged at her limbs and tried to hold her back. She'd never been so near to so many of them before. Evil things. Demons, she supposed she ought to admit to herself at least. There were maybe twenty of them inside the bar. Some of them were sitting alone, some in little clusters. Two were engaged in a game of pool at the back. A guy with green skin was playing on a fruit machine.
It could have been any of the shabbier and disreputable LA bars she'd ever seen, had just the faces and forms been different.
But she didn't want to even try imagine what might happen if she attempted an arrest in here.
'Don't stare. Try to look like you belong.'
She allowed herself only a cursory glance around the interior before fixing her eyes determinedly on the barman - uh, bar-demon - and walking across to the counter.
She ordered a beer, keeping her voice cool. There was a brief moment of panic as she wondered if demons actually did drink beer or if she ought to be ordering a pint of blood or something even less appealing.
'Of course they drink. Angel was drinking at the party. Stay calm.'
She studied the pint the bar-demon handed over. It smelled perfectly normal. Perhaps slightly watered down. She frowned at it for a moment before taking a hesitant sip. It tasted fine.
The noise of footsteps and the scent of bad breath, as another customer approached the bar and stood beside her to order, were something of a jolt to her already besieged mind, knowing as she did that their source wasn't human. It took all the control she had not to give away some kind of reaction.
"So, babe," the orange-faced creature with tusks and a beer-moustache said, leaning on the bar across her line of view and smiling what she feared was meant to be a charming smile. "Don't think I've seen you around before. What are you? Succubus? Vengeance demon?"
"If you don't take that hand away right now, you'll find out," she replied levelly. "And I doubt you'll like it."
The creature waggled its... eyebrows?... at the bar-demon in rejected-guy sign language for 'feisty bitch, but that doesn't mean I'm giving up'. "You change your mind, doll, you just let me know." It leaned over to the bar-demon and its whisper carried quite adequately even to her human ears, "You tell the other guys this one's mine."
Then it walked away, swaggering in a showily butch manner as it did so. Kate choked on her beer at the sight. The demon returned to a table surrounded by similar demons in various states of inebriation, a scene that reminded her rather of late nights at the Blue Bar.
She sighed, absorbing the knowledge she had finally found some place worse than D'Oblique.
The bar-demon was squinting at her distrustfully. "You ain't any demon," it said, after a moment.
She forced down panic and met its gaze innocently. "You only say that because you've never seen me angry."
"You got gall coming in here, for some human bitch," it said, keeping its voice hushed. "Damn it, I thought you were a succubus. Get out before my customers catch on. We don't cater to your sort. 'Sides which, a lot of these guys' favourite after-closing take-out is Human. You really don't want to stick around."
"Are you threatening me?"
"I'm warning you. For your own good."
She contemplated taking the badge out, but doubted it would count for much. Instead, she pulled back her jacket and angled her waist to show off the gun.
The bar-demon asked doubtfully, "Any silver bullets?"
"You're kidding. I thought that was werewolves. You serve werewolves?"
It shook its head in a weary, long-suffering manner. "No werewolves. They're hell on the furniture. But..."
"There are werewolves?" Kate demanded, backtracking.
The demon rolled its eyes. "Of course there are frickin' werewolves. Just not in my bar. I think there's a guy lives over on - aw, heck, that's not what I meant anyway. You see those guys over there? Invulnerable to everything but silver. And you'd be a gourmet meal to them, lady."
She spared them enough of a glance to fix them in her mind and file them under Avoid If Possible before she turned back to the bar-demon.
Its - his? - purple-irised eyes studied her shrewdly for a moment. "You don't know what you're doing here, do you? Coming in here with that gun. I bet you think we're all, like, evil monsters or something."
"Well, it's a reasonable assumption from where I'm standing, given that you are all very much like evil monsters and somethings." She sipped at her beer. It still tasted perfectly normal.
The demon threw up its arms and made a disgusted noise. "That is such a common misconception among you people." He spat the last word out as though it tasted foul on his tongue.
"Uh-huh. So now I'm a prejudiced human bitch. Gee, and I didn't know demons cared so much about political correctness. Well... care to enlighten me otherwise, then?"
"I care to tell you to get the hell out. You see that guy in the corner over there?"
She looked, and shrugged. The guy seemed relatively normal. So had Angel. Huh. "Vampire?"
"Nah. That's my lawyer. He's human. And he's the only human I let in here. He's protected by the big guns in this city. If you don't get the hell out right now, I get him to start calling police harassment."
Kate stared incredulously between the two. The guy over at the table in the corner raised his glass at her and smiled mockingly.
She recognised him now. It was his lack of a suit which had thrown her. He was that bastard Lee Mercer who'd been involved up to his scrawny neck in the business with Little Tony a while back. The business which had left her looking like a total fool in front of the entire force, not to mention her father.
In retrospect, she was now damned sure it hadn't been anything slipped into the punch which had caused that fiasco.
Fortunately, she hadn't drunk anywhere near enough to believe she could get away with beating the crap out of Mercer then and there. Not considering the influence he had - both in this establishment and the world outside its doors.
"And how do you know who I work for?" she asked, ignoring the grinning Mercer with some effort.
"Lady, owning a place like this, don't you think I've learned to recognise the smell of Cop?"
She thought he probably did. Maybe in more ways than just metaphorical, with that nose. "Okay, so I have LAPD BO," she granted. "But I didn't show my badge. I came in here for a drink. No police harassment there. And somehow I just don't see you standing up in court." She pointedly stared at his scaly red complexion. "You'd scare the jury, for a start."
