TITLE: DI Ep 7: Skin Deep
AUTHORS: Tammy, t.l.green@talk21.com; Mike, aamdewar@iafrica.com; Ellen, ellen@eclecticon.net and Debi, willthe_wisp@hotmail.com
RATING: PG-13
SUMMARY: Doyle and Kate continue the investigation begun in 'Past Lives', which stirs up Doyle's memories of how he came to leave the LAPD.
FEEDBACK TO: doyleinvestigations@hotmail.com
NOTES: Doyle Investigations follows the adventures of Doyle, faith and Wesley in the LA of the wishverse universe. This episode is part 2 of 2, following 'Past Lives'. This time around it's largely a think-story, to make up for the excess gore quota last time around - but don't worry, we'll get back to the mindless violence soon. Apologies for how long it took to get this episode out, this one fought us every step of the way.

DISCLAIMER: Angel and BtVS characters and concepts belong to Joss Whedon et al. We own nothing and make no profit from this, yadda yadda yadda.

LAST TIME ON DOYLE INVESTIGATIONS: Doyle and the team joined Kate in chasing down a 'vampire'. But when the killer was revealed to be a psychotic human criminal and not a real bloodsucker at all, Faith and Wesley turned their backs on the case and Doyle turned his back on them, choosing to continue to help Kate and leaving the others to fight a demon from his visions. Now, the story continues...

Doyle Investigations: Episode 7

Skin Deep

Chapter 1
by Mike

8 Months Ago

The huge Gorgus demon stood by stolidly as each of the items in front of it was briefly bathed in a hellish red light. It rumbled slightly as the last of them was touched by the crimson ray.

Phil smiled brightly, tucking away his laser pointer. "Paper or plastic?"

Behind me, Kate said incredulously, "What kind of place did you say this was again?"

"A supermarket," I said vaguely, raising my hand slightly to catch Phil's attention as we eased into the queue.. I flashed my badge at the skinny fiend behind me, cutting off his protests.

"I can see that," she muttered. "I'm just having trouble believing it."

I couldn't really blame her. Kate might spend her days looking at dead bodies on the streets, but the sight of a clan of purple demons buying toilet paper cranks up a whole new scale of creepy. "Phil runs a…special kind of business."

"No kidding." Kate leaned over, peering down into one of the bags of goods piled on the counter. "Since when do demons need… talcum powder?"

"Hey, lady, if you lived in a sewer, hygiene would be an issue for you too," the demon retorted, scooping up his purchases. "And I'd appreciate it if you kept your eyes out of my stuff."

"Uh-huh, I imagine hygiene is very important for a big green monster who sweats slime," she agreed flatly.

The Gorgus looked hurt. "Hey, what's this 'monster' stuff? Do I go around calling you lot 'monkeys'?"

I winced. Typical of Kate: If she had to start an argument, why did she have to start it with the six-foot killer demon, when she could have started one with the skinny guy behind us?

"Bigot," the skinny demon muttered. Well, it looked like Kate had that side covered too.

"I may be a bigot," Kate returned, bristling slightly, "but I'm a bigot with a badge. And if you don't keep your fanged trap shut, I'll shove it up your-"

"Kate," I said warningly. "Please don't pick fights with the demons. We don't want a scene."

The Gorgus lumbered off slowly, playing the offended dignity card to the max, and Kate settled down again, glowering at Skinny.

"Damn, Doyle," Phil shook his head. "I'm trying to run a peaceable business here, and you're bringing in your cop pals on us. It lowers the shop's tone, you know what I'm saying?"

I winced. Phil sold cheaper cigarettes than any regular shops for miles. I really didn't need to alienate my best supply of smokes. Not to mention the fact that his extensive circle of demon pals would happily rip Kate and me into tiny shreds if we messed with their favourite shopkeeper.

"Sorry, just you said that you had something, and it was pretty hot stuff. Kate's my partner; she came along for the ride. Don' t worry, she's cool. "

"Actually, she looks pretty hot to me," I heard Skinny say, just brushing audibility. He sniggered. It sounded not unlike someone choking a small squirrel.

Kate smiled sweetly. "I have a gun under my coat. And a second one strapped to my leg. Don't push me."

"Rugar," Phil said sharply. "Knock it off. Go harass a succubus or something. At least she'll be halfway interested."

Skinny shook his head violently. "Yeah, but that whole life-draining thing they do, not exactly fun city. I'm not that desperate to get laid, thank you." He gave Kate a toothy smile. "So whaddya say, babe? Want to broaden your dating horizons?"

Kate gave him that profoundly disinterested look that females of any species display when in the presence of repulsive men. "I think you'll find life-draining a picnic in Disneyland compared to what I'll do to you."

"Meow," Rugar sniggered and sidled away.

"So, can we get down to business?" I asked Kate. "Or are you two crazy kids gonna go off and neck somewhere?"

She shot me a glare and turned to Phil. "Talk."

Kate Lockley, queen of the monosyllabic interrogation.

"Okay, listen," Phil said quietly, leaning over the counter. "I was minding the store yesterday, and Four-Eyes walked in, looking real pleased with himself."

"What was he here for?" Kate asked dryly. "Come to get a new prescription for his glasses? Or maybe to grab a copy of Hustler?"

"Four-Eyes doesn't wear glasses," I said shortly. "What'd he say?"

"You know, he's got that pad up on 4th Street? The old used car store that he's always trying to rent off to some poor sap? Well, he finally landed someone. A bunch of humans bought it off him for more cash than Four-Eyes's seen this decade. He said they were moving in a whole lot of crates. He cracked one open…you know Four-Eyes, way too curious for his own health…and it was stuffed, literally stuffed, with bags of coke. Uncut, too. Pharmaceutical quality. And I remembered how you were telling 'bout those dealers, figured I'd do you a good turn."

Kate's eyes met mine. I was pretty sure the glint of triumph in her eyes was reflected in my own. Two weeks earlier, three detectives had been found gunned down. They were out cruising, just checking out the neighbourhood for trouble, and they ran into a bunch of dealers moving drugs. With cops dead, it had become a priority for the whole stationhouse. We knew the dealers had to be operating in the area, but they were professionals, and they could vanish faster than David Copperfield.

Until now.

The flicker of triumph vanished from Kate's eyes, replaced by hard suspicion. "How come you're telling us this?" she asked Phil curtly. "Guy like you, helps demons with their weekly groceries, hardly seems like the kind to risk ratting on dealers. What's your angle?"

"My angle is that these guys are bad news," Phil responded harshly. "For everyone, human or demon. They screw with the neighbourhood, cause trouble," - he raised an ironic eyebrow - "get cops down here hassling me in my own store, and generally trash the place. My customers aren't always of the highest morals, but they've still got standards. These guys peddle drugs to kids. That's low. Eating kids or sacrificing them in dark rituals, that's something demons get. But selling them poisons is a bit much, even for demons."

"Thanks, Phil," I said. Phil's neutrality was famed, so for him to put himself out like this, even if it was just a human matter, meant he really cared about the problem. "We'll flush these guys out."

I slapped him on the shoulder and headed for the door. Kate was already several steps ahead of me.

"You won't find them at Four-Eyes's pad," Phil called after me.

Kate turned, her lips drawing into a thin line. "What? But you said-"

"They're storing the stuff there," he interrupted, his eyes twinkling as an uncharacteristically wicked expression crossed his face, "but they're staying at a hotel. And I just happen to have made a few phone calls…"

I eyed the slip of paper he was twirling between his fingers and smiled tightly.

Bingo.

***

'Bingo' turned out to be a motel just on the edge of town. Room 103, to be exact.

It was in one of those charming districts where you need a GPS tracker to get anywhere, thanks to the residents' habit of knocking over or spray painting all the street signs. I figure we drove past the motel three times before Kate gave in and asked a pedestrian for directions.

That girl sure does hate to admit being lost.

So there we sat outside in Kate's car, listening to the rain drum on the car roof.

Were we biding our time? Keeping watch? Gathering evidence? Nope.

We were hunched over the thrice-blasted police radio, trying to coax some life out of it.

"This is Detective Doyle, and I'm outside the Heartridge Hotel on the corner of Wilcox. Repeat, the corner of Wilcox, Heartridge Hotel. Do you read me?" I shouted into the speaker.

The voice on the other end was distorted with static. "You're kinda fuzzy, Detective Boyle…which street was that?"

"Doyle!" I snarled. "With a 'D'!"

"Hey, cool down, Poyle," the man said defensively, "I'm just trying to do my job…"

I killed the radio. "Tryin' bein' the operative word in that sentence," I muttered.

Kate looked equally peeved. "Rain must have got into the electronics or something."

"Then how come the lights are still workin'?" I pointed out.

"Do I look like an electrician to you?" she spat. "Try it and I break your fingers, demon or no demon."

I hastily pushed the cigarettes back into my pocket. "So, what do we do? No way to radio for backup, not much in the way of firepower, and a motel filled with drug dealers fifteen metres away?"

" We go in, flash our badges, and cuff anyone who even looks like a perp," Kate said grimly, checking her sidearm.

I snorted. " Yeah, 'cause these guys have shown so much respect for police authority."

She shrugged. " Forget about respect for the police. They're going to respect my authority, or they're all going home in bags."

" Bring it on, Rambina," I agreed, opening my door and stepping out into the rain, hiking my jacket up around my shoulders.

" Doyle," Kate muttered as we sprinted through the rain towards the motel.

" Yeah?"

" Never call me that again."

***

The night manager at the motel looked like a timid, nervy sort. Being a target for the wrath of an armed, angry, and soaked-to-the-skin Kate did nothing positive for his mental state.

He stuttered out one-word answers to her brusque questions, and practically threw the room keys at us. We rode up the elevator, in silence apart from the sound of water dripping off our sodden clothes.

The hallway was deserted, except for an equally timid cleaning-lady, who ran like hell when we waved our badges.

101…102…103. We could hear voices on the other side of the door, and light shone out from under its bottom edge. Bingo again.

Kate glanced at me nervously, and rapped on the door.

An unintelligible but distinctly male murmur answered her.

She held her badge up to the peephole. "LAPD. Open this door."

Nice going, Lockley. Very subtle.

The voice was clearer this time. "Jeez. It's the middle of the night, don't you know that?"

" I have insomnia," Kate replied dryly. "Open up."

" Okay, okay…fuckin' cops…" he grumbled.

Kate took a step back and glanced at me again as we heard the key click in the lock. So far, so good.

It was an honest mistake. Really, it was. After all, the click of a trigger being drawn back does sound awfully like a key in a lock, particularly through a thick door and when you're desperately hoping that everything's going to go down quietly…

The first shot dispelled our illusions. The slug tore through the door in a shower of wood chips and blew a hole in the wall next to Kate's ear. A second would have caught her in the chest, but I shoved her aside and stepped quickly out of the line-of-fire. A third shot.

Training takes over at moments like these. Weapon out, safety off, feet positioned just so, hands moving like so…and I stepped in front of the door and pumped five shots into the wooden barrier. I was vaguely aware of a groan as I brought my foot up and drove it hard into the centre of the door. It shuddered, but held. I shifted aim and put two bullets into the lock. Another kick.

This time the door slammed back and I dodged instinctively to the side as I heard another shot. I caught a blurred, awkward glimpse of the room beyond…a table, two men beyond it, a woman in a corner, another man, flat on his back in a crimson pool…and then my back was against the wall just to the side of the open door. Eject spent clip, reload…try to remember to breathe…

Kate was opposite me, her stance a mirror of mine, with the deadly gulf of the doorway between us.

" Throw your weapons out and lie down with your hands on your head. Now!" she yelled, her voice sounding a lot calmer than she looked.

" Screw you!" Different voice this time: younger, female.

Kate and I exchanged grim glances and stepped into the doorway again.

" Freeze! Drop the weapons!" A uniform, seemingly sprung from nowhere, levelled his pistol at Kate's back.

'Back-up', finally having got some kind of a handle on the whole situation, arriving on the scene and getting totally the wrong impression…

" Hold it!" I snapped, raising my badge as I stepped back into cover. "We're cops!"

Kate started to duck back as well…too slowly.

A shot rang out and she collapsed in the doorway, her leg spraying blood.

For a second or two, no one moved. Then the woman spoke again, her voice full of smug satisfaction.

" Lose the pieces and step out very slowly, boys. Both of you."

Grimacing, I tossed my sidearm into the room and stepped into the line of fire.

" That's one," the woman said. I saw her clearly for the first time. She had a sharp-featured face, looked no older than nineteen, but the revolver in her hand was rock-steady. She was seated casually on the table, her male pals still half-crouching behind it. "Where's your buddy?"

I glanced in the direction of the uniform. Judging from his dead-white complexion, he wasn't moving. The gun in his hand shook wildly, pointing at nothing in particular. " I'm alone."

" Yeah, right," she sneered. "I heard the third stooge call out, pal. I'm not stupid. Still, if we want to do this the hard way…" She stepped forward and aimed her gun at Kate's head.

I wasn't even sure if Kate saw the weapon , hunched over her wound like she was. I had to do something fast, before Kate, and probably me as well, ended up dead.

Unfortunately, LAPD's tactical training lessons hadn't included much on what to do when disarmed and confronted with three armed felons. 'Pray' pretty much summed it up. Of course, I had options beyond religion.

The woman's eyes popped wide as I let my demon side go, but to her credit she reacted quickly, bringing her weapon up to face me.

Two weeks ago, Kate and I had gone to see a John Woo movie during our day off. In it, the Amazing Super-fighter Guy (whatever his name was) had shown the impressive ability to snatch weapons out of people's hands before they could shoot him.

That was a little too subtle for me. Instead, I let loose the most threatening snarl I could muster, and socked the woman in the jaw. As she went down, I heard the uniform fire, though I wasn't sure if he was shooting at the perps or at me.

A preternaturally swift lunge carried me past the table, and then each of my hands was wrapped around a thug's throat. I smiled politely at them as their guns prodded weakly against my chest.

" Try it. It'll just make me madder." The men exchanged glances, and dropped the weapons. I let out a breath I hadn't realised I was holding, and the demon went with it. I let the suddenly-much-heavier men fall to the ground and glanced over my shoulder at the uniform.

" Cuff 'em." Then I went to tend to Kate.

It was only afterwards, in the car, that I found my hands shaking so badly they needed several nips of whiskey to still them.

The man I had shot was pronounced D.O.A.

I'd drawn my weapon more than a few times on the job, and fired it some as well. But that foolish drug dealer on the floor of room 103 of the Heartridge Hotel was my first kill. A human had died at my own, not-so-human hands. It took a lot more than a few nips of whiskey to wash that away.

Sometimes, I think nothing ever did.

***

In retrospect, it was actually one of the most successful busts of my career. Kate and I brought down four wanted felons, all highly dangerous and implicated as possible cop-killers, which made them the scum of the earth by our definitions. Of course, not everyone saw it that way. The uniform's stories got wilder and wilder, and though many agreed he was just over-stressed and under-paid, not everyone did. The little pool of dirty gossip about me and Kate got a touch murkier.

The newspapers gleefully seized onto the story and started printing headlines like, " COPS ON DEADLY RAMPAGE - HOTEL DRAMA!" and other equally-subdued articles.

The Lieutenant, true to form, missed all of that. He just focused in on the details.

" So, you didn't wait for back-up, didn't have a warrant, and didn't have any reliable evidence, apart from this informant who you're so reluctant to ID? That about it?" This last was delivered in a furious bark. I focused stolidly on the wall behind Lieutenant Harrison's left ear. "Yup."

Harrison glanced down at the sheet of paper on his desk. Bastard even had notes for chewing us out. He was a new appointment and proudly referred to himself as a B.B.B. That's a Big Black Badass, according to him. I privately suspected that it stood for Big Braindead Bullshitter. He liked to pretend he was really tough on crime, but it was all just jockeying for position, hoping to catch someone important's eye. Kate hated his guts, so had her dad, and both of them had been pretty public about their dislike. As far as Harrison was concerned, now he was in charge, it was payback time.

Harrison checked his notes again. "And, oh yeah, apparently Doyle here went after some of them wearing a Halloween mask! You wanna explain that, Irish?"

" I was tryin' to throw them off-guard. Sir." It's amazing what people will explain away.

" And what happened to procedure, Doyle? They teach you that on the training courses?"

I shrugged slightly and refocused on the wall behind him.

Kate broke in. "Listen, with all due respect," - and her tone made it clear exactly how little respect that was - "there is no procedure for that kind of situation. Doyle played a stupid trick. It was a stupid trick that happened to save my life, so I'd say it worked. Sir. And we tried to call for back-up. It wasn't our fault the radio was on the blink and it got delayed. And we had probable cause for our actions."

" Which was?"

" Being shot at, Harrison," Kate snapped. "Remember? With bullets?"

Harrison's face darkened even more than usual. "That's over the line, Lockley. You might have been able to pull this shit with the guy before me, thanks to daddy's rep, but it doesn't happen now. Clear?"

I saw Kate's face twist rebelliously, and hastened to intercede. "Listen, she was-"

" Can it, Doyle," Harrison bit out. Well, tried to intercede. "I'm done with you. Get lost. Detective Lockley and I need to have a little chat." I gave Kate a sympathetic glance and made good my escape.

As the Lieutenant's door clicked shut behind me, I heard the shouting start up again. I rested my head against the notice board next to Harrison's office and sighed.

***

Kate eventually made it out of Harrison Hell twenty minutes later, looking ready to spit nails. So I suggested we perform the time-honoured ritual of stress-relief for police officers: head down the bar which most of the cops frequented, and drink beer in the presence of our colleagues until we fell over.

Actually, we probably would have got a better reception if we'd gone to a demon bar. Everyone kept a careful eye on us as we walked in. They'd obviously heard about Harrison's wrath, and about my own 'Halloween mask' escapades.

After a few desultory greetings and attempts to join conversations, Kate and I gave up and sat alone at the bar. I heard bandages rustling under her trouser leg as she shifted restlessly. According to the doctors the wound was just a graze, and I would have asked if it was still hurting, but something told me she wouldn't have answered

" Same again?" the bartender asked as he took away Kate's third beer. She nodded.

I was definitely the bigger drinker of the two of us, but I was starting to feel over-shadowed. "So, what did he say?" I essayed, as she started industriously on the fourth beer.

She smiled bitterly. "The usual. 'Blah, blah…X-Files joke…blah, blah…lawyers are crawling up my ass on this one'…"

I chuckled. "Surprised they can fit past the huge pointy stick there."

Kate didn't smile. Okay, en-route to Depression City. Please keep your limbs inside the vehicle at all times, and keep the wailing down to minimum…

" So which bunch of law-hounds is it this time?" I asked.

Kate chugged beer from cheek to cheek, and then swallowed. "Wolfram & Hart, the usual expensive suits, gold tie-clips. Nothing new."

" It never is with you guys, is it?"

I swivelled on my barstool. "Oh. Carlson," I muttered flatly.

The big man smelt strongly of beer. "Yeah, you're always pulling the same weird shit, aren't you? Funny cases that never get solved, bizarro tip-offs no one can explain…regular Freak Hour."

I smiled. "Keeps us interested."

" Anything you want, Carlson?" Kate asked, her voice tired, like she'd used up all her anger on Harrison and had none to spare for him. "Or are you just here to drool and make smart comments?"

He considered this as if it was a deep philosophical query. "Actually…I'm here to buy another beer."

Fortunately, after labourously completing that transaction, he buggered off.

The mention of buying reminded me of my own meagre finances, and when the bartender came around with more beers, I held my hand up in refusal. "Relax," he said. "This one's on Newton."

I glanced down the length of the bar at the figure he indicated. Newton was a quiet sort, a big guy, but not overbearing like Carlson, he just faded into the background wherever he went. True to form, the station wiseguys nicknamed him 'Noisy' Newton. Newton nodded once at me, and smiled quietly.

Nice to see that not everyone had forgotten that we'd made a good bust last night.

Five beers later, Kate fell off her bar stool.

***

I got Kate into a taxi home and then headed back to the station to finish up our report, since she was clearly in no condition to do it. After half-an-hour hunched over my computer, squinting in the gradually shrinking light as more and more cops switched off their desk lamps and went home, I looked at my watch and decided I was in no condition to do it either.

On the way out I passed by Harrison's office, and levelled a solid, if badly-aimed, kick at his door. I leaned against the notice board next to his office for a second time that day, rubbing my aching foot and waiting for the floor to stop swimming as my own not-inconsiderable beer consumption took its toll.

I stared blearily at the notices as I waited for the dizziness to subside. The usual range of mug shots, as well as an envelope of…flyers?

Yup, flyers it was. Richfield Detective Agency, they read.

Richfield had been on the force for a year longer than I had, but he'd got fired during one of Harrison's uglier temper-tantrums a couple of months earlier. Undaunted, Richfield had declared he would go into business for himself. He hadn't told anybody in what line of work.

Now, three months later, I was looking at the result. Cheeky bastard. He probably got one of his old buddies to put the flyers up here, just to stick it to Harrison.

Schmuck. Chasing unfaithful spouses and insurance scams…what kind of a job was that?

It was only later that night, as I tossed and turned in my dark, cold bed in my equally dark and cold apartment, that I found myself wondering…

What kind of a job is this?

***

Chapter 2
by Tammy

Present Day

"So... what's our lead, then?" I asked, as Kate's unmarked grey car took a corner at a moderate pace that made my foot itch, sitting in the passenger seat as I was.

"Our lead is Doctor Greg Martin," Kate said. "And he used to head up the psychiatric staff at Sunny View Psychiatric Hospital."

We passed a club where bright lights and music blared out into the night air, and gaudily dressed people stepped up off the edge of the road onto the sidewalk as Kate irritably punched the heel of her hand into the horn and kept it there until the lights of the club were a distant shimmer in the rear-view mirror.

"Doc Martin, huh? I thought that was a shoe?"

She frowned at me and continued, "There was a man, about ten years ago. His case was in all the papers. They thought it was a big funny joke. He bit people. Thought he was a vampire. This was way back before we had any of this shit to deal with on a regular basis, before corpses drained of blood were showing up almost as regularly as the rapes and muggings. Anyway, they arrested him for assault, and he was committed to Sunny View."

After a few seconds, she added, "It was Captain Renson who remembered. I don't remember any of it. I must have heard about it at some point - it was going on while I was in training, and my father had some involvement in the case too. But I didn't remember, I still don't. I guess... it wasn't anything to me, back then. Just another crazy." Her face, flickering yellow and red flashes of headlights throwing her features into stark relief, was set in a grim expression.

It felt odd to me, too, to think back to more innocent times, when a guy thinking he was a vampire could be a media joke. "So you think he could've progressed, huh? Then I guess the question is - what's happened to vamp guy now?"

She nodded grimly. "His name was Ernest Hannoy, but we can't find him on record. He was never convicted, on grounds of insanity, so we haven't any record of his progress. Sunny View itself closed down three years ago. For all we know he could have been out there rehabilitated and working nine to five with a wife and kids for half a dozen years, or he could be locked up in the most secure nut-house in the country. But Dr. Martin runs his own private practice now, and I called his secretary at the precinct when I was checking around: he's working late tonight in his office."

"And you're hopin' he can point us in the right direction." I sighed, staring out of the window at a bunch of guys fallin' down drunk all over the sidewalk, who sure looked to be having a better night of it than us. "For all we know, we're chasin' the wrong guy. This could be a copycat, if the publicity was like as you say, gettin' too involved in his role. Or just a coincidence, plain and simple."

She didn't turn her eyes from the road ahead as the traffic slowed to a crawl for a set of stop lights which were no more than minute flecks of brightness way ahead along the length of the street. "Right. And there really is no reason to assume a person with a slight over-enthusiasm for necking a decade ago would be into killing people now, after several years of professional treatment," she said dryly. "Although at the very least we still need to drag him in for DNA testing to rule him out."

Listening to her speak, I had to shake myself out of an instant's peculiar delusion that the events of the past half year hadn't happened. Kate's clipped tones and our present, familiar companionship took me back to an era of my life that was past and gone.

It was odd, to be together again on a case, after the working relationship established over years had been absent for months. Oh, we'd compared notes, talked, seen each other two or three times most weeks, but this was the first time we'd actually worked together since I left the force. Old habits, old patterns, resurfaced with only a slight trace of awkwardness. And I realised, for the first time since Faith and Wesley had joined up with me and put an end to those lonely months of working solo, just how much I'd missed this.

Faith and Wesley had never had to fight the good fight silent and alone in the face of a world which would probably lock them up as crazy if they ever dared break that silence. They'd never had to worry about how maybe they were crazy, believing these things and having nobody to verify them. They'd never had to stumble along without support because they'd always had their own support net, the Watcher's Council, backing them.

They didn't understand what it was like to be alone.

And now I had Faith, and Wesley, and an overwhelming sense of guilt because Kate still didn't have anyone but me. And that, of late, had meant nobody.

The car finally drew close to the stop lights. Moving headlights left blurring trails in front of my eyes, after too many hours straight spent awake and working. I tried to blink them away. Blinking brought into focus the girl in leather gear walking past us. She turned around and her dark hair flicked back to reveal a profile I didn't recognise, despite an instant's baited breath.

A different stab of guilt.

Should I really have walked out like that, leaving Faith and Wesley to deal with the danger I'd seen in my vision?

Of course I should, I told myself crossly. Kate had needed me more. They'd be all right.

Yeah - Faith was the Slayer, after all, and more than capable of defending herself from any danger without me. The gal could kick my ass all over the room: seemed to find it greatly entertaining, in fact. I gritted my teeth at the memory of the workout session the previous day and thought sourly that, no, she didn't need me. Never had, except as general mediator and translator between her and Wesley.

Kate gave me a sideways glance, maybe concerned at my silence. Her eyes flicked back to the figure of the leather-clad girl, now almost out of sight in the mirror, and she studied me for a second or so before reluctantly returning her attention to the task of driving. "I'm sorry," she said, "If this has caused problems between you and your employees. I know it didn't help that your girlfriend and I, um, sort of got off on the wrong foot."

I shook my head. "There's no problem," I said determinedly, telling it to myself as much as to her. "After all, it's not as though the arguments are precisely a rarity."

***

Doctor Martin ran his private psychiatric practice from a small modern building only a few blocks from where the hospital had been where he'd worked caring for a very different class of patient.

"Apparently, he treats some pretty big names," Kate murmured, as we walked up the drive, with its well-tended exotic plant borders and palm trees, illuminated by strategically hidden garden floodlighting. Somehow I doubted Dr. Martin did his own landscape gardening. I bet that'd cost a pretty penny. The building itself looked purpose-designed too, sporting lots of mirrored glass and odd angles and curves.

"'Shrink to the stars', huh?" I said.

"He sees Kelsey Grammar twice a week, I heard," she murmured conspiratorially.

We went inside past an empty receptionist's station, following signs along a corridor and up a broad, polished pine staircase, at the top of which we found a door with a name plate fixed to it - "Dr. Gregory Martin", with a list of initials underneath it that took up about half the door.

Kate slapped the door back briskly. I followed rather more cautiously through no longer having a badge and official duty to justify my presence there. The man sitting behind a desk with paperwork strewn over it looked up and blinked at us in vague suspicion.

"Good evening, Dr. Martin. You are working late."

Dr. Martin was maybe in his fifties, with balding grey hair and a face that was deeply lined and weathered. His natural expression seemed to be a sour grimace, which he fixed now upon Kate. "I don't believe we had an appointment," he remarked.

"We're not patients," she said dryly. "Although, given our lifestyles, by now we probably should be... but on second thoughts, given our pay cheques, probably not yours." She showed him her badge. "Lockley. LAPD."

Surprise knocked the superior look off his face, though it didn't last more than a second. His attention turned to me expectantly, waiting for the show of a badge. I stuck my hands in my jacket pockets and said nothing. Didn't think it would be too stellar an idea to verify to him that I wasn't a cop.

Kate had more or less told me to let her do the talking. At least, she'd muttered "Bite your tongue in there, for Christ's sake, or I'll arrest you" as we climbed out of the car.

"What do the police want with me?" he asked, turning back to her, although his eyes kept sliding over to me like he was trying to figure me out.

"Our information indicates that you once headed up the staff at Sunny View Psychiatric Hospital. Is that correct?"

"Seven years ago. Yes."

"We're looking for a man named Ernest Hannoy, who used to be a patient there. Do you know the current whereabouts of this man?"

The deep, frowning creases in Martin's face intensified visibly at the mention of the name, although I thought he was trying to mute his reaction. "Patient files are normally confidential," he said evasively, obviously unhappy.

"You know that doesn't apply in cases where the patient may be connected to a crime," Kate shot back. "This man could be responsible for a series of 'vampire' style killings - I trust you remember why he ended up in your care in the first instance?"

Dr. Martin sat very still, purposely not reacting, indication in itself of his shock. "Killings?" he breathed, barely audibly. His expression hardened. "I assure you, that's quite impossible. Mr Han- the patient was cured. He no longer suffers from those delusions. I must strongly suggest you are on the wrong track with this line of enquiry."

He hesitated, studying her intently, and from whatever he saw there he found a weapon. "In fact, you do appear somewhat tired, Detective Lockley. I think you could look into some stress management techniques, or counselling - maybe I should get back to your superiors with that recommendation -"

"Or maybe you could help us on this case and set a lot of people's minds at rest," I interrupted - before Kate had chance to reply in a manner that probably wouldn't do us any favours in persuading the guy to part with whatever information he might have.