The demon shook itself and became a thin, weasel-faced human guy. Who smirked at her.
"Besides," she said, without missing a beat. "I thought you were going to talk me out of my assumptions? You wouldn't want me to leave here with a bad impression of the guys, now, would you?" A sarcastic wave of her hands indicated the assorted clientele.
"Look, what do you want? I'm tired of this crap. What does it take to get you out of here?"
Kate carefully took the sketch she'd drawn out of her pocket, unfolded it, and smoothed it down on the counter, upside-down to her eyes, facing the bar-demon. "You ever see one of these guys around here?"
The drawing was basic, but it looked enough like the creature she was after that it should be possible for anyone who knew what it was to recognise without difficulty.
She didn't miss the slight widening of his eyes or the sharp intake of breath her sketch met. He hesitated before nodding slowly, almost imperceptibly.
"Where is it?"
But he shook his head firmly. "You think I'm ratting out one of those? You have got to be kidding me."
"Okay..." She could see she'd have to settle for disappointment there. The guy was scared, demon or no. More scared of whatever the creature in the sketch was than of her, unsurprisingly enough. And she couldn't think of any reasonable grounds - at least not ones she could explain to her fellow officers - to drag him in for interrogation. Especially in full view of his lawyer. She tried a different tactic. "What is it?"
"It's a killer, lady. That's all you need to know. And not just of your kind, either."
Her throat tightened. A demon that other demons were scared of. Great. It just would be, wouldn't it?
"You know what it is. Likely everyone in this room knows what it is. Except me, dumb old human-bitch. Where's the harm in telling me what it is? I could get that information anywhere you demons hang out, right? How's it going to get back to anyone that it came from you? And what would it matter if it did? I'm just some human. What am I going to do about it?"
The demon sighed and snarled, "Garaspon. It's called a Garaspon. And you're going to get yourself killed."
"You know, that's some coincidence. I look in the mirror and say that very same thing every morning." She caught up the sketch and folded it slowly, waiting for any other last-minute snippets of information. None came.
She put the folded sketch back in her pocket, shot a final glare towards Mercer, and turned for the door.
"Thanks," she said to the bemused bar-demon. "It's been... unreal."
"Yeah. Don't come back," he replied darkly.
She waited until she was several streets away before she allowed herself to collapse against a nearby wall, breathing shakily, trying to calm her nerves. The thud of her own heart felt like a drumbeat reverberating through her body.
Demons... She'd never believed in such things, heir to her father's scepticism.
Under his wing, she'd grown up in a world where cosmic absolutes of good and evil were just fantasies, the only good and evil residing in people. She believed in human laws and in her duty to uphold them. In her world, the only real demons had been the sickos and the assholes that her father, then later herself, worked to take off the streets.
But now Angel had dragged her kicking and screaming into his world, where the laws she'd always lived by seemed to count for nothing.
These things thought themselves exempt from the justice she and her father had dedicated their lives to enforcing. They thought they could take what they wanted without fear of repercussion from a human society that didn't even know they existed.
All those demons... She'd walked in there and she'd walked out again. She should've done something about them. She should've at least tried. No matter what Angel said about not-evil Evil Things, in her book Evil Things were just damn well evil.
But she couldn't take them all on, she told herself. And though she might know and hear about the human-eating breeds of... Evil Things, you had to take it case-by case. She had her crime, her perpetrator and her duty to uphold the law, and one person alone could only do so much.
When she and Harlan had witnessed the demon - the Garaspon - leap over an eight foot wall to flee the crime scene, Harlan had turned to her and said, "Some weird shit that guy must be on, huh?"
She'd stared at him for a long moment, unable to believe he could see what she had just seen and then calmly reduce a seven foot tall grey-skinned demon with claws and protruding fangs to 'some weird shit'.
By the time she'd recovered from her shock enough to give chase, there was no sign of the creature.
But she was determined she was not going to let this one slip by. It appalled her to think back, now, and see all those times where she must have been as blind as Harlan. As blind as everyone in this city, who lived oblivious to the fact there were creatures to whom society's law meant nothing. Creatures who thought themselves beyond punishment, running rampant in the dark cracks of the world.
Pulling herself together with some effort, Kate headed back to her car.
Plan A might have failed, but there was always Plan B.
Kate parked the car in the street outside Angel Investigations, in the shadow of a tall building across the road from the office, away from streetlights and brightly lit signs. She settled herself down to potentially a very long wait.
She hadn't wanted to do this. As an option, the demon bar had looked considerably better. No matter that that involved a significant risk of becoming something's dinner. She still preferred that risk to the possibility she might run into Angel again.
But Angel had an extensive library of books on the occult and demonic. She'd found the collection the last time she'd entered his office and apartment uninvited. Now she knew it wasn't just an odd hobby.
If she did the research, with a bit of luck she'd be able to discover some key towards finding this creature, not to mention aid in actually killing it when she did... She recalled the bar-demon's words about silver bullets. Some of these things didn't die easily.
The idea of relying on Angel at all, even covertly, sickened and infuriated her. If she was going to do this seriously, to hunt down the demons in this city, she couldn't keep turning to some PI who was himself one of them. She'd need her own library. Her own weapons. Her own action plan.
Her own coffin? Or judging from some of the more unusual, uh, remains she'd seen, perhaps they'd only be able to scoop what was left of her into a plastic bag.
She pushed the thought aside irritably. It wasn't like she could do anything else, short of close her eyes and turn her back and pretend nothing had changed.