I'd had doubts about speaking up and drawing his attention, and they were proven right. Martin turned his hostile glare onto me.

"And who would you be? Another policeman? I don't think so, somehow. Even the LAPD have certain standards. You look more like you work on the other side of the law. What, then? Some independent muscle who couldn't hack it in the force? A vigilante thug little different to the creatures he hunts..."

I winced and quelled an angry response that wouldn't help our case much either.

Kate cleared her throat and cut in for me. "I'll thank you not to insult my colleagues, Doctor. He's Doyle, an independent investigator helping me on this case. Now, Dr. Martin." She leaned forward over his desk aggressively and trapped his gaze with hers. The expression on her face brooked no argument. "I'll ask again. Do you know the whereabouts of a man called Ernest Hannoy, who thinks he's a vampire?"

"He seems human enough to me," he said testily.

"As human as I do?" I snapped.

He gave me a long, odd stare, trying to work out what the hell I could possibly mean. I repressed my twinge of satisfaction at his confusion, and reminded myself angrily what was at stake. The remembered image of the girl stretched out on the examining table, her skin the colour of paper, flashed before my eyes.

"Look, man," I said, leaning forward over Martin's desk, staring fiercely into his eyes. "I see you're not over-comfortable with betrayin' a confidence here, but think about it a moment. If he's not vampin' after people again, then fine - but we need to see him to rule him out as a suspect quick, so we can move on an' stop whoever actually is doin' this. If he is killin' people - well..." I left it hanging, and slowly drew back.

Dr. Martin's expression looked set in stone.

"Every minute we waste is another minute the murderer - whoever they might be - has chance to kill again," Kate said. She kept her distance from Martin, her back straight and her arms crossed, the expression on her face almost impassive. "The last victim was a sixteen year old girl... do you have any family, Doctor?"

Seconds ticked by, while the horror of the brutal truth and the shock of Kate's trademark bludgeon tactics warred with each other for control of the atmosphere in that room.

"All right," he said finally, his voice heavy with bitterness and ragged irony. "Yes, I know where Mr Hannoy can be found. I meet him every Thursday for lunch in a local club, and have done so for several years now. He is an extremely articulate and educated man. In the years since he was discharged, he has earned two degrees and secured a high-placed job. He is completely recovered from the... unusual delusions he was known to suffer in his youth. I helped him to recover, in the years he spent as a patient in my care."

He hesitated. "He was my patient, he is now my friend. And I assure you he did not commit these horrible crimes."

"If that's the case," Kate said levelly, "Then neither you nor he have anything to concern yourselves about. A DNA test will settle the matter."

Silence.

"We need the address, Dr. Martin," Kate said softly.

Dr. Martin, grimly loyal to his friend, stared back at her, clearly torn between the betrayals of suspecting or informing.

And after a few seconds, he decided he trusted his friend enough to give us the address.

***

Chapter 3
by Tammy and Ellen

8 Months Ago

After the euphoria of a successful bust, the next few days were filled with the all-too-familiar frustration of lawyers and paperwork. Kate's leg injury got infected and she took a few days off, leaving to me the delights of report writing and cross-examination from the still unsatisfied legal staff.

Kate came back, with a pronounced limp and a worse attitude than usual, and took to growling in place of coherent speech for another few days until someone at the station had a quiet word with her doctor. Who obliged them by switching her onto a different pain medication and returning her to a comparatively blissful semblance of normal.

Lawyers tried to stamp all over our case, but the testimony of two cops was a hard case to beat. I was however concerned that defending lawyers had a tendency in such instances to dredge the records of the cops involved to find something to cast doubt on their word - and I was horribly aware that digging too closely into my record could throw up all sorts of inconsistencies. Things I'd done that a human shouldn't have been able to do; things that, happening every so often over three years could go unnoticed, but all examined together might prove too much of a coincidence to ignore.

I fretted. Kate grouched.

It was pretty much business as usual.

"Damn it," I said to Kate, tossing the file of the lawyers' latest complaints across the desk, where it landed on a pile of papers. The momentum sent it skidding another inch or so after touchdown and, very slowly, the entire pile crawled its way off the edge of the desk to land noisily on the floor, attracting a few glances from neighbouring desks. "If we could only explain to them about our contacts..."

"I suppose Phil and his pals wouldn't be much welcome in a court of law," Kate said dryly, regarding the fallen papers down the length of her nose and not moving an inch to retrieve them. Her hands flexed on the thick file she held and she turned back to me. "But I know what you mean. As far as everyone else is concerned, we seem to have a case based on the fact that these people fired upon us when we went to make routine enquiries without a warrant, and that one of the arrestees apparently had a gun which matched the bullets fired at Murphy and Gerrold, but which is mysteriously missing from the evidence room."

"And couldn't you just guess who arranged that. If bloody Wolfram and Hart didn't have half the upper echelons of this division in their pockets, I'd bet anythin' every one of the bastards'd be in jail."

"I hate lawyers." Kate spoke absently, but her hands were either consciously or unconsciously making little strangling motions.

"I hate court rooms. I get all dry-mouthed."

She nodded. "Hate courtrooms. Hate lawyers."

"Yeah."

"Bastards."

"Yeah." The pencil I held in my hand snapped in two and I stared at it. "Okay," I said, frowning, "I think I'm tense."

"You're tense?" She held up the file she'd had in her hands at the beginning of the discussion. It was three inches thick of papers and the spine was bent drastically out of shape. "You know, I think we're both really, really fortunate that you're the one with the demon strength..."

***

"Hey Doyle," Newton said. He was already at the temperamental coffee machine down the corridor when I arrived, good naturedly slapping at the side of it with one of his large hands until it finally gave up the fight, choked indignantly, and vomited a stream of coffee powder and hot water into the waiting plastic cup. Carefully shifting a bunch of papers tucked under his arm, he took the cup and moved aside for me. "You're working late."

"Yeah," I said. "Lawyers. You know the drill."

I pushed the button on the coffee machine and it defiantly did absolutely nothing. I growled a curse and kicked it. It spat out a plastic cup. I waited. It stubbornly stilled once more and refused to budge further. "Shit, when are they gonna stretch to a new one of these?"

Newton laughed. Little seemed to faze him; he was easy-going to a fault, impossible to dislike. In his dealings with Kate and myself, had always treated us no differently to how he treated anyone else, despite our status as a precinct joke in the eyes of those he generally hung around with.

"I think the Department feels they're upholding a grand police tradition by making us drink this stuff," he said, smiling. "So... how's Lockley now? Heard she had a few complications with the leg."

"She's fine," I told him wryly. "Save your concern for the poor souls who hafta work with the woman when she's hurtin' an' pissed off." I gave a fake long-suffering sigh. It turned into a splutter of indignation as the coffee machine finally decided to expel sugar, coffee powder, hot water and cream with a force that blew the cup out from the slot and across the floor, its contents scattering everywhere.

I cursed strenuously. Newton wordlessly handed me paper towels from the table next to the machine and I knelt down to clear up the mess. I waved him off when, depositing his own coffee and his papers onto the table, he moved to lend a hand: "I've got it. You get back to catchin' bad guys. Those prostitute murders, wasn't it?"

"Yeah," he said. "Awful business. The last one was just fifteen years old. Fifteen. She'd been working the streets for two years, since her stepfather abused her and her mother threw her out, until somebody decided to kill her because she wasn't pure enough for them." A muscle in his face twitched, hinting at depths of rage which didn't show.

Yeah, Newton had an anger burning behind that mild facade, when he got going. He sure wasn't somebody I'd ever like to have against me. Fortunately, Newton's temper was reserved to deploy against injustice.

"You'll find the bastard," I said.

He nodded, his focus elsewhere, picking up his coffee and papers - grabbing after them as half the pile started sliding down out of his grasp, juggling the coffee cup in his other hand. "I hope so," he said, turning away down the corridor. "See you around, Doyle."

A small white paper rectangle flitted to the ground in front of me in his wake.

***

It was about the size of a business card, I thought, watching it fall, and when I picked it up from the floor I found that it was indeed a business card. "Wolfram and Hart," it said on the front, underneath sodden coffee marks I tried to brush away with my fingers and only succeeded in spreading further across the lettering, "Attorneys at law."

On the back of it there was nothing but a simple phone number, written in blue ballpoint by a steady hand. I didn't know Newton well enough to recognise whether it was his own handwriting or someone else's.

I slowly got to my feet, still staring blankly at the card, the mess on the floor forgotten. I felt slightly winded.

There was no reason, really, that Newton shouldn't have a Wolfram and Hart business card. After all, they were one of LA's major law firms, one of the necessary evils we had to deal with regularly in the course of our business.

But... there were the rumours. Everyone knew they had half the city council and police officials in their pockets. More rarely voiced were the rumours of how they seldom lost a case because the evidence against their clients tended to suffer mysterious disappearances, and witnesses to suffer oddly convenient accidents.

I always knew they'd have their own cops on the payroll - but surely not Newton. Newton was a solid guy. Newton was a goddamn saint. Everyone knew it.

Grimly, I headed for the nearest phone, and punched in the number that was written on the back of the card.

Someone picked up almost instantly and a smooth male voice with a slightly southern twang said, "Newton, I thought I told you not to ring me on this extension outside office hours?"

I put the phone down, feeling numb.

I walked back along the corridor, coffee forgotten, barely feeling my feet on the ground.

Of all the cops I'd never have expected to be crooked... It had to be a mistake. It had to be.

And not just because I personally liked the guy, either. If Newton really was crooked, it was pretty much a certainty that nobody would believe my word on the issue. Maybe not even Kate. Damn the guy, but he was liked...

What the hell was I going to do about this?

I halted, suddenly aware of voices nearby. No, not voices. One voice. Newton's.

Through the glass in the door of a nearby office I saw him, then, talking into a cellphone. He must've ducked out of the corridor for some privacy when it rang.

I froze where I stood and I listened: couldn't help myself.

"No, I don't know who else could have gotten this number," he said. "I certainly wouldn't advertise the fact you'd approached me, would I?"

There was a long silence while the person on the other end of the line responded. To my own ears, my breathing sounded so loud I was amazed Newton didn't hear it and catch me listening in.

"No, I haven't decided yet," he said when he finally spoke up again, actually sounding what, from him, passed for irritable. "It's difficult. I-"

Another pause.

"You think I don't know that? Hell, I know how they'd react if they knew what I really am, that I'm not completely human. I know they wouldn't give a demon any breaks in this joint. I know I'm not really like them-"

The pause was briefer, this time.

"Yeah," Newton said, sounding weary. "Yeah, I know. I'll think about it, Mac. I'll think about it."

He put the phone away and headed for the door.

I only just collected my shock-scattered wits together sufficiently to duck into another side room in time.

***

Ms. Allen's Wolfram and Hart-provided lawyer looked barely out of school, but his gaze was uncannily sharp. He gave me a smug smile when he caught me looking his way outside the court room during recess.

I was up next. Kate had already been. In her words, they chewed her up and spat her out, but they were only sharpening their teeth in preparation for the main course. Which would be me: the prosecution's most significant witness. The sort of witness cases hung on.

A responsibility I could have done without, all things considered.

"Keep cool," Kate said to me under her breath, joining me in glaring daggers back at the lawyer.

Keeping cool was something I'd found increasingly hard to do, the last few days.

I shot a covert glance towards Newton, where he stood like a shadow to the defendant, Ms Allen, who despite Wolfram and Hart's inevitable protestations that she was a sweet valley girl who wouldn't hurt a fly, was still being considered downright lethal and requiring of a police escort. Her face twisted in hatred when she saw me. Newton turned to see what she was getting all riled up about and I quickly looked away.

I hadn't spoken to him since those words exchanged by the coffee machine.

I hadn't said anything to Kate about the incident, either. Didn't know if she'd believe me. Or perhaps it was more that I didn't know if I'd want her to believe me. If Newton was like me... if Wolfram and Hart were trying to get their claws into him...

They hadn't got to him - yet. But he was part demon and they were using that to reel him in, and it wouldn't be long. He was on his own, trapped amid people who'd no doubt freak if they found out what he truly was. It wasn't an unfamiliar situation.

I could hardly rat him out. My own fear of discovery ran like ice in my veins at the mere thought, reminding me that what we risked was just the same. We were the same.

"Just try to relax and console yourself by thinking of how wasted we're both going to get after this is over," Kate said to me, mistaking my reaction to be trial-related. I didn't correct her.

"Right," I said tightly, looking back at the oblivious Newton, wanting badly to tell her what was going on and biting my tongue. I didn't know what Kate would do. She was barely okay with me being half demon, and that only because she'd gotten to know me before she found out. Asking her to understand what was happening with Newton... I recalled the encounter in Phil's store and winced.

"I'm going to go home and shower," Kate murmured, leaning close to me, as a brief commotion at the far end of the room signalled they were ready to start up again. "I'll meet you back here later.

"I hope the vultures leave some of your entrails intact."

***

The Assistant District Attorney, a mature African-American woman who had a calm, steadying presence, asked me the basic questions about what happened. The Wolfram and Hart lawyer sitting at the defense table looked up abruptly and leaned forward several times as though he were going to object, once going so far as to pick up a pen and stab the air in my direction, then sat back with a patient, long-suffering expression.

I realized after a while that he was putting on a show for the jury. His sudden movements were likely to catch someone's eye and might distract the jurors from my testimony. I tried not to let him distract me.

"What happened next?"

"When the door opened, I saw four people."

"Did you recognize any of them?"

"Not then. I'd never seen any of them before."

"Have you seen any of them since that night?"

"Yes." I looked over toward the defense table. "I see one of them right now."

"Objection!" The guy from Wolfram and Hart was on his feet, pen in hand. "No foundation - "

I caught myself frowning slightly. The voice was familiar, but I couldn't place it.

"Overruled," the judge said firmly. "Foundation is where we are, Mr. McDonald. You'll have your opportunity on cross-examination. Counsel," nodding toward the Assistant District Attorney, "you may proceed."

McDonald? I hadn't caught the name before, and tried for a moment to place it. Then I had to turn my attention back to the question.

"Detective Doyle, on the night in question, did you have an opportunity to observe the four individuals in that room?"

"Some opportunity, yes. Some of them more than others."

"Why was that?"

"One man was already on the floor when the door opened. He never moved, so I didn't spend much time lookin' at him."

"And the others?"

"There were two men and one woman. The woman did most of the talking." I heard a juror or two chuckle at that, and felt surprised. I hadn't meant it as a joke.

"What opportunity did you have to observe the woman, Detective Doyle?"

"I was looking straight at her through most of the incident, since she had a gun pointed straight at me."

"Objection. Not responsive to the question."

Annoyed, I turned toward the defense attorney, but with the ease of long practice, the Assistant D.A. stepped between me and the defense table. She didn't have to say anything; the expression on her face telegraphed "Be cool" without a single word.

"Your Honor," she said dryly, "I believe the answer was responsive, since one's attention level might be at least somewhat affected by a gun pointed in one's direction."

"Objection! Unfair comment by counsel."

Now that guy was really starting to bother me, and the nagging familiarity of his voice was driving me crazy. With an effort, I dragged my attention back to the matters at hand.

With excruciating slowness, step by step, the prosecutor guided me through the process of identifying the defendant. In the moment when I was finally allowed to point straight at her and say, "That's her, sitting at that table," I felt a rush of triumph.

The triumph was short-lived. What had taken less than five minutes to happen took over an hour to reconstruct, one small piece at a time.

Finally, the Assistant D.A. concluded her direct examination, and she took her place back at the prosecution table. The defense attorney stood up, stretching just a little like a bored cat finally given a chance to play, and moved toward me.

"Good afternoon, Detective Doyle," he said, his voice a smooth, slightly southern burr. "My name is Lindsey McDonald, and I represent Alicia Allen. I have just a few questions for you."

Everything seemed to go still. I forgot to breathe. I remembered how I knew that voice.

***

"From start to finish, this whole incident took only a few minutes, isn't that right, Detective Doyle?"

"Yes, that's right."

"Yet you claim to remember every moment, in detail?"

"Yes. It made an impression," I added, and McDonald stepped in swiftly to interrupt me. "Just answer the question 'yes' or 'no,' Detective Doyle."

"Yes, I remember."

"Then of course you noticed one of the men putting the gun into Alicia's hand, didn't you?"

"No, absolutely not."

"You missed that? Perhaps you weren't paying such close attention as you claim, Detective Doyle."

"Objection," the Assistant D.A. said, her voice remaining calm. "Counsel is assuming facts not in evidence, and arguing with the witness."

"Sustained."

"You say that you remember everything that happened during this incident. Didn't you notice, Detective Doyle, that the dealers were using Alicia as a shield when you and your partner burst in, shooting?"

"No. That didn't happen."

"How do you know? Do you know what happened before you kicked the door in?"

"I know what happened after."

"Yes or no, Detective Doyle. Do you know what happened before you broke in?"

"No," I said reluctantly.

"Do you know whether any of the others actually put the gun in Alicia's hand, and then hid behind her, just before the door opened?"

"No."

"Do you know who fired the first shots through the door?"

"No."

"So, you have no reason to believe that Alicia did any of the shooting before the door opened, did you?"

"No."

"Did you know before you broke down the door that there was a teenage girl in the room?"

"No."

"So, when you started firing through the door, you had no idea who was on the other side?"

"Someone who was shooting at us," I responded, in as strong a voice as I could.

"Just answer the question yes or no, Detective Doyle. Did you know who was on the other side of that door when you started shooting?"

"No."

"When your partner was shot, you had already ducked for cover outside the door, isn't that right?"

"Yes."

"So, you couldn't possibly have seen which of the individuals in that room fired the shot that wounded your partner. Isn't that right?"

"I saw her standin' there with the gun after-"

"You claim that you saw Alicia point the gun at your partner, but you didn't see Alicia fire the gun, did you?"

"No."

"In fact, Detective Doyle, isn't it true that you never saw Alicia fire the gun at all?"

"Yes."

"Isn't it true that you punched this young girl in the face before she had a chance to do anything at all?"

"Before she had a chance to pull the trigger," I answered quickly.

"Detective Doyle, just answer the question yes or no. Isn't it true that she hadn't fired a shot, to your knowledge, when you punched her in the face and knocked her to the floor?"

"I saw her pointin' the gun - "

"Yes or no. Had you actually seen Alicia fire that gun, even once, before you hit her?"

"No."

"Tell me, Detective Doyle, are you in the habit of carrying a Halloween mask when you are on duty?"

"Uh, yeah..." I felt my face flush red with the silliness of the statement, but what else could I say?

"Do you have any children?"

"No."

"Uh-huh." There were some quiet laughs from the jury as McDonald gave that sardonic grunt, one of his eyebrows archly shooting up into his hairline. "Detective Doyle, why do you carry a Halloween mask while on duty?"

I mumbled something fairly feeble about it coming in useful to surprise the bad guys, a trick that worked (true enough), which was greeted by another snigger from the jury, and a lawyerly smirk.

"Isn't it true, Detective Doyle, that you put on a mask to scare Alicia because you saw how young she was, almost a child, and you wanted to terrify her?"

"No."

"You didn't put on the Halloween mask in order to terrify this adolescent girl?"

"To startle her - or anybody else - "

"To scare her right out of her wits?"

"Objection," said the A.D.A. "Argumentative. Badgering the witness."

"Sustained. Counsel, it's almost five o'clock," said the judge. "This Court is now in recess. Detective Doyle, you are cautioned not to discuss your testimony with anyone while this court is in recess. This court will reconvene in the morning."

As the members of the jury stood, I noticed a few of them glance at me doubtfully.

The assistant DA walked over to me as people started filing out. Her voice low with grim conspiracy, she said, "Keep it together, Doyle. McDonald's grasping at straws - but given Ms Allen's record, the fact that you're weird isn't going to break this case."

***

Working my way outside, I caught sight of Newton through the milling crowds. The man he was talking to was partially obscured in the crush of people, but a glimpse of the arm and shoulder of a neatly tailored grey suit told me enough. I broke away from Kate and pushed my way closer to them, only in time to hear Newton say, "...more time.. It's not easy, what you're asking me."

"Don't take too long," Lindsey McDonald said, with a hint of threat. Then he was stalking away, his back straight and aloof, his stride businesslike. I watched Newton stare after him.

Newton turned around, and his eyes inadvertently met mine.

His mildly ruffled expression sort of crumpled, and he spun on his heel and hurried away, turning in the opposite direction to McDonald as he exited the courthouse.

***

I ran. Caught up with him cutting down an alley leading to a car park. My hand on his shoulder stopped him in his tracks and spun him around. He greeted me with both fists raised in classic boxer pose and I was uncomfortably reminded that he had about twice my own body weight behind him, and who knew how his demon blood might manifest?

He lowered his fists, breathing deep. "Doyle. What are you doing?"

The alley had dark walls and too much shadow, even this early in the evening. Crumbling brickwork in the walls, garbage gathering in clumps at the alley's edges. Tall buildings looming oppressive overhead. No windows looking down from the blank walls which faced inwards towards us.

I drew in a breath, prepared to speak. Ended up biting my tongue on the edge of a lie. I couldn't do this...

Harshly, I said, "I know, Newton. I know everything. What you are. What those Wolfram and Hart scumbags are up to with you."

He stared at me blankly. The expression made the large slab of his face look slow, but he wasn't slow. I knew that from experience. "Then you know more than I do," he said, "Because I don't even know what you're talking about. Have you been drinking? I know you've been stressed lately..."

"I ain't drunk and I'm not imaginin' things," I snapped. "You might as well lose the innocent act. You've been careless, Newton. I found your calling card from 'Mac'. I heard you talk to him, on the phone the other day and again just now. I know they're tryin' to get you to go over to their side, and I know why."

"Why's that, Doyle?" he said, no inflection in his voice, neither affirming or denying.

"Because you're part demon." I took a breath. "Just like I am."

***

I waited for his reaction. I was aware that this was all or nothing. That, in extending him this line, I was setting myself up to be dragged down with him if I failed to hold him, because if Wolfram and Hart knew I was half demon I shuddered to imagine how they'd use that knowledge.

Newton's expression had gone blank. He didn't move - not to breathe, not to blink. We stood in silence. I didn't breathe or blink either. My chest felt strangely tight. My eyelids could've been taped back.

A car came past down the alley, cutting a divide between us, the glare of headlights and the irate blare of a horn shattering the atmosphere. I stumbled back. My shoulders hit the brick wall behind me. Newton also backed off, turning his face aside and shielding his eyes with his hand.

Then, the car had passed and the glare and noise were gone, leaving us again with the deathly silent evening.

Newton breathed now: in heavy, harsh gasps. He stared at me across six feet of space, a distance he maintained even though the car occupied it no longer. "You... what is this?" he said. "This is a joke. Funny, Doyle. Very funny."

"It's not a joke, an' if it was it'd be a bloody lousy one," I said. "I'm half demon, an' rumour has it that's somethin' the two of us have in common."

He took a step towards me, hesitantly, disbelievingly. He stopped. He said, "No. No, it's a trick."

I didn't have the patience for this shit. It had been a long day in court and I was near the end of my tether: stretched out, worn out, talked out. With a snarl, I closed the gap between us, dragging my demon aspect out even as I moved.

"Feelin' a bit more inclined to believe me, now?" I growled, holding him - twice my size as he was - pressed up against the wall by his throat.

He nodded minutely, his eyes wide. I relaxed my grip, stood back, and let the demon fade away. Faced him once again as a human.

"You're... for real," he said, hoarsely, hardly audible.

"Yeah." I hesitated. "And now that's established, how 'bout we go get us a drink? I think we got some business to discuss."

***

We went to a small demon bar a few streets away. It wasn't overly busy, which suited both of us just fine. We found a table tucked away in a corner and lined up the shots.

"Lockley - she knows, right?" Newton said.

I nodded slowly. "Yeah, she knows. But she still ain't what you might call happy 'bout it. Back when, we, you know, sort of had a thing. But then she found out and then-" I made a bitter cutting gesture, slashing through the air with my hand. "What about you? How many of those guys you hang out with know about this?"

He just shook his head. "I never told them. Everyone but Wolfram and Hart think I'm normal - and I don't know how they found out. Used it on the job a few times too many, I guess. I try not to use it much." He punctuated the statement by downing a shot of whisky, his face wrinkling up as he did so. He avoided meeting my eyes.

"No skin off my nose," I said. "I'm with you on that one. Came too close to endin' up a popular freak show exhibit a few times myself. Wouldn't have told Kate, except she found out by accident. And shot me."

Newton choked on another shot, set his glass down and stared across the table. "She shot you?"

"It was a mistake." Uncomfortably, I changed the subject - to one only a little less uncomfortable. "When did you find out? What you were, I mean?"

"Find out?"

"That you weren't human."

"Oh, I always knew. My mother made her displeasure with my father's 'secret' pretty obvious. She wasn't too keen to be rearing a kid that could sprout horns, armoured skin and six-inch claws at will, and once he walked off she got tired of trying pretty quickly." He studied me carefully. "Do you mean to say you didn't know?"

I shook my head. And thought about that, for the first time, in a different light. At least I'd been spared what Newton had been through. I'd had a shot of normal life. "I just found out a few years ago, man. You could say it was a bit of a surprise."

"Your parents didn't tell you?"

"My mum." I thought, abruptly, of the depth of caring it showed, that she'd even tried, when as Newton proved it would have been so easy to give up. "I suppose I had a few lucky breaks really."

But Newton shook his head. "I can't imagine what it must have been like, to think yourself human, normal, and then - is it easier or harder, to know from the start?" His expression said he didn't know, either.

"I guess we can't know," I said. "But that's the past. What matters is what we do now - an' you can't give in to these Wolfram and Hart people. I knew I had to talk to you, when I found out what was goin' on. I couldn't rat out your dealings with Wolfram and Hart, but I couldn't just stand by and let you do this. You have to know they're only interested in usin' you."

"Using me? You say that like the same's not true for the LAPD. For all the rest of this damn world. Lindsey McDonald's right. They'd kill me if they ever discovered what I am: a monster. They'd do it in a heartbeat. I've been there before, Doyle. I guess you've never had to really face what happens when you're discovered, or you'd know you can't trust anyone not to betray you. Wolfram and Hart, I know what they're after from me - but they know what I am, and they don't care. Or rather they do. It's the reason they're interested in me. I have a place there. I'll always be a misfit here, trying to fit into this world."

His sentiments rang too many bells for comfort. "Newton, pal, they're evil," I protested. "Don't you get what that means? The people you've been fightin' to put behind bars, you'd be fightin' to keep out on the streets. That bastard who was killin' the hookers. Ms Allen and her cronies, peddlin' drugs to fourteen year olds..."

"You're wrong. Wolfram and Hart have their standards. I think Allen's a favour for someone else. Drugs aren't their usual sort of scene, and Allen's small-time for them."

"And how many favours d'you think there'll be, Newton? They're still gonna get those people off to continue doin' what they do."

Newton hesitated, but it wasn't with doubt. His gaze fixed mine, and his eyes were uncomfortably intense. "Doyle. I don't think you're seeing the picture here. Maybe because you were raised human, you don't get it. You're used to thinking of yourself as human, as a part of their world, even if you know you're not. That must be a difficult habit to break, and I don't envy you it. We're not human, though. We're not bound by their laws. We're different. You and I, maybe we've both of us been trying to blend in for too long. We're demons. We're supposed to be evil. We're probably bound for hell anyway - who knows if we even have a soul to lose, or any of that shit?"

He leaned in closer to me, looking through me. "Take a look around you. You've got one real friend in the world and even she can't abide the true Francis Doyle. I've seen how the rest of the guys treat you. They treat you like dirt. And you know why they do that? It's because you're different. They sense that, even if they have no idea just how different."

"They don't hate you," I pointed out, trying to keep the tremor from my voice, and to still the tremor in my limbs. Too many truths...

He said, with a trace of bitter irony, "I've spent my life learning to blend in. You've had four years. This isn't me. What you see, what they see. It's just a facade. Me and you, Doyle - our humanity is just skin deep."

"Newton, man," I said, my voice a rasp, a whisper. "Think about this..."

"I have thought about it. You try thinking about it, Doyle. This could be the best chance you ever have. These people, they have an equal opportunity policy regarding demons. They have company pensions, no matter how long your life span might turn out to be. I'm not going to give you away to them if you don't want to go, but just think about it. You and me, we'd be among our own kind. We wouldn't have to hide any more. What future do you think you have, going on like this?"

I didn't want to think about it. But I did. Couldn't help it.

And I knew that I had to get away from there, and quick.

I stumbled backwards, knocking my seat over with a crash. Stammered, "I... I have to go, Newton." And I cleared out of there, almost tripping on a table leg in my desperation to get away.

I hurried from the bar, almost running, but he didn't come after. My mind was buzzing and I felt dizzy and disoriented, like someone had just given the world a good shaking then as their grand finale turned it full upside-down.

Newton was right. Not about Wolfram and Hart, perhaps, but about the rest- What did I owe the LAPD? What did I owe any of these people who invaded my head with visions of their distress? People who, were they to find out what I was, would see me as a monster.