You couldn't chase down the supernatural armed with a gun and a badge. Well... not unless you were called Mulder and Scully. But then their success rate was none too impressive, in Kate's opinion.
After a couple of hours, with her eyes beginning to glaze and the familiar surveillance-migraine just starting to pound away at her temples, the door of the office opened and two figures emerged.
Instantly wide awake, her attention fixed, she squinted into the gloom.
The figures were standing on the steps outside the entrance, talking animatedly. The light escaping from inside the foyer to cast upon their faces allowed her to recognise them. One was the British guy, Wesley Wyndham-Pryce. The other...
Her heart felt close to stopping, seeing him again now. It had been weeks, and he'd never left her thoughts for very long during that time. But not for the reasons he leaped into them now.
She always underestimated the effect he had upon her, when he wasn't there.
She'd promised herself that the next time he saw her would be right before she jammed a sharpened piece of wood through his heart. Oh, and kicked him in the balls for good measure.
Even after she'd discovered what he was, she'd often found herself thinking of him still; couldn't stop herself. She'd made too much of a habit about it, before she'd known.
But now she couldn't forget she was fantasising about dead flesh. It appalled her. And still, all the same...
Okay, so for a while she'd entertained thoughts that things might work out, that there was some hope despite all, but that had been before she realised just exactly what it meant to be like him - beyond the romanticism and the movie images. Beyond the fact that for a dead guy, he looked pretty damn amazing.
Now, she just made herself sick.
Her father had died, and he stood and watched.
It all twisted up inside her, into a knot of hatred and self-disgust and stubborn, lingering desire. Dead flesh. All that time spent undressing him with her thoughts -
She wanted him to pay. And the other things she wanted... she loathed herself for them.
She watched the two men, her gaze transfixed, until they parted company, one of them descending the steps and heading off briskly down the street, the other going back into the office and closing the door after him.
'Shit. They couldn't have done that the other way around?'
Her eyes traced Wesley's progress as he walked away. She sighed, made a decision, and quietly got out of the car and closed the door.
Wesley was Angel's research-guy, right? He probably had his own contacts and sources of knowledge. Angel was likely to be in the office until his assistant returned, so she'd make no progress at all if she waited.
Besides, Wesley was human - or at least so far as she knew he was human - and risking being seen by him was considerably better than discovery by his fiend-of-the-night boss.
She trailed him for about fifteen minutes, until he eventually headed down a narrow, forgotten street, way off the main tracks usually walked by the LA public. He disappeared through the door of a small shop which had some kind of strange writing on the sign in a language she didn't recognise, and so much dirt on the windows that it was near-impossible to tell exactly what was sold there.
Peering through the dirt, she could just about see books and artefacts of various types from a variety of different faiths. Also, some rows of vials and jars adorned shelves set high up close to the ceiling on one wall.
She might have assumed it a somewhat downmarket antique shop a couple of months ago. Wouldn't have looked at it twice. Now, she knew what it was.
And it was probably quite a serious supplier of those sort of goods too, if Wesley used it, not some hack charlatan.
She'd found her source of information - fingers crossed. She'd not imagined that following Wesley would land her quite such a windfall.
She hid in the narrow alcove at the side of the shop in the shadow of a dumpster until, about ten minutes later, Wesley came out of the shop again and walked past, returning back the way he'd come. Back to Angel Investigations, presumably.
After waiting a few more minutes to be safe, she cautiously emerged and entered the shop herself.
It was dimly lit, smelled bad, and the atmosphere inside was downright weird. Like it was trying to tell her how much she didn't belong.
She ignored it and walked up to the counter. "I'm researching information on a creature called a Garaspon," she said levelly. "I wonder if you could direct me to the relevant, um, volumes...?" A wave of her hand encompassed the shelves of both ancient and modern books.
The man behind the counter appeared to be in his fifties and she'd seen tramps who dressed better, but there was a sharp quality in his eyes which she didn't like as he looked at her expressionlessly. She retrieved the sketch from her pocket and flattened it on the counter in front of him. "Garaspon," she repeated, wondering now whether the bar-demon had been entirely straight with her.
The guy frowned slightly at her sketch before he pushed it away. "I know what it is. What I don't know is why you would want to find one."
She sighed, crumpled the picture up and shoved it back into her pocket. She held up her badge instead. "Do you want me to book you for hindering a police investigation? I need to find a creature like this. I need information about where I might find one, and how I might deal with it once I have. Just point me in the direction of the relevant texts."
His incredulity was clear. "What are you going to do? Arrest it?"
"Well, personally I'm hoping it resists arrest," she replied smoothly. "I really don't need the sort of involved explanations that booking this guy in at the station would entail."
"You think it'll respect that badge? Do you really think that means anything, in the sort of stuff you're getting yourself into?"
"Oh, I think I can find something else I can make it respect. And on that subject, I believe I said I was looking for a book. You are running a business here, right?"
He seemed to be thinking the matter over. Just when he opened his mouth to frame a reply she could already tell was going to be a refusal, the sound of the door opening smashed through the heavy atmosphere of the shop. The shop owner's gaze shot up to the point beyond her left shoulder where the door was.
"Mr. Wyndham Pryce," he said, sounding relieved. "Was there a problem?"
Kate froze at the sound of the name. She knew he couldn't fail to recognise her standing there, even with her back to him, but she still hoped, all the same.
"I forgot the eye of newt," the familiar soft English tones replied. He hesitated audibly. "Ms. Lockley? Kate?"