Hadn't I done enough? What future did I have? Revenge could only carry you so far, and Darla had run off into the night... and however many vampires I killed there'd always be more, and they wouldn't be her.

I was tired. It had been three years and I was just too damn tired. Tired of working my ass off for no thanks save hostility from the surrounding world. Tired of a fight that never seemed to end. Tired of it all.

And Newton... Newton knew the inside of my head a little too well for both our good.

***

I sidled into the bar the cops used as a hangout. Kate was there, sitting alone on the edge of the counter. She looked up as I joined her. "Where did you get to?"

"I got caught up talking to some of the guys," I said evasively, and felt like a complete shit.

I sat down next to her, ordered a beer, opened my mouth. Soundlessly, I sat there with my jaw hanging, about to speak, not speaking, and I wanted to tell her - but I couldn't.

***

"Detective Doyle, when we recessed I was asking you about that Halloween mask you were wearing during this incident. When did you put it on?"

"After my partner was shot, when Alicia Allen turned the gun toward her. There were three of them still standin' - "

"After your partner was shot," he repeated back, interrupting me in mid-sentence. "You didn't know how badly your partner was injured, did you? You didn't know if it was just a graze, or something life-threatening."

"No, I didn't know."

"But instead of going to your partner's side, to help her, you put on a Halloween mask to scare Alicia and the others, isn't that right?"

"If I hadn't done somethin' to stop them, they would have shot her again. Fatally this time. Allen was threatenin' to-"

"Just answer the question, Detective Doyle. You ignored your injured partner, put on a Halloween mask, jumped at Alicia Allen and punched her in the face, didn't you?"

"It wasn't exactly like that."

Lindsey McDonald stared straight at me, his gaze level and knowing, and I could feel a prickling sensation at the back of my neck, as though my demon might come out at any moment. How much did he really know about me, anyway?

How much did he suspect?

"You didn't feel very threatened then, did you, Detective Doyle, if you had enough time to stop what you were doing, take out a Halloween mask, and put it on?"

"I was threatened. Alicia Allen was pointin' that gun, first at me, and then at my partner - "

"But you took the time to put on the mask anyway, isn't that right?"

"Yes." What else could I say?

"It was a monster mask, wasn't it, Detective Doyle? A green face, and red eyes, and spines poking out?"

One or two members of the jury laughed as I muttered, "Yes." He had described my demon face with surprising accuracy, given that Allen had only glimpsed it for a moment.

"And then you jumped at Alicia, wearing that monster mask, and you hit her in the face. Isn't that right?"

"Yes, but - "

"No further questions," McDonald said.

The assistant DA swiftly returned to the floor. "A few more questions, please," she said curtly, glowering at Lindsey.

"Detective Doyle, you have worked for the Los Angeles Police Department for some three years now - what was your impression of Ms Allen with the gun? Did she seem to you to be nervous? Under duress? Did she seem as though she didn't know what she was doing?"

"No," I said positively. "She looked comfortable holdin' that gun. Like she'd used one before. Like she knew exactly what she was doin'. She threatened us with it. An' it looked very much to me like it was her idea. Her pals were too busy hidin'. She threatened to shoot Kate - my partner."

"You must have seen a lot of things in your time with the LAPD. Do you believe an eighteen year old girl with a gun is any less dangerous than a thirty year old man with a gun?" Her question was loaded with implications of years of feminist struggle as she flickered a sly smile across to Lindsey, who winced.

I shook my head. "No less. More, maybe. A kid - any kid - will more likely shoot out of fear or bravado than calculated necessity."

"And your mask. It's an unusual prop for a policeman. Has it helped you make arrests before?"

Lindsey objected strenuously to that, but the assistant DA argued and he was overruled. I described a case a few months back involving a couple of now-convicted murderers, incidentally also the case which had won me my detective status.

The ADA smiled conclusively and nodded smartly around the jury, before sitting down again.

***

Chapter 4
by Mike

Present Day

When we arrived at Hannoy's house, I was half-prepared for an old gothic mansion, complete with organ music, or maybe a smelly pesthole decorated in over-done layers of black.

In fact, his place of residence was off-puttingly normal, even benign. It was a smallish two-storey building, quite old-fashioned in layout, with an impressively large and well-trimmed lawn by LA standards, complete with two defiantly undemonic garden gnomes.

Okay, the presence of the gnomes was disturbing in and of itself, but not in a particularly vampiric way.

"All it needs is a white picket fence," Kate muttered as we made our way up the path to the front door.

"And the Brady Bunch theme song in the background," I returned. "That'd really complete the picture."

"Whaddya think?" Kate asked as we stepped up to the front door. "Keen and Casual?"

I smirked. "Sounds good. Who's who?"

She looked me up and down. I adjusted my rumpled clothing defensively. "Like you have to ask. Do you ever do laundry, Doyle?"

"Not as a matter of course," I admitted, yawning slightly. I'd been on the go for a little too long, and thanks to Faith, it wasn't like I was getting regular, undisturbed sleep at nights.

"Easy, pal," she said half-seriously. "Don't get too casual."

"Sorry. Starting to run low on energy, I guess."

Kate didn't respond, rapping sharply on the door. I remembered guiltily that she'd been working on this case for quite a lot longer than I had. Though the firm had its occasionally moments of high activity, often coupled with the risk of being slaughtered by clans of demons, it was no match for the endless grind of police work when it came to exhausting a person.

Frankly, I was amazed Kate could still stand. But she still looked pretty sharp, and I wasn't going to be the one to suggest she take a break. 'Sides, we both knew that if our positions were reversed, I wouldn't listen to her any more than she would to me.

The best thing I could do for her would be to wrap this thing up fast. With any luck, Hannoy was our man, despite his pristine house and psychiatrist friend. If he was, Keen and Casual would trip him up.

With any luck.

A lot of cops work on the old Good Cop/Bad Cop system for handling suspects, despite the fact than anyone who's ever watched a bad crime drama knows that it's a set-up. Kate and I had worked out a variant, nicknamed Keen and Casual.

Kate's job was to be the perfect little detail-obsessed detective, taking notes about everything and following the suspect's every word. My job was to appear bored as hell with the whole affair, and to ignore her and the perp totally, just letting my eyes roam around the room. Ideally, Kate kept the perp on his toes, while I could check out for anything incriminating in the place, using her continual questioning as a cover.

Kate banged her fist loudly on the door a couple of times. I leaned against the wall and admired the gnomes. Come to think of it, Keen and Casual wasn't too different from our behaviour normally.

As Kate raised her hand a third time, the front door opened. The nondescript man on the other side of the threshold smiled politely at us. "Yes? Are you from the shelter? I've got the bags right here…"

"No, sir," Kate said formally. "My name is Detective Lockley. LAPD. We'd like to ask you some questions."

I scratched my neck and gave him my most world-weary stare. "Doyle. What she said."

"Oh." The man seemed taken aback. "Is there something wrong?"

Kate reached into a pocket and pulled out a notepad. She flipped it to a blank page and gazed intently at non-existent notes. "Are you one Ernest Patrick Hannoy?"

The man nodded agreeably, smiling at us. "Yes. I'm sure there must be some kind of mistake…you see, I paid the parking ticket several weeks ago and…"

"Sir. We're not here about the ticket."

Hannoy looked confused. "Excuse me?"

Kate opened her mouth to give an officious response, but I interrupted, drawing my jacket tighter around my shoulders. "This could take a while, pal. Are you just goin' to leave us standing out here like lemons?"

"No, no, come in," Hannoy said, his face still painted with a mix of confusion and concern. "Please, do."

Kate and I exchanged glances as he led us down a corridor and into what looked like his living room. This was starting to look like a bust already. Hannoy was reacting just like any other regular citizen would when abruptly confronted by grim-faced detectives. There wasn't the slightest amount of guilt on his face, only innocent distress at the suddenness of our invasion.

He was a pretty big man, the detective in me noted, which meant it would have been easy for him to pin his victim and break her neck. But then again, the girl in question was a skinny thing. Hell, Wesley could have taken her with both hands tied behind his back.

Kate sat down primly on Hannoy's couch. I slouched down next to her, taking in the surroundings while she fumbled with her notepad. Nice, homey surroundings…a lovingly-restored old liquor cabinet with expensive crystal glasses…couple of pictures on the walls, one featuring the good doctor and Hannoy grinning like idiots at the camera, a day-old copy of the paper lying on a table…there was an article about the killing on the front page, but it didn't look like it had received any special treatment. If anything, the detective in me felt it was too normal for a guy with a history of mental illness.

But then again, if he really was cured then I very much doubted he'd want to be near anything that might remind him of his particular fantasy. But then again, the detective in me wasn't sure if it was a façade of normality or real stability…

In case you hadn't noticed, the detective in me is a bit of a suspicious bastard

"Can I get you a drink?" the target of my paranoia asked pleasantly, but with a touch of nervousness.

Hardly surprising, when confronted by Kate's needle-nosed stare. The schmuck looked as eager to please as a puppy, and if Kate wound him up any more, he was going to be useless for questioning.

"Sure," I said easily, just to loosen him up a bit. Besides, maybe there was something decent in that liquor cabinet. And I hadn't drunk out of out anything that wasn't plastic or glass for years.

"No," Kate said sharply, shooting me a rebuking glance that wasn't entirely acting. "We're on duty."

I shrugged sympathetically at Hannoy. "On duty."

He smiled a little and sat down on an over-stuffed chair. "So…what can I help you with?"

Kate checked her notes - unnecessarily, she'd read the file about eight times before we drove here - and cleared her throat. "Mr Hannoy, you were once the patient of a Doctor Martin, correct?"

Hannoy smiled again. "Yes. He was my doctor, and he is still my friend." His brow furrowed abruptly. "Has something happened to Greg?"

"No," Kate said shortly, and continued in her carefully-clipped tone: "You were recommended to his care by the courts, weren't you, Mr Hannoy? For some…incidents in which you were involved."

All expression fled Hannoy's face for a second or two, and then he sighed. "Oh. Oh dear," he said sadly. "It's about this, isn't it?" He picked up the newspaper and turned its cover to face us. VAMPIRE KILLER STRIKES LA, the headline informed us.

She nodded. "Yes, it is. Mr Hannoy, we're going to need you to provide your whereabouts for our investigation - "

Hannoy rose to his feet sharply, his face still expressionless, but now I could read disgust behind his stiff features. "I don't know how you got my name and address, Detective, but I assume you would have read Greg's reports before you came here. The…incidents occurred a long time ago. I was a troubled young man; I received counselling, and I have medication now - I take a dose every day. I'm not sick any more. Those reports confirm it. And now, I would like you to leave."

I interrupted before Kate could spout off some section of the penal code in response. "Mr Hannoy…Ernie," I said gently, "Dr Martin told us all of that. He also gave us your address, since he trusts you and knows you didn't do this stuff, and that everything's fine. But we gotta ask the questions anyway, man. Now why don't you sit down, pour yourself a drink, and give us something to put in our report. Then we can all go back to normal, Ern."

Hannoy eased himself slowly into his chair.

"Now, how about that drink?" I said, smiling at him.

"No," he and Kate said together. They blinked. Then Hannoy continued, "I don't think I could keep it down. This…this business just brings back a lot of bad memories, you understand?"

"We sympathize," Kate said, having finally seemed to pick up on my attempts to keep our suspect cool. "Can you just tell us about your movements on the night of November 17th?"

Hannoy closed his eyes. "Uh…I…was working late. I'm in insurance," he added, by way of explanation," and we had a big new client, an important referral. I don't remember what time I got home; there was some movie on, bad science fiction thing. 'Attack of the Lagoon Creatures', or something. Total trash."

I winced with remembered pain. "'Invasion of the Swamp Beasts', wasn't it?" Faith had insisted on watching it. "Ten-thirty, it started. And yeah, it was trash."

Kate glanced at me with surprise, and scribbled something down on her pad. Probably some carefully-honed jab about bad taste to unleash on me at a later date. Then again, it might have just been the time.

Hannoy nodded in agreement. "That sounds about right. I watched it for a couple of minutes while I heated up something in the microwave, and then I ate, and then I went to bed."

"Uh-huh," Kate said, jotting this down. "Anyone who can verify this?"

"Um…my secretary, Claudia, can tell you about the client, but I was working alone. Sorry."

"All right, Mr Hannoy," Kate told him, writing as she spoke. "Would you mind if we took a look around your house briefly? Again, just a formality."

Hannoy looked alarmed at this. "Don't you need a search warrant for that?"

I did my best to reassure him. "Ernie. We can go out and get a warrant, and then come right back, and it'll just take longer and waste even more of everybody's time. You've got nothin' to hide, I'm sure, Kate's just bein' thorough. We'll be out of here in no time."

"Well, okay…I guess," he agreed, but without much confidence. We all stood, and he led us around.

Kate didn't ask many questions and neither did I. Judging from her expression, she was getting the same 'dead end' vibes as me. Encouraged by our failure to rip up his furniture and peek through his drawers, Hannoy began to talk more about his house, preening a little, showing off his residence as if we were any two ordinary guests.

It really was a nice house, older than most, but nice. As it turned out, one of Hannoy's hobbies was restoring old furniture and architecture, and he pointed out numerous little details to us, like the wooden ceiling that had been untouched since its construction however many years ago, or the finely- painted skirting-boards.

I was bored out my mind by the time Hannoy wound the tour to a close. Hell, I was half-wishing for a real vampire attack, just so he'd stop talking. "…of course, with such an old house, and with so much of it being wooden, well, it's perfect breeding ground for woodworm. The ceiling's particularly bad - I'll have to get in an exterminator, one of these days…to say nothing of the damp…oh, and here's the lounge, which, um, you've already seen."

I did my best to turn my sigh of relief into a cough. "Thanks. Nice pad. Cheers." I headed for the front door.

But that wasn't enough for Kate. "What about those stairs, back in the hall?" she asked. "Where do they go?"

"My workshop, where I do most of my furniture restorations," Hannoy said cheerfully. "Do you want to see?"

"Certainly." I quietly cursed my partner - um, former partner. Admittedly, she was supposed to be the keen one, but did she have to take it so blasted far? There is such a thing as over-acting.

"I think I'll pass," I said hastily, as Hannoy headed for the hall, already warming up for Furniture Care 101. "My legs are tired from all that walking."

Hannoy looked slightly disappointed at the halving of his audience, but continued on without comment. I smirked at Kate as she followed, but she didn't deign to respond.

Alone, Hannoy's droning mercifully muffled by the walls, I surveyed the 'lounge'. Whatever happened to plain old 'TV Room'?

My eyes came to rest guiltily on his liquor cabinet. I was tired, bored and desperately in need of some kind of fix. A cigarette would have been best, but there was no way I could finish it before Kate came back. So booze it was.