She gave in and turned around with a sigh.
"What are you doing here?" he asked in surprise.
"I'm trying to find a book." She shot a glare at the shop owner.
"I'm guessing it isn't the latest Jilly Cooper," he remarked dryly. "Well, if I can be of any assistance... If you're having problems... What exactly is it that you're looking for?"
"I don't need your -" she began snappishly. Then stopped. Who was she kidding? "All right, so maybe I do. But I'm not sure I want it, considering what it is that you work for."
"Angel is not what you think, Kate. But, that aside, if you are in trouble, and will not accept his help, then any assistance which I can give on my own time is nothing to do with him." He met her eyes and they held the contact for a second before he turned away, looking slightly embarrassed. "So, I ask again, what is it you're looking for?"
"She's hunting a Garaspon," the shop owner put in, before she could reply.
Wesley's mouth worked silently for a moment before he managed to get out a flustered, "Oh, my."
"Not you as well," Kate muttered. 'Surely a demon's a demon's a demon...?'
He swallowed. "I think you may want to reconsider," he began. Her glare stopped him going any further. He sighed. "I have to take these items back to the office. Angel needs them. While I do that, I will pick up the books you need. You won't find any of the most crucial information in here." He cast an apologetic glance to the shop owner, who shrugged, then he added finally, hesitantly, "Angel... does not need to know. I will merely tell him I am taking some research home."
"All right," she said reluctantly. She supposed it should be no bad thing to have an ally on the inside, but still... she felt lousy about the whole idea.
Wesley turned for the door.
The shop owner held up a paper bag filled with lumpy shapes she didn't want to think too much about. "Hey," she said. "Aren't you forgetting your eye of newt?"
She waited down the street from the Angel Investigations office while Wesley returned his peculiar groceries to his peculiar boss and, true to his word, emerged again shortly after, staggering under the weight of a large pile of ancient and ornate volumes.
"My car's just along here," she said, grabbing the top few books off the pile before they overbalanced him.
Wesley frowned, as the realisation dawned. "You followed me," he accused, stuttering slightly in his indignation.
"Well, some of us have trouble finding our own weird and undead contacts in this city. My training didn't exactly include how to deal with all this demon shit."
The next few hours were taken up mostly by intensive research. Her own task in which, she discovered, was primarily as a supplier of frequent cups of tea.
She flicked through the pages of the book he'd set in front of her. Half of it wasn't in English. She didn't even know what language it was. She doubted she'd recognise what they were looking for if she did find it, unless there were pictures.
"Can't you get modern translations of these?" she asked irritably, finally giving up and closing the book with a dull thud.
Wesley's expression suggested she'd just committed a sacrilege. She sighed. "Never mind. What do we have so far, anyway? Apart from a large collection of used teacups, I mean?"
"Nothing encouraging. So far, I have found plenty of references to what it can do, and none whatsoever to any weaknesses it may possess. These creatures are vicious in the extreme. They basically exist to eat. And they don't care whether what they're eating is human or demon, although they tend to go for the easiest prey available. So their meals tend to be human, given the choice..." He hesitated, then added softly, "Children, even, for preference. But don't let its hunting methods fool you into thinking you could take it down easily. They can and will live off a diet of other quite fierce demons when necessary."
"Great, so it's lazy. I'm hunting a lazy demon."
"Please try to be serious. I would tell Angel to think twice about going after this creature. It's tremendously strong. There is a story here in the Chronicles about one taking out an entire village which stood in battle against it in the fifteenth century."
She silently took that in. "Are there any mentions of any being destroyed?" she asked finally, hoarsely.
"Oh, yes. Their life spans are not much different to the human norm, and they aren't particularly rare, as demons go. They die all the time." Faced with her glare, he added quickly, "Oh, here's one recorded example, in the Diaries. A slayer managed to take one down early this century. There. So they can be killed."
"How did this... Slayer - whatever one of those might be - kill it, then?"
He wrinkled his nose in disgust. "She, ah, manoeuvred it into the path of a speeding train in the course of their fight. The rather detailed account in here suggests the result was somewhat messy."
"Right. So my new weapon of choice is a steam locomotive. That's really useful, Wesley."
"Sarcasm aside, yes, I believe it is," he retorted crossly. "It suggests that the shock of a sudden heavy impact will destroy them instantly and defeat their demonic strength and healing abilities. I'm hardly suggesting you start carrying a steam train around with you, Ms. Lockley."
A sudden heavy impact... She supposed a rocket launcher might do for the thing, but she couldn't see herself getting clearance for one. "Any accounts of how they fare against modern weaponry?"
He shook his head. "None that I've come across or heard. But I shouldn't think bullets would have any more effect than swords and axes. And given its dietary, uh, range I'd also say poisons and tranquillisers were a no-go."
She stood up and paced, thinking. "So, is there any suggestion as to where these things might hide out? If there's one of these at work in the city, I have to stop it as quickly as possible, right?"
"Well, most demons like the dark. Tunnels, sewers, cellars... hmm." He squinted at the page in concentrated study. "However, the suggestion here is that these creatures are not so concerned with such issues and will in fact usually find someplace to hole up in within a heavily populated area... That's interesting."
He looked up from the book, and she could tell his next words were coming from his deductions alone, not any research sources. "Their build, I would suggest, is sufficiently close to human that, well-wrapped and hunched over, they might just disguise themselves and pass in dim light... Ms Lockley, I suggest you start looking for a strange tenant occupying a human residence, whom nobody sees often or clearly, openly living in an area with an extremely high rate of child disappearances."
She gaped. That she hadn't expected. Crawling around sewers, yeah. "Shit. I have to get to the station to look this up."
She'd flung her jacket on and was picking up her gun and her handbag when he stood and grabbed her arm. "Kate, you don't have to do this. This is a dangerous, evil creature."
"It's my job. Nobody else can see to do it. If not me, then who?"
"I sincerely doubt it's in your job description to fight demons. And I'm sure Angel..."
"Leave him out of this! Angel can go to hell."
"As he would tell you, he's already been there... you really don't know anything about him. Perhaps you should give him another chance. It may save your life."
"I know he's a walking corpse who terrorized innocents for a century before he found whatever religion he found. I don't want to hear about him. I don't want him anywhere near me. And I don't want him doing my job. Now, I'm leaving, and since this is my apartment, that means you're leaving."
She stacked his books angrily into a pile which she then thrust into his hands. "Thanks for the help. Maybe I'll see you again some time," she said brusquely.
She herded him out of her apartment, locked the door, and stalked away, leaving him standing there with his mouth hanging open.
The expression on his face looked like he was anticipating a funeral.
The low rent apartment building looked as shabby as the previous two, with crumbling walls, ingrained grime, and a general impression of depravity. It was a wonder it wasn't condemned. The landlord ought to be paying his tenants to live there.
Kate had been back to the station and spent several hours tracing all the possibilities which matched Wesley's description of the Garaspon's probable situation. She had already visited the other two reports which were a match and both had turned out to be false leads - while the suspects weren't the most savoury people she'd ever encountered they certainly weren't demons. Now, it was either this one or the fiend she was looking for had never been reported, or Wesley had been wrong, and she was going to have to come up with a new search plan.
She kept having to stop herself hoping for the latter.
She ascended a damp, peeling staircase, reading the numbers painted in scruffy, erratic strokes onto the doors as she passed by them. Until she reached number 8, where the lock was broken and the door itself was practically falling off its hinges. Through the overlarge crack between door and frame, she could see the security chain stretched across its other side was visibly supporting much of its weight.
She knocked on the wall, out of concern that if she touched the door the whole thing would collapse inwards with a crash.
No reply. She waited a few minutes before she knocked again. Her heart picked up its pace, without permission. Her hand crept down to her gun and she took in a deep breath.
Footsteps approached the door. "Hang on, there. Can't a guy take a shower?" an irritable voice snapped.
She calmed down somewhat at the sound of the very human, grumbling tones. The chain wasn't unfastened, though the door was dragged back a few inches. She rather thought that the apartment's tenant was all else that held it upright, fairly sure the hinges weren't actually attached to the wall.
An eye peered at her through the gap. "What do you want?"
She held up her badge. "Police. Detective Lockley, LAPD. I'm investigating a number of disappearances in this area. Children, young adults, a few others."
"Yeah." Warily, the eye blinked. In the dim lighting of a bulb somewhere up past the next bend of the apartment building's large, twisting main staircase, she could only really see the dark shape of an eye, could only see it engulfed by lighter shadow when it blinked. She was just vaguely able to guess the skin colour was Caucasian, or at least not far off from it. "Lot of runaways. State of the world today, huh?"
Her wariness was returning slowly. A killer could look like anyone. She'd learned the appearance of normality was nothing to go by. Given the length of time Angel had managed to fool her for, it was demonstrably the same with demons. "Would you mind if I came in and had a look around?"
"Got a warrant?"
"You have a reason not to let me look around?"
It snorted. "Look, a guy's got a right to privacy in his own home. No warrant, no search."
She was getting an odd feeling about this, the same sort of feeling she'd had watching the Garaspon sprint away. The instinct of not human. She couldn't place it precisely, couldn't explain it. It wasn't just in the nervous way the occupant was holding the door, like to prevent discovery, that shouted he had something to hide. Some new extension of her senses was telling her this guy... wasn't.
But she could also sense fear, and that wasn't right either.
"You don't have to let me look around. It's a courtesy which would make things easier for both of us, assuming you have nothing to hide. But I can always come back with the warrant." Her reasonable tone was met with stony silence. "Then would you mind opening the door, at least? I'd like to speak to you face to face," she said smoothly, keeping a tight grip on her calm, her fingers ready to reach for her gun.
"I haven't done anything. You don't have any right to-"
Her instincts were screaming at her, and her patience snapped. She kicked out, her boot solidly striking the door. It crashed inwards and shot several feet inside the apartment. At the same time, she'd been reaching for her gun, and she levelled it now...
...At a creature slightly shorter than herself, which would have looked much like a man were it not for the small horns sticking out from the top of its head and the mottled markings down the sides of its neck which weren't tattoos. It was dressed in a white fluffy bathrobe.
"Whoa!" the creature yelped, throwing its hands up into the air at the sight of the gun. "Okay, okay, I'm surrendering. Don't shoot!"
It was nothing like the Garaspon.
She hesitated and frowned at it, puzzled by its apparent harmlessness and its ridiculous attire, but she didn't lower the weapon. "You're a demon," she said slowly. And stopped. What was she to say, 'You're under arrest?' You couldn't make an arrest on the charge of being a demon. At least, not this century.
Maybe a few hundred years ago. 'Huh. I guess they really knew a whole lot more, back then, than we give them credit for.'
"Well, technically... yeah," the demon said. "But I didn't do anything!"
"You're a demon," she repeated.