Just a few sips… I promised myself. After all, I rationalised, Hannoy was probably so obsessed with the ancient cabinet that its actual contents paled by comparison. He'd never know.

I crossed the room and pulled the doors open, selecting a brown whisky bottle and pulling out its cork, sniffing to savour the fluid's rich scent.

My nose twitched. That didn't smell like brandy. In fact, it smelt like…

"Kate," I called sharply, trying to keep my voice under control. "Could you come here a sec?"

I heard footsteps clumping down the hall towards me, and Kate entered the room, Hannoy following behind her, still nattering about furniture.

"Yeah, what is it?" She stopped when she saw me holding the bottle. "Jeez, Doyle, you've got a serious drinking prob -"

I ignored the rest, focusing on Hannoy as he stepped into the doorway behind her. His eyes flicked to me and then to the bottle, and then his face went absolutely blank, just like it had when he first realised why we were there. Like a machine, absorbing new data.

"Doyle?" Kate demanded. "Are you listening to me?"

The empty look on Hannoy's face was abruptly replaced by one of predatory cunning, and then his arm was around Kate's throat. She tried to drag her sidearm from its holster, but he struck it out of her hand with his free arm, tightening his grip on her with the other. My eyes followed the weapon as it slid across the floor and bumped against a wall.

"Don't try anything," Hannoy said, in that pleasant, slightly boring voice of his. "Or I'll break her neck. Like that other little girl."

My hand tensed, reaching for a pistol…that wasn't there.

Hannoy smiled happily, noticing my confusion. "No gun? Leave it in your other pants, did you? Or maybe you aren't a cop at all, then? A would-be Van Helsing to my Dracula?" He giggled.

"I thought you were on medication - a dose a day, wasn't it?" I countered. "Doesn't seem to be workin' very well."

"Oh yes," Hannoy agreed. "I pour out a dose every day. Makes lovely fertilizer for my garden, you see. After all, there was never anything wrong with me, no matter what Greg said."

"Of course not," I said flatly, shooting a quick glance at Kate's gun. I could probably reach it…"You're just Joe Average."

"Oh, I wouldn't go that far," Hannoy said. "But what reasonable person wouldn't revere the masters of the night, and wish to be like them? The ultimate predators, lethal and majestic, culling the mortal herd…"

I shrugged. "This is LA, pal. The vampires haven't got anythin' on the gossip columnists when it comes to feedin' on the weak."

Hannoy's arm tensed around Kate's throat, and she gurgled in pain, but his face remained calm. "Of course, I wouldn't expect you to understand. Still, at least you didn't immediately leap to the 'There's no such thing as vampires!' defence. There may be hope for you yet."

"Right. Someday I'll grow up to be a certifiable loony just like you. Is that what you're gettin' at?"

He sighed. "None of them understood, you know. It was always so easy, to tell them what they wanted to hear. To pretend to be one of them…move among them, feed off them…"

"Them who? Sane people?" I asked, edging closer towards the weapon.

"Humans," he sneered. "Weak, pathetic humans. And don't think I don't know what you're trying to do, sir. Move away from the gun." He took a step forward towards it, dragging Kate with him. For a moment, his body was moving ahead of hers, just like I had hoped for.

I let my arm whip up, lobbing the whiskey bottle at him in a powerful underarm throw. The glass bottle weaved awkwardly through the air towards Hannoy and smashed into the wall behind his head, showering him and Kate in dark blood.

Just like I had planned, the abrupt noise and rain of fluid distracted him long enough for Kate to pull free and dive for her weapon. But it didn't distract him the way I had expected. He stared at his blood-speckled hands and began to lick them in a frenzy.

Both I and Kate, coming up from a crouch with her gun ready, hesitated for a second, surprised and disgusted.

Hannoy realised his peril and ducked back into the hallway. Kate fired a shot anyway, and I followed it, bounding after him. I dodged out into the passageway, just in time to see Hannoy scrambling up the stairs to his attic, covered in blood and trembling with rage or fear or desire. Maybe all three.

"You can't stop me!" he shrieked. "No human can stop a vampire!"

His earlier cool demeanour was gone, and judging from his frenzied voice, he was cracking up fast. I wasn't sure what he was running to get from his attic, if it was a weapon or an opera cloak autographed by Bela Lugosi.

I didn't plan to find out.

I changed to demon and leapt straight up, slamming my body against the ceiling. The old, woodworm-riddled ceiling.

Against half-Brachen muscle, it didn't stand a chance. The wood splintered up around me as I smashed through the ceiling and landed on the attic floor next to my homemade entrance. My skin felt like old sandpaper, and the splinters on my head and shoulders made me feel as if my spines had reversed direction, but I was still mobile.

Across the furniture-filled room, a trapdoor started to open. I dashed towards it, dodging around the antiques, as Hannoy flung it open and clambered furiously upwards. He pulled himself upright just as he reached me, and I put the wanna-be vampire down again just as fast. He slid across the floor from my punch and slammed up against a wall.

"Who said anything about humans trying to stop vampires?" I growled, advancing on him.

But then I paused, slowed by the expression on his face. Something like worship.

"I knew…I always knew you were out there…" he whispered. "You creatures of the night…not human, better than them, faster and stronger…"

Not human. The words stung like a knife.

"Shut up," I snarled angrily. "You're under arrest."

Hannoy looked…betrayed. That was the only way to describe it. Then the sick sonofabitch threw himself at me, struggling and clawing, trying to get his teeth into my throat.

Brutally, I shoved him backwards. He came back again. I hit him in the face, hard. He got up again, blood running from his mouth. I smashed my elbow into his chest, lifting him off the ground, but he kept coming back for more.

Finally, I threw him back, smashed a chair to splinters, snatched up the largest splinter and -

"Doyle!" Kate snapped. She was standing by the trapdoor, gun levelled. Levelled at me.

I looked down at Hannoy. His face was a bloody pulp, and he was wheezing for breath.

The makeshift stake sounded very loud when it hit the ground.

"Sorry, Kate," I stammered. "I was…I got carried away…"

Kate didn't answer, just tucked her gun away and reached for her radio.

I returned to human, and dropped to my knees to try and keep the person that I had nearly killed breathing.

***

Chapter 5
by Tammy, Mike and Debi

8 Months Ago

"Rough night last night?" Kate asked, appraising my bedraggled self.

We were standing outside a club in a mild drizzle. Above our heads, still lit up in the pre-dawn hours, was a pink neon sign outlining the shape of a naked woman with improbable breasts. A shoot-out in the street of some of the club's more gangland clientele had resulted in half the police force turning up on their doorstep. Most of the trouble was over now, the shootees largely having shot each other, but I could've done without the early-morning wake-up call nonetheless.

"Vision. Vampire. Dust," I said succinctly. My head was ringing. I hadn't had much more than an hour's sleep. "An' it's still last night," I added belligerently.

Kate nodded absently.

The paramedics were loading the bodies into the ambulances, and you couldn't move on the street for police tape and chalk marks. Some of the daubs of blood on walls and pavement were a remarkable distance from the chalk outlines. The gang mentality liked a firearm with kick. It was a mess.

Over by the police barrier, a number of the club's clientele and, uh, staff waited to be questioned. A number of the officers seemed to be enjoying taking in the view. Some of those girls must've been freezing. Kate and I sipped at hot coffee from a coffee bar on the wrong side of the police tape which had nonetheless escaped closure. The reporters were hovering over by the tape where Newton was stationed, his task to keep them out. Occasionally he glowered at them and they shuffled nervously. He'd already dragged one back out to the other side of the tape.

All in all, it was precisely the kind of media farce we needed to overshadow Allen's ongoing trial and headlines like 'Teen Addict Victim of Police Brutality'.

Kate still dealt with my visions in much the same way she did with the demon - by ignoring their existence as much as possible. So she surprised me when she said, "Visions. Right. Are you... having any trouble with those?" Her eyes searched my face. "Something you've not mentioned?"

"Huh? No." Taken aback, I wondered what she was getting at.

"It's just that you've seemed distracted, these past few days. Ever since you gave testimony at the trial, in fact. I was concerned it was something to do with your visions, something you might not have told me because, you know, not great with the supernatural stuff." She hesitated, then added, "You can tell me, though. I am your friend. I won't freak."

I shook my head. "Thanks, Kate, but there's nothin' goin' on on the vision front that I've not mentioned."

"Okay." She sipped at the coffee and winced, and blew over the top of the cup aggressively. "Don't let the trial get to you, Doyle. They'll nail Allen. They're just running through the formalities, now. Nobody has any real doubt she's guilty."

I nodded slowly.

"And you can talk to me," she said pointedly. "You don't have to be spending so much time going off and brooding alone."

I didn't tell her that I wasn't.

We took witness statements for the next three hours. As the last of the ambulances left and the police presence started to disperse, Newton caught my eye and I followed him away down a side street.

***

I knew I shouldn't have spoken to Newton again, after what had happened, but somehow I couldn't help myself.

I don't really think either of us consciously planned it, but the night after our conversation, I found myself walking back through the doorway of the bar we'd visited.

I sat down at the table we'd been at, and ordered a beer.

Ten minutes later, Newton walked in.

Over the next couple of days, it became a kind of ritual. There wasn't a formalized meeting time, but we'd be seated by nine-thirty without fail. We didn't speak until we'd each had at least one beer, hell, sometimes we didn't even speak at all.

It was enough just to sit there, and know that the person opposite you understood.

Other nights, we talked about whatever came into our heads…work…sports…places we'd been, things we'd done….

As it turned out, Newton had been up and down the coast more than a few times, and he had a few really wild stories about demon bars in New York, or the succubus he met in New Orleans.

My tales of "Went hunting. Staked vampires. Drank a bottle of scotch and passed out," paled by comparison. Sometimes I told Newton about my time with Harry, and he sat there, drinking it in, imagining a life that he could have only seen on TV.

The fact that, today, he'd pulled me out to some demon bar in the middle of the morning - and not even our regular one, at that, but the closest: a tiny place stuck behind a laundry, almost empty at this time of day - coupled with the look on his face when he'd caught my eye across the chalk-marked street, told me he had something on his mind. But whatever it was, he wasn't in any immediate hurry to voice it and I didn't ask. In fact, we were halfway through the second round before Newton spoke at all.

"You look shitty."

I rolled a mouthful of beer around my mouth and swallowed. "You too, now? Between you and Kate, I'm startin' to feel kinda hen-pecked."

Newton brushed off my flippant comment. "Well, obviously one trait Lockley and I share is the ability to notice the blindingly obvious. What happened to you?"

I shrugged. "Went out huntin', saved someone's life in the process. They ran off shrieking about green-faced monsters. Pretty much business as unusual."

He frowned. "Why do you do that? Risk yourself for no reason, just to kill off some two-bit bloodsuckers?" He paused. "Scratch that, I know why. But how?"

"The usual way," I replied. "Stake, heart, poof. It's not really a complicated procedure."

Newton shook his head dismissively. "I meant how do you track them? LA's one hell of a big city for evil to hide in, but you kill what, one or two vamps a night? That's one hell of hunting record."

"I get visions," I said, by way of explanation. Curt, I know, but I didn't really want to talk about vampire-killing right now. I pretty much just wanted to get smashed and pass out - see if I could catch up on my lost rest that way,

Newton looked at me dubiously. "How many beers did you have before we got here?"

"None, more's the pity," I told him, smirking.

Newton frowned again. "Quit dodging, Doyle. You're killing yourself going out constantly like this, as sure as if you blew your brains out. At least give me the full story - it's not like we haven't done the huge-secret-sharing thing already," he added wryly.

I raised my hands in surrender. "This really isn't a secret on the scale of 'Hey, I'm a demon.' I just get these headaches. They come with pictures and surround sound, and they're usually about some kind of danger or threat, demons, vamps, that kinda thing. Maybe it's somethin' to do with the breed of demons I come from, I don't know. To be honest, I don't really care."

Newton took a sip of his beer, a slightly far-away look on his face as he considered my words. "Well, I'll be damned."

His response was ironic, even trite, but something flickered behind his eyes.

"What do you know?" I asked bluntly.

Newton shook himself slightly, returning from wherever he'd been. "Nothing solid," he replied slowly. "But I've heard things. Demons who get visions of the future, even though they don't come from particularly mystical backgrounds. Seers."

"Seers, huh?" I repeated, unconvinced. "Do they tend to be cranky and buy lots of extra-strength Tylenol? 'Cause then we might be kindred spirits."

"Your guess is as good as mine. I've never met any, but a lot of demons agree that they exist. The real arguments start up when people ask where the visions come from."

Newton's melodrama was starting to irritate me, so I cut to the chase. "Where do they come from then? Major demon television network?"

"The Powers That Be," he answered simply.

I frowned. "Be what?"

Newton laughed softly. "Your guess is as good as mine. But according to what I've heard, and seen, there's definitely something out there, and it's definitely keeping an eye on our kind. How else do you explain your visions?"

I didn't have an answer for that, so I just drained my beer and slumped further down in my seat. Frankly, the thought of something, anything, watching over me and using me as some kind mystical radio antenna disturbed me more than I wanted to admit.

Painful as it was to believe myself alone in my crusade, it was far less scary than the alternative.

Newton seemed to pick up on my change in moods, since he let it lie and talked quietly for a few minutes about baseball. I gave non-committal answers and engaged myself in slowly peeling the label off my beer bottle.

Newton's semi-serious discussion of baseball trailed off, and I looked up expectantly. He looked uncomfortable in the extreme, his jaw working slightly. Then, finally, he spoke again.

"Wolfram and Hart called me today." His voice was flat and emotionless, and he looked at me intently, as if wondering how I'd react.

We sat in silence as the blue-skinned waiter replaced our drinks. Newton and I hadn't spoken about Wolfram and Hart since our first discussion, and part of me had been quietly hoping he'd told them where to stick their offer. Evidently, he hadn't.

I leaned forward once the waiter moved out of earshot. "What did they want?"

Newton toyed with his beer, refusing to meet my gaze. "Mac wants me to come and meet him - so we can discuss my salary."

I felt sick, and not from the beers. "So you're goin' with them?"

"I don't know," he answered honestly. "I…it really seems like the best deal I'll get anywhere. But…"

"But?" Newton sighed. "I've never done anything like this before, Doyle. Not even close. I don't want to do it alone." His gaze met mine. "I want you to come with me."

I nearly choked on my beer. "Listen, man - "

"Hang on a minute," he said, raising his hand in a placating fashion. "I know you don't trust them. Neither do I, really. For guys like us, trust is a luxury we can't afford. You know what I mean."

I shook my head in denial, but the memory of how quickly I'd lied to Kate nudged me, laced in guilt.