"I think we established that already." It had begun to lower its arms but a flick of her gun prompted them to shoot back up again. She debated her options, her finger tightening reflexively on the trigger as she studied the creature. It must have seen something of what she was considering, because it flinched and paled.
"So you're what, the big bad demon hunter?" it asked, its voice shaking slightly. "Look, I'm just trying to get on with my life, no bother to anyone. Guess I knew I'd be discovered one day, trying to pass... if you're going to pull that trigger, go ahead, 'cause I don't know anything else I can say to stop you. I'm a demon. Yeah, I'm a demon. Hell, my life's crap anyhow." It squeezed its eyes shut.
Kate sighed and lowered the gun, suddenly feeling like she was the monster here. A feeling she didn't like at all. "I'm not going to shoot you," she said wearily. "You're not what I came looking for."
The demon opened his eyes slowly. "You're not? I'm not?" He relaxed considerably upon seeing she'd put the gun away. Then he frowned, a thoughtful expression crossing his face. "Say, you wouldn't be here for the Garaspon, would you?"
It felt as though someone had thrust their hand into her chest and clenched their fingers closed around her heart. For a moment, she forgot to breathe. "It's actually here?"
"Yeah. It lives upstairs. Four doors further up." It pointed illustratively up the twisty stairs. "Number 12. I think it's out at the moment, though. Right bastard, too. About time somebody did something about that guy. I don't mind telling you, I certainly never had the nerve. Brings down the whole tone of the neighbourhood, having someone like that around."
Kate glanced around the dingy, damp-stained walls. At the ceiling, which shed a light dusting of plaster as somebody walked across the floor in the apartment above. "Yeah," she said, deadpan. "I can see how that would work."
The demon studied her, suddenly looking doubtful. "Say, you're human, aren't you? Full-blooded, and all. You really think you can take this thing?"
Exactly the question she'd been trying not to think about. "I don't know," she admitted slowly, her voice rough and smoky in the back of her throat, the words not wanting to be voiced. "I think I have to try."
She left the demon alone somewhat reluctantly, still not a hundred percent convinced about the concept of not-evil Evil Things. But she certainly wasn't about to shoot it - him, damn it - so she'd just have to get on with her job. Deal with the things she could deal with. She had a criminal to apprehend, whatever species it might be.
A handful of doors further on up the staircase, she repeated the motions on a door in slightly more secure condition.
She waited a long time for no answer. Finally, Kate drew out her gun and prepared to go in, her heart pounding. She'd just lifted her foot to ram it into the door when she heard the scuffle of feet on the staircase behind her.
She turned around and it was standing there. There were less than three yards between them, and the landing was suddenly a lot smaller.
It had wrapped itself in bulky clothes, mostly rags and black tatters ingrained with dust and dirt, the garb of the homeless and destitute, but almost every inch of its flesh was effectively covered. It stooped over, an ominous, silent figure. Something red and glowing blinked at her from beneath its hood.
It didn't have to do anything but stand still to terrify her.
She'd only seen it for a brief second before, with others around, on familiar territory. She hadn't known what it was, then...
Wesley's grim warnings did nothing to help her overcome her fear.
Her mouth half open to voice the gasp of astonishment she never got to utter, she raised her gun, already knowing she was too slow. She could remember how fast this thing moved.
She didn't see anything more than a dark blur of motion, but the next moment a hand on her back had shoved her forward and her face and shoulder hit the door so hard the rotten wood around the lock crumbled and split. The door swung inwards full 180 degrees to crash against the interior wall, leaving no support beneath her. Hurting and off balance and still propelled by the force of the Garaspon's shove, she fell through into the apartment, landing on her already battered shoulder with a dull crack. She didn't know where her gun went. When she tried to scan the floor for it, her eyes were drawn magnetically back to the creature.
It was walking in after her, dragging the door closed behind it. Splinters parted from the wood and left a semi-circular trail across the stained linoleum. More splinters were embedded in the side of her face where it had hit the door. She could feel the stinging and the dampness of blood. It must look like someone had taken a cheese-grater to the side of her face, she thought.
She struggled onto hands and knees - well, hand and knees. Her right arm was completely immobile from shoulder to fingers. A horrible, grinding pain was concentrated around her upper arm and shoulder.
She backed away from the Garaspon, sliding over the floor using her heels for purchase as it took a slow step towards her. At the same time, she snatched left-handed at the second gun she had tucked in the back of her waistband.
Her shoulders hit the wall, announcing nowhere left to retreat to, even as her fingers tightened around the grip and she pulled the gun out, levelling it at the demon. "You are under arrest! Do not move! I will shoot!" she shouted, hearing the high note of panic in her voice but unable to do anything about it.
It continued to inch forward... well, not precisely... hell, so it breathed, and that was more than enough for her. She pulled the trigger three times, aiming two for the chest and one for the head.
If Wesley knew his stuff - and she believed he did - that wouldn't kill it. But the impact of the bullets knocked it backwards, just as the recoil from each shot bashed back through her elbow and uninjured shoulder to start up a dull ache there, too.
Using the wall for support, she staggered to her feet, reeling dizzily, while the Garaspon convulsed on the ground, oozing yellow goop out of its bullet wounds. It raised its head, its red eyes glittering hate at her. The obscuring rags had fallen away to reveal, now, beyond doubt, the creature she'd sketched.
She pointed the gun at it, her hand shaking violently on the weapon, and repeated. "You are under arrest!"