"Of course you do," Newton continued, his voice low and persuasive. "Our very existence is bathed in lies. I bet your father's name isn't filled in on your birth record, right? From birth, we've been lied to, or we've had to lie to others. Wolfram and Hart's giving us a way out - where the lies aren't necessary any more."

"Those lies aren't necessary any more," I retorted. "I bet Lindsey has a whole new set of ones for you."

"Maybe. But we'll be safe. No more stupid risks…no more 'monster masks' or holding back to avoid out-performing the other cops…it sounds like a pretty good deal to me. Wolfram and Hart takes care of their own, Doyle. They want to help us."

"The LAPD takes care of its own, too," I said defensively. "And they don't put murderers back on the streets."

"When are you going to get it, Doyle?" Newton asked earnestly. "Sure, the LAPD takes care of their own, but we aren't part of their own. We're different. Why can't you accept that? The humans can't tolerate us; it just isn't in them."

"Kate tolerates me," I disagreed angrily. "She understands me. What's more, she's my friend. I won't go behind her back."

"Kate tolerates a part of you," Newton retaliated swiftly. "The human part. Be honest. If she could destroy your demon side without taking the rest of you with it, she would do it in a second, wouldn't she? She's a bigot, plain and simple."

"Hell, I'd probably do the same if I could," I growled back. "Does that make me a bigot?"

Newton looked directly into my eyes, as if he was reading my thoughts off the insides of my eyeballs. "No. It makes you confused and hurt, loathing yourself but unable to do anything about it."

"You've been there."

He laughed bitterly. "Some mornings, I still am. You know, back when I was fifteen, I actually tried it? Tied a noose up to my bedroom ceiling, stood on a chair, the whole performance."

My throat was as tight as if I was the one being hanged. "What happened?"

"I chickened out. Went demon when the chair tipped over. As it turned out, my demon side was a hell of a lot harder to suffocate than the human. My mother was in the next room, watching TV. She must have heard me gurgling like a clogged drain, because she opened my bedroom door and looked in at me, dangling there in demon form. Then she closed the door and locked it." Angrily, he downed about half his bottle in one gulp, and then slammed it down on the table. "Tell me again how understanding humans can be."

I shook my head: no words came to mind. I remembered standing at the window of my shabby rented apartment in the early months after Harry's death, contemplating the four floors and street below. But that hadn't been so much about the demon as it had all the rest.

"The court case," Newton said, then, looking at me intently, abruptly breaking the silence. "Wolfram and Hart..."

"What?"

"You won't get a better opportunity to prove your loyalties to them. If you were willing to go back on the stand, to let Mac recall you as a witness, to question you again about some new stuff you 'remembered'..."

He stopped, maybe seeing the reluctance in my eyes. I saw the hint of desperate hope in his. He didn't want to do this alone. I didn't want to let him down. "I - I don't know Newton, I... Kate..." A movement behind him caught my eye and I looked up. "Kate."

She was standing not ten feet away, and from the look on her face, she'd been listening for some time.

"Doyle, what the hell's going on?" she said.

***

Kate was staring at me like she couldn't believe the scene that was in front of her.

"What's - going - on?" she repeated, her voice grating in her throat.

"Just talking, Lockley," Newton said smoothly, setting the 'charm' switch onto full.

She just glared at him. I could've told him that one wouldn't work. "Wolfram and Hart," she said slowly. "So the rumours really are true that they employ demons other than their legal staff. And you two - they're making a little recruitment drive on LA's demon population, huh? Do they have to fill an equal opportunities quota on you guys or something?"

The air around us dropped to Arctic temperatures as Kate and Newton faced each other. Newton glanced away.

I was glad the bar we'd come to was so quiet. The only person around was a drunk guy with horns, who slumped oblivious over the counter. The staff had found some pressing tasks to attend to in the back.

Kate strode over to us. She said flatly, "So now I know where you've been getting to lately. Sneaking off to meetings of Demons Anonymous."

Newton got up. He'd paled visibly in the face of the discovery he feared so much. He looked about ready to flee, but he didn't move, just stared at Kate. I stared at Kate too.

"You don't understand," I told her.

She cut me off before I could continue. "Too damn right, I don't. You were talking about throwing this case over to their side. Have you gone nuts? Hello? Don't you recall they're the bad guys? I knew something was going on, but I thought you were in trouble, not... not..." Words failed her. A rare enough event.

I took the opportunity to get a word in edgeways. "Kate, no. It's not about Wolfram and Hart. I mean, he wants to go over to them, sure, and he wants me to go with him. That doesn't mean I'm gonna do it, right? An' Newton, he's got his reasons, his life among humans hasn't exactly been a ball. It's not his fault. He's not a bad guy..."

"Only the enemy," she snapped.

"No," I said. Newton looked drawn. "It's not like that - and don't talk about him like that, Kate. You might've heard some of what we were talking about, but I can tell you didn't get any of it. Not in here." I angrily bounced my fisted hand off my chest in the region of my heart. "He's a decent guy. It's just that he has a different perspective on things. He sees so much that others don't-"

"Things that you see as well?" she asked, her features set in stone. "Because you're a demon too?"

"Half." But I nodded. "I never met nobody else who knew what it was like, really knew. He's been in the LAPD, tryin' to protect humans, for years - but he's not really one of them. He'll never belong. They'll never accept him as he truly is. He'll always have to hide from them, or suffer the consequences of discovery... and that's all true for me, too."

"When you say 'humans'," Kate said softly, "You sound like you're talking about the enemy."

"Maybe I am. Kate, what if he's right?"

"Bullshit. When did it become 'them' and 'us' with you, Doyle? When were things ever that simple?"

Newton spoke before I could respond, surprising me. He seemed to have regrouped; he now glared at Kate with intense dislike as he said, "You know, I don't like the attitude you take with him, Lockley. You do this often, do you? Tell him he's not good enough because of his blood? Make him think that he has to repress what he really is, and then call yourself his friend? Three years of crushing everything that's in him that you can't accept... is it any wonder he doesn't know who he is anymore?"

I glared. "Thanks a bunch, Newton, pal."

"I'm sorry, but it's the truth," he said. "This...this is what you need to get away from, to give yourself room to grow. And not just you. It's you and me both that I'm talking about, Doyle. We've both let ourselves be overrun by a world tailored to them."

Kate glared daggers at him. "I never told him he wasn't good enough..." Her eyes sparked fury.

"Perhaps not overtly. But it's all there in your attitude. You can't escape it."

"I never - I..." She stopped, and looked at me, and suddenly she looked doubtful and lost. "You want to be a demon full-time now?" she asked. "Is that what you're saying? 'Cause I always thought you were only slightly more comfortable with that than I am." She slammed both fists down on a table, hard enough to bruise - but apparently she didn't notice the pain. "Three years I've known you, Doyle. Three years. Does he know you better than I do, after a matter of days?"

I couldn't answer but she read the answer anyway from my face. Her features became all the more tight and strained. Behind her, Newton, looking uncomfortable and a little mortified, made a quiet exit, apologetically mouthing across to me soundless words I didn't catch.

Kate said, "If you're looking to fit in, you're looking at the wrong place. You're not a demon, Doyle. Wolfram and Hart isn't your home."

"That's right, but what about Newton? Him and me, we're two of a kind. What you think of him, goes for me."

"Just because you've a lot of common ground doesn't mean he's doing you any favours, or that this weird catharsis you seem to be sharing is any good for you!"

Her muscles were taut with tension, the fists hanging at her sides white-knuckled. "I know it must be difficult, being what you are, but maybe you have to face that you don't really belong anywhere - because, hell, how many of us really do? You just have a really peculiar ancestry to blame it on."

"I-"

She silenced me with a glare. "Am I your enemy now, Doyle?" she asked, and there wasn't just anger in her face.

"No, Kate-"

But she'd spun on her heels and was already walking away. I staggered to my feet, tripping over my chair. By the time I recovered my balance, she was already out the door.

"Damn it, Kate!"

I ran out and along the quiet street, and turned one corner in time to see her car disappear around the next.

***

I wasted maybe a couple of hours angrily walking the streets kicking at debris on the sidewalk and putting off the moment when I'd have to face either of them again before I made my way back to the precinct.

And when I got back, it was to find the place in turmoil.

I grabbed onto the arm of one of the bodies that was rushing around talking. It belonged to Ed Smith, a homicide detective I vaguely knew.

"What the hell's goin' on?" I yelled, above the noise.

"Doyle. Oh, shit, Doyle." He looked flustered. "In the cells - they just found that suspect, Allen - shit, there's gonna be trouble... Harrison'll be waiting to see you."

"Found Allen? What-?"

Someone else snagged his arm, dragging his attention away from me. I pushed past him and down the corridor that led to the cells. Stopped short.

They were wheeling her out, uncovered, on a morgue stretcher.

Her body flopped like a broken doll on the stretcher as they wheeled her along. There were black bands of bruises ringing her neck, deep marks sunken into her flesh, the unmarked skin white and puffed around them. Her face was colourless, her expression a grimace in death, and she didn't look even her pitiful eighteen years. Her eyes were open and staring, terror in their glazed depths.

Eighteen years old and she'd hanged herself in her cell - and, somehow, looking at her now, it was easy to forget the things we knew and suspected she'd done, the people she'd hurt, the people she might've killed. I stared at her body and I think I knew, then, that this was it. This wasn't just the end for her.

The stretcher rolled by and Harrison was on the other side of it. He approached me with one hand outstretched; index finger jabbing, pointing viciously. His face, distorted with anger, shouting into mine.

You. My office. Now.

***

Harrison read the note she'd left aloud. When I saw it, later, the note itself was almost incoherent, badly spelt, grammar practically non-existent. But none of that came across right then.

"...I see that spiked, red-eyed face every time I close my eyes, and when I do it doesn't look like a mask, it looks real. He's a monster. I can't stand the way he looks at me outside court; when I'm in my cell. He's determined to see me in prison. I can't rest for the memory of that face, and I can't take it any more."

Harrison finally fell silent and looked up from reading. His gaze on me was hostile in a way that went far beyond the usual pompous irritation. "It's clear to me," he said accusingly, "that you badgered this suspect to the point of suicide."

I opened my mouth, closed it again when words failed me. After working my lips silently for a few seconds, I finally managed to choke out, "I... it can't be - I haven't seen her since court. Not for days. I-" Surely I couldn't have bothered her so much, my demon face couldn't have preyed on her enough that she'd kill herself after days without any direct contact with me. Surely...

Lindsey McDonald's protestations came to mind: that she was still a child, still just a girl. My own defence, that a youth was more like to panic, less able to think with calm and logic...

This couldn't be happening.

Did Alicia Allen realise it wasn't a mask she'd seen? That monsters were real? Had my demon killed a girl... without even meaning to?

"This didn't happen for nothing," Harrison was saying, his voice a snarl. "Don't try to worm your way out of this one, Doyle. You're suspended, pending an enquiry. Now get out of here before I have you thrown out. And I want your badge handed in ASAP."

***

I went straight to the nearest bar. There didn't seem to be anything much else to do. Of the two people I might've gone to for support, Newton was nowhere to be found and, in all the uproar and confusion, I didn't know where Kate had gotten to either. Not that she'd probably even deign to speak to me if I did find her. She probably didn't even want to know me any more.

After a drink in that bar, I moved on to the next. And the next again after that. I drank my way across town to the bar which had been Newton's and my customary haunt.

I was working my way through a second scotch when he finally came in. He sat down beside me, looking flustered and harassed, and his hand went straight for the bottle that stood in front of me on the counter.

"I went back to the station," he said. "Shit, Doyle."

I nodded. That was an assessment I agreed with, on the whole. We sat in silence for a time, drinking. Newton breathed heavily at first, like he'd hurried there, but his breaths evened out after a time.

Then, he opened his mouth and, raggedly, told me what I already knew. "Damn it, Doyle, but they've done for you with this. Didn't I tell you they'd get to you - that you'd go down because of your demon side. I just didn't expect it'd be so damned soon. But no way this one slips through an enquiry. Even if you didn't directly do anything to her beyond the arrest. Dead teenagers turn heads, even if they are murderers themselves."

I nodded slowly. The alcohol had anaesthetised me somewhat by that time. I stared blankly into the middle distance, which happened to be the bare brick wall at the back of the counter, seeing not the brickwork but everything falling apart again around me.

"I know, Newton," I sighed. I drank. I reclaimed the bottle from Newton, re-filled, and drank again. "Get your own," I said, waving the bottle at him with half-hearted mirth. "This one's taken. I think I'm just gonna crawl into it and build myself a little home inside there for the next decade."

Newton frowned at me. "There is... another option," he said hesitantly. He stopped, as though he regretted bringing it up again. "I'm sorry, Doyle. I know it's not what you want. You already told me that much. Forget I mentioned it again." He patted my arm in a gesture of consolation, of sympathy. "Let's just get drunk."

He didn't have to outline what he meant, I already knew what it was. And I couldn't help thinking it over again, despite his efforts to move onto other subjects. I'd lost Kate. I'd lost my police career. What was there left? What else was there for me to do?

"You know," I said slowly, doubts dragging my voice, but spurred on by drink and an overwhelming desire not to end up alone again, whatever the cost, nor fighting against the only person I had left that I might call a friend, "I guess I don't have a lot left to lose. Maybe I could just talk to your Wolfram and Hart guy for now, right?"

He nodded, understanding and a warm hint of gratitude in his eyes. "Yeah, Doyle, I can arrange that."

That was when the door of the bar bounced back on its hinges, smacking into the wall with such a fearsome crack that I looked up in faintly nervous anticipation, wondering what demonic terror was about to stride across the threshold.

Kate stomped into the bar, her hands balled into tight fists at her sides and an expression of grim, determined fury on her face that sent nearby demons ducking out of sight behind their tables or scuttling hurriedly out of the back door. Beside me, Newton swore under his breath.

I couldn't tear my eyes from her as she stalked over to our table. I hadn't expected to see her again, not so soon, certainly hadn't thought she'd seek me out after what had happened between us. "Kate?" I asked. "What're you-?"

"Get away from him," she said, in a low, cold voice. I was startled to realise she was talking to Newton. "Right now." She drew her gun and levelled it, seemingly oblivious to the hordes of very angry demons watching her from the room's shadows.

Newton gaped at her. My face must have been a mirror of his.

"Kate?" I repeated stupidly. I knew she didn't think much of Newton, but this was rather excessive, even by her standards.

"He's not your friend." She didn't turn her eyes from him. "Now, stand up, Newton. Stand up and move away from my partner, and keep your goddamned hands where I can see them or I swear I'll blast them clean off."

"Excuse me," an Arreck demon growled pointedly at her, tapping its claws on the top of the table it was sitting at. "We only allow a very exclusive clientele in-"

"Yeah. The warty and the slimy." She still didn't turn. "Shut the hell up unless you want to exchange that ugly mug of yours for a blast crater." Her fingers flexed on the gun with a certain glee. The demon fell silent, and the majority of the bar's clientele started enthusiastically pretending to be oblivious to the three of us. Newton cast me a disbelieving glance that said, 'This is your best friend?'

I would have shrugged back at him, if I hadn't been too busy trying to figure what Kate could possibly be talking about. Newton not my friend? "Kate, what's goin' on?" I asked somewhat pleadingly.

Newton was looking slightly nervous, Kate was looking more than slightly trigger happy. I moved in front of Newton, interrupting Kate's line of fire with my own body.

She studied us, her expression wary. A jerk of her head flipped hair from her narrowing eyes. Even though it was now pointed at me, she didn't lower the gun. Probably on principle.

She said, "He works for Wolfram and Hart, Doyle."

"Yeah, Kate, I told you-"

"No. I don't mean he's some sap they're just getting their hooked tentacles into. I mean he works for them. For a few years now, I should think."

She took a breath. There was no doubt in her eyes. Maybe a trace of pity, as she finally let her gaze meet mine. "When I left you after we'd argued, I managed to pick up Newton's trail again. I didn't believe his story. Call it prejudice if you like, more than any special instinct. You know how I feel about this demon stuff. It's immaterial in this instance, though. He was talking on a cellphone inside his car when I found him. He sat there for a long time, talking. I couldn't hear anything, of course, but the conversation looked pretty intense. When he finally drove off, I tried to follow. Lost him close to the station, and wasted time trying to catch his trail again - when I gave up and returned to the station his car was in the lot outside.

"I found him," she said, her voice hard, "coming back from the cells - and promptly lost him again in the furore that erupted after they found Allen dead." Her implication was clear in her voice.

I didn't know what to think. My grip on Newton's arm slackened but neither he nor I otherwise moved. There had to be some mistake. With Kate's attitude to demons, it could easily be an overreaction. I wasn't just going to let her shoot Newton.

Kate continued. "While everyone was distracted, I did a little digging through your new friend's desk. Some pretty heavy-duty locks on those drawers to keep things from your police buddies, Newton." I'd mused a few times that I'd have liked to know where she'd acquired those lock picking skills. "The papers I found in there are suspect to say the least. Papers about the court case, about Allen, about someone referred to as `the target' - now who would that be, Newton?"

She said, "I've been looking for you for hours, Doyle, to tell you, and the demon bars I've trolled..." A brief flash of malignance in her eyes before she took a breath and visibly made herself calm. "But never mind that. This whole thing was a set-up. A set-up to lure you in, because they knew you'd fling a direct approach right back in their faces. The whole point of this isn't to get him, they've already got him. It's you. It was always about you.

"Now get the hell out of my way so I can shoot the bastard, huh?"

I didn't get out of her way, but I did turn to Newton, whose expression was stonily blank. He wasn't looking at me, though. He was looking at Kate. He put his hand on my shoulder, squeezed, a friend's gesture of support which he made as though the last few minutes hadn't happened.

"You think this makes any difference?" he told her, his voice calm and reasonable as ever. Nothing was changed. Still Newton. No evil facade uncovered, just the same man I'd been talking to for the last few hours. "It makes no difference, Detective Lockley. He knows now that he doesn't have to live like this, hiding pathetically from the humans around him. That there's somewhere else to go. Another option. People that are like him. You think he's going to turn that down? You are too late, Lockley. You couldn't have been on time. He's already made his choice. It was inevitable."

His confidence made it clear he believed what he was saying, that he couldn't imagine me choosing any other path but his and, watching him, I couldn't see the deception, only the guy I'd come to know with whom I shared so many common experiences, the only person who'd ever really understood.

"So she's right, then?" I said softly. "This was all a bluff? All the time, Wolfram and Hart were after me?"

Newton shook his head. "At first they wanted Allen. You were targeted to win us this case, a way to get to her. We'd suspected you weren't completely human for some time. A few too many miraculous escapes, a few too many off-the-wall cases. It was either you or Lockley. The mask story clinched it. It was me that persuaded the firm you were more important than Allen. That we were going to lose the case anyway, but we had something better to concentrate our efforts upon."

`We', I thought blankly. Wolfram and Hart weren't `them' to Newton, they were we. Kate was right. The rest took a few more seconds to sink in.

"And Allen," I said, realisation sweeping over me. "Allen was prepared to make a fuss because you were losing her case. So you cut your losses. You decided you had more to gain with her out of the way."

"That's right. That's how important you are to the firm, Doyle. Your demon abilities, your visions-"

"You killed an eighteen year old girl to set me up so I had no option but to go your way," I snarled. My fist came around with all my strength behind it, in a roundhouse punch that stretched him out on the floor.

"No fighting!" growled the demon behind the bar. "I may not be able to call the cops-"

"We are the freaking cops!" Kate barked at him.

He ignored her. "-but I can ask Mollach and his friends to escort you off the premises." A group of four very large demons stood up from a table in the shadows.

I stared at them. If they'd ever made the movie 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Hippos', the cast would've looked like that - but probably a lot less scary. "We'll take it outside," I said quickly, seeing Kate bristle and clutch her gun tighter, and recognising the danger signs.

I reached down and snagged Newton's collar. Marched out of the bar dragging him behind me - out into the quiet street which the bar faced onto, dark now, illuminated by a single streetlight some way down and the faint glow escaping from the mostly blacked-out windows of the bar.

A street largely hidden from human view.

I flung Newton away from me. He hit the wall and bounced back off it, but he kept his balance and turned it into a spin round to face me. I was aware of Kate behind me, not interfering, just waiting to see what I would do.

"I know you're angry now," Newton said, wiping blood from his face, "but when you think about it you'll see - I couldn't have done anything else. I know what you've been through. We're the same. I wanted to get you out of this, to give you a real chance..."

"You lied to me!"

I lunged forward to smash his face against the wall again. But his hands shot out to meet mine and we grappled. He had about twice my body weight, leaving me no choice but to call my demon side to the fore.

"You see? It's what you are," he said. "You can't not use it. If you stay in their world, playing by their rules, sooner or later someone's going to discover you. And then you'll be finished. Your only choice is to come with me."

"To do what? Kill junkie kids in their cells?"

"Survival, Doyle. Who knows if their concepts of good and evil even apply to us? Like I said before, how can we be sure we've even a human soul to lose? And you know as well as I do that Allen was a murderer. Not one of those you're so hot to protect. One of the ones you'd protect against. One of the one's you'd have killed yourself, in the line of duty."

The image of the man I'd shot flickered before my eyes. I banished it. Different. It was different. I shook my head grimly, as I shoved Newton backwards, the strength of my demon making a mockery of even his muscular human physique. His back hit the exterior wall of the demon bar. I yanked him forward, then slammed him back again. His head jerked against the brickwork with a dull smack and he choked on a grunt of pain.

"No," I growled. "You guys murder her when she's helpless, and that makes her a victim. You think I'd ever join your people, with methods like that?" His head hit the wall again: punctuation.

It wouldn't take much more to smash his skull completely. But then I hesitated, held back. He looked up bloodily, snaring my eyes with his own.

Time slowed down. I stared into Newton's bleeding face, and thought of all the things we'd shared in so short a time. We'd made a connection - and if all those things had been lies, surely that connection couldn't have happened. In some sense, he must have been honest with me.

Minutes ago, I'd understood completely Newton's reasons for going over to Wolfram and Hart. Nothing had changed. The deception only meant that it must have happened earlier.

I knew then that I couldn't do it. Yeah, Newton was the enemy, but I understood all too well how he'd gotten there. He could've been me. He was as human as I was. He might've been me.

Newton looking at me must've seen... what? That I wasn't going to kill him. That, whatever he might say now, his methods and his treachery had lost my trust forever. That my decision was made, and I didn't belong to his world.

I barely saw him move - only the brief shimmer as his features blurred and then the pavement as it crunched up into my face.

What-? Newton-? I blinked. The hands on the ground in front of me were human again, which explained why I felt so lousy. Squinting at the concrete wasn't going to solve anything, though. I forced my limbs to move. Small points of light danced over my vision as I staggered to my feet. I almost fell down again. My face hurt about as much as you'd expect it would after being mashed into the pavement. Blood dripped off my chin.

Newton was already running, already about fifty yards away down the alley. I knew he was in his demon form, which I'd never seen. I couldn't see it now - only a vague impression of horns jutting from the side of his head, and a figure more bulky than even his human norm. He was too far away already for me to make out anything much. Kate snapped off a shot and levelled her gun for another - and I lurched desperately across the six feet between us and dragged her arm down, ruining the shot.

In the distance the running figure, which had stumbled at the first shot, righted itself and ran unsteadily on. It disappeared out of sight around a corner, already almost indistinguishable from the darkness it moved through.

I stared at the space where it had been for a long moment, then sat down heavily on the ground. Kate looked at me and swore.

"You look like shit. You know, you deserve to look like shit. Why in the hell did you let him go?"

I couldn't muster any more reply than a shrug. I took deep breaths, tried to get a hold of the wreckage he'd left my thoughts in. Choked on the breaths, and couldn't do much with the thoughts either.

Kate regarded me wordlessly. After a moment, she said, "I don't understand why you ever considered his offer to start with."

"I'm sorry," I said awkwardly. "I guess... the urge to belong is stronger than I imagined."

"Even to 'belong' with the bad guys?" she asked, staring flatly back at me.

I nodded slowly. "Even that, I guess."

Her expression remained unmoved. "I'm human. You think I 'belong'? You think those assholes with their Scully jokes and their 'get laid' jokes think I 'belong'?" She grit her teeth.

"If you ask me," she said, "You're nothing like him."

I shrugged and turned away. "It's academic anyway. He betrayed me. He played me. I..."

"He's a demon," she grated.

"I'm a demon."

"You're... different. You're you."

"It's not like Newton had any reason to be loyal to humanity. He said that-"

"Spare me the sob story, Doyle. For all you know, it could be just another pack of lies. You can't let yourself believe anything that guy told you."

"No," I protested. "That's not true. There was something there. Something... real."

Kate looked back at me cynically. After a long moment she sighed and reached out, hauled me unceremoniously to my feet. Once there, she gripped both my shoulders at arm's length in about the closest she'd probably ever come to a consoling hug. "It's okay, " she said. "They found a weakness and they exploited it. It's okay to want to... to be understood. To belong somewhere. I just wish you'd come to me before letting it get this far."

She just held me like that, in silence, as the seconds ticked by, and I thought of what had happened, and how I hadn't trusted her.

I sighed and I nodded, slowly, finally meeting her gaze.

"Come on," she said. "Let's get back."

But although I nodded again and I followed her, I found my attention drifting back over my shoulder to the street corner where Newton had disappeared.

***

A couple of days later, I went back to Harrison's office.

When I entered the station, I found that walking into an ice factory might have allowed for a warmer reception.

Whatever working atmosphere the place had quickly died once I walked in, churning into an ugly low hustle. It could have been one of those slow-mo shots, like in those old western movie flicks, when the sheriff walks into the saloon before some dramatic showdown and the piano just shuts off.

I knew two things for sure.

One, that I was a sheriff without a badge.

And second…

Kate's desk was empty. Hell, her coffee mug was empty. A rarity these days with the workload and everything. I hadn't seen her since my last night with Newton, after she saw me back in one piece and made damn sure I missed the rest of the bars on the way. I couldn't say the same for her when she left.

I unclenched my fist; looked down at my hand and watched the blood return to my whitened knuckles.

It might actually be easier. Facing Kate would be left for another time, a time much less sober. Then, I noticed the edge of something square tucked neatly behind a pile of files.

I unconsciously pushed it further into the paperwork, burying it. She didn't want others to know, but I did. Kate had asked a friend to snap a picture of him at a precinct New Year party. He hadn't ever even known it existed. From what Kate told me about him, he'd only have laughed at her sentiment if he had.

Harrison's office was unnaturally quiet when I reached the door. I could almost feel the stir of hushed voices behind me dying into an echo.

This town wasn't big enough for the both of us.

***

As I began to walk out of the precinct for the last time, I stole one final glance at Kate's desk. The picture, tucked out of sight. Then, letting my gaze slip, the rest of the station I'd spent the last three years growing into.

Family.

Crude, but nonetheless there.

Another life lost. How many did Brachen demons have, anyway?

Newton... I never found out what happened to him. He didn't come back into work, not even to resign. There was a lot of concern for a time - until people forgot, like people do. Maybe Newton's friends weren't too friendly after all. Maybe there was something in what he'd said, about how we were too different, behind the human facade, to ever be really accepted in this human world.

Newton's disappearance was blamed on me in whispers and rumours, but since nobody had anything solid to pin on me, whispers and rumours they stayed.

Kate always maintained to me that she killed him, with that one shot. She claimed she was aiming to: hit him square in the back with a shot that would have killed a human, but probably the demon could stagger on, survive for a little longer. Maybe she's right, and he bled to death in some alley, ending up a John Doe in a morgue, or else in a lab with his demon corpse being prodded by curious scientists. Would he have reverted to human if he'd died?

Would I?

Despite everything, I hope he's still out there. Collecting a three figure salary from Wolfram and Hart's New York branch, or some such.

I guess if you try to suppress something, it'll eventually end up coming back at you - in spades. I spent the first three years of my life since Harry's death pushing to one side most every thought of what I was in favour of revenge. Dealt with the demon in me by not dealing with it at all - hiding it from the world and using it simply as a weapon when I needed it. Pretending it was nothing more than a tool to serve my own ends, and not an integral part of who and what I was. Wolfram and Hart just found the right buttons to press.

I thought Newton and I were two of a kind, and he turned out to be a killer.

Maybe I wasn't so far wrong, after all.

***

Chapter 6
by Tammy

Present Day

"Sometimes I think it's easier to fight demons than people," Kate said quietly. She was sitting on the floor, arms hugged around her knees, her gun clutched in one hand even though it was unnecessary now. The paramedics were on their way. The rasps of Hannoy's pained but steady breathing filled the attic room. "Easier to draw a line and declare 'this side good' and 'this side evil' when you're fighting monsters, vampires, whatever."

She looked at Hannoy, lying on the floor in front of her. "But I'm not sure which side of that line he falls on, either."

I stopped my restless pacing of the room. "And what about me?" I asked.

She glanced up, her eyes hollow. "I know whose side you're on. Don't beat yourself up over this, Doyle. Hannoy's going to live. You didn't kill him. Any number of completely human cops might've done the same, given the right circumstances, after seeing that girl's corpse, and they don't have the force of habit from four years fighting real vampires to contend with."

"But they didn't do it. I did. We kill demons because demons kill people. I've killed people. Where's your line?"

I swung around and struck out a punch at the wall of the attic. The plaster crumbled through, my hand