It laughed, a sound like handfuls of dry twigs being snapped. "I know you," it hissed. "You're the little cop who was outside that liquor store. What are you going to charge me with? Theft? Damage to property? Public disturbance?" It seemed to find that very funny. "Or are you planning to charge me at all? Trashing a liquor store, stealing a few bottles... you're really going to kill me for that? Is that what you call justice?"
"I'm going to kill you for breaking my goddamned arm!" she spat. She didn't like the way the creature was seeming to look healthier by the second. "Don't think I don't know what your type do."
"I doubt you have any real idea what I've done," it purred, making her skin crawl.
"Yeah?" She staggered along the wall, its support necessary for her to stay on her feet. Her ears were ringing, a high-pitched sound, and she shook her head trying to clear it. Then she realised the sound was real. "What -?"
It was a child's cry. The terror in that shrill voice was chilling... but not as chilling as the mere thought of a kid somewhere nearby. She could feel the demon's red eyes upon her as she tracked where the sound was coming from, all the time keeping the gun carefully trained on the Garaspon.
Her ears led her to a closed door. The screams, by then, had resided into a weak sobbing.
A bolt on the front of the door was drawn to. She pulled it back and pushed the door open, eyes still fixed on the Garaspon. Several seconds passed before she found the courage to take her attention away from the demon for a moment to look at what was behind that door.
The smell hit her at the same time as the sight, and she couldn't believe it hadn't registered before, even considering the distraction of her own pain and fear. But she noticed it now, all right, and the air was choking her and she thought she was going to be sick.
She'd seen a lot of evil sights in her time as a cop, but the Garaspon's... larder... topped them all.
Somehow, she kept a hold of her control - and her last meal. Somehow, she did not neglect to maintain her watch over the demon that hunched there on the floor, grinning at her and enjoying her distress.
The room had been designed as a kitchen and, well, that was what the demon had used it for. But it was far from the tidiest or most hygienic of diners. Its table leavings littered the floor and every available surface in the room. Some were recent, some were considerably less so. Dried and drying blood and other parts stuck and slicked and crunched under her feet as she took a step inside.
The sobbing was coming from behind the door. She couldn't possibly manoeuvre around to see its source without taking her eyes off the Garaspon.
'Jesus, there's a kid in here?' Kate wondered if you could ever cure a kid of seeing something like this, even given a whole lifetime's worth of therapy to work with. Could you ever put that mind back together?
She wondered, who was going to put her back together?
Her total attention snapped abruptly back to the Garaspon as it rose to its feet in a smooth, silent, flowing motion that came close to freaking her out totally. She'd definitely seen too many horror films. Her trigger reflexes didn't fail her, and the gun spoke again, but the shot only staggered it and it recovered with little apparent effort. She noticed then, sickly, that the bullet wounds from before had entirely vanished.
It had no fear of the gun. Bullets didn't hurt it for even as long as she'd hoped. It had probably just wanted her to see what was in the kitchen before it killed her, allowing itself to enjoy her revulsion, knowing she couldn't harm it.
Before she could shoot it again, it attacked, flinging its grey, disgusting, stringy body at her in a flailing mass of claws and teeth. Its touch alone sickened her, even without the fiery slashes that the first two swipes of its clawed hands drew in her flesh before she had chance to block.
Its weight knocked her down and her back hit the far wall of the kitchen. Her injured shoulder shouted agony through her entire nervous system while horror swamped her thoughts as she felt the gory carpet on the floor begin to soak through her clothes, making them cling to her skin.
She kicked out, trying to get the demon's weight off her, but only succeeded in hurting her foot. Her gun was still in her hand, but she couldn't position it to fire at the creature because the fall had wedged her arm immovably between her own body and the floor.
A wide-eyed, frightened face was watching the fight from the space behind the door, visible now from where Kate sprawled. It was a little girl, maybe six or seven years old.
Desperately, Kate mouthed the word, "Go", but the child was too frightened to either understand or to move.
The Garaspon's head reared up above her, and its mouth opened wide. In a second it was going to dart forward to bite, and there was nothing she could do to prevent it, only fling up her injured arm, which wouldn't stop it, just give it a different place to start, to prolong the agony of being eaten alive.
She did it anyway. She was damned if she was going to give in. Its teeth engulfed her arm and she screamed, still trying to get her other arm, and the gun in it, free. The girl's scream rang out again in time with hers.
Then, the Garaspon fell back, its weight gone from her, and both her arms were free - although the left one was now even less use than it had been before, and she avoided looking at it.
Instead she looked past the Garaspon's slumped, hissing form, to where the demon from Number 8 was standing in the kitchen doorway. He had changed out of the bath robe and into nondescript clothes, and now wore a woollen hat pulled down over his horns. He held an ordinary domestic iron in his hand. The edge of it was coated in yellow demon-blood.
Kate looked at the iron-shaped hole in the Garaspon's head, which was even now pulling itself back into shape.
She met the demon-guy's eyes.
"Let's go," she said. She struggled to her feet and almost collapsed as wounds she hadn't known she'd collected announced their presence loudly. The worktop held her up, although she didn't want to think too much about what she'd just put her hand in. She reached behind the door and gathered the little girl into her arms. "Don't worry," she told the terrified child. "I'm a cop... a policewoman."
"C'mon, c'mon," the demon-guy said, bouncing on his feet agitatedly. "We're gonna die."
She staggered out of the kitchen, pushing the little girl in front of her through the main room of the apartment. They were going out of the door when she turned to ask her unusual rescuer something, only to discover he wasn't there.
"Shit!" She set the little girl down and headed back into the apartment, gun in hand.
The two demons were grappling, and the Garaspon was definitely winning. As it reached to tear out her guy's throat with those meat hooks it had for claws, she fired.
The first shot hit it in the face, dead on target. Her foot skidded under her and the next shot went into the ceiling as her arms automatically flailed around in her search for balance. The ceiling responded by shaking wildly and depositing a scattering of plaster onto the heads of the combatants.
"Hey! Go easy there!" demon-guy yelped. "These ceilings aren't too stable, you know!"
She blinked at him, feeling her expression go blank as the idea took hold. "They're not, huh?"
"Oh, no... You have no idea how long it took me to get this apartment! You'll bring the whole building down! Probably kill us all..."
But the Garaspon was getting up again, and they didn't have too much time left to live anyway. Kate lunged forward and pulled the demon-guy behind her, shoving him towards the door. "You get that kid out of here," she snapped, hoping as she said it that he really was as harmless as he seemed.
She gave them as long as she could, but even so that was only a few seconds. The Garaspon was already lurching towards her.
Then she emptied the rest of the clip into the ceiling, and dived for the door.
The world crashed down on top of her before she could reach it.
Harlan asked, "Who brought the flowers?"
Kate would have shrugged, if her arm hadn't been encased in plaster from shoulder to fingers. "I don't know. They were inconsiderate enough not to leave their name. I was asleep at the time."
After a moment of uncomfortable silence - he'd tended to avoid discussion about their private lives ever since that drunken confession, months ago now - he changed the conversation predictably back to work. "How did you find out the kidnap victim was in that apartment, anyway? I didn't even know you'd had anything to do with that case." He nervously picked at the petals on a bright red bloom. She glared at him until he got the message and stuck his hands in his pockets, shuffling his feet uncomfortably.
Harlan was bad at hospitals.
"It was dumb luck," she answered, after a pause to check her story. "I went there to check out a suspicious report on one of the tenants. It wasn't even him, you know? It was one of his neighbours. I guess chances just happen like that, sometimes." She blinked up at him, innocently, knowing he was aware she held something back.
He frowned and shifted his gaze, appearing to be examining his feet in minute detail. The clock on the wall ticked the seconds by, loudly.
Her own attention wandered, roaming over the sterile white walls of the small hospital room. Roaming over the scatter of 'get well' cards on the table beside her bed - among them the card from Wesley Wyndham-Pryce which served as a slightly guilty 'I told you so'. Returning to the bright flowers in the plain glass vase.
There'd been no sign of anyone else, she'd been told, when they dug her out of the wreckage. The little girl had been found crouched in a huddle outside the building, unharmed - at least physically.
Kate hoped that meant the demon who'd helped her had gotten out okay. Although the thought that some demons crumbled into dust or slime or nothing when they died preyed upon her. Although she wasn't entirely sure why she cared.
Or why he'd even helped her in the first place. Why a demon would have any interest in saving two lives.
Fortunately, damage had restricted itself to just sections of the stairwell and that one apartment, which had only roof-space above it - though that had been enough weight, with the heavy beams and the boiler, to crush the Garaspon.
She was lucky the whole building hadn't come crashing down around her ears. She'd have been unlikely to have to answer for the damage. As it was, she'd only been clipped by a falling beam, at the edge of the destruction.
Upon being questioned when she first came to, she'd passed the damage off as being caused by stray shots fired during the scuffle. Apparently, nobody had been able to get the little girl to talk about what happened. Or at all. Kate didn't blame her. There'd been times she felt like quitting the world for a while.
"That was some weird sicko, huh?" Harlan said. She didn't flinch at the words, this time. She was getting used to the sound of denial. "I saw the body they found in the morgue, before it disappeared." He shuddered.
They'd found nothing but dust, Kate had heard. Dust scattered in the outline of a body... but they were assuming the corpse had been stolen nonetheless.
"Sicko. Right..." she responded, hearing the weariness that dragged down her voice. She wanted to shout it right in his face, to drag him kicking and screaming into belief, so damn tired of being surrounded by blind people.
"I saw them digging the remains of his previous victims out of the rubble, too. Labelling them in those little bags."
Kate didn't particularly want to think about that. She sighed and closed her eyes, feeling the protests from her battered body. She almost hadn't come through with her life, this time. She was only human, after all.
She knew it wouldn't stop her. Not the things she'd seen, not the injuries that would take several weeks to heal and might have been so much worse. Knowledge weighed too heavy for her to live easily bearing it, if demons were real and true evil existed out there in the city.
Her city; no City of Angels.
"I have to get back," Harlan said then, with uncomfortable levity. "There's trouble afoot. A hostage situation at a bank downtown. Plus the coffee machine at the station's broken down again."
"Go fight the bad evil," Kate told him, in mock seriousness. She was tired, and hurting, and when Harlan was gone she was going to call a doctor to tell that she'd quite like some more drugs now. "All in a day's work for us, heh? Putting the bad guys away, fighting the demons?"
"Riiight." Halfway to the door, he stopped and turned, an odd expression on his face. He said slowly, "I guess that's what you meant, talking in your sleep. The quacks here said you were raving. Delusional. Talking about monsters and demons, and all that sort of stuff."
She met his gaze levelly. "I'm not delusional."
"I know, Kate." He said it with such emphatic, understanding certainty that she almost wanted to laugh, knowing as she did how very much he didn't know.
But nothing was funny, here.
Harlan shot her a casual, semi-serious little salute and departed, leaving her alone once more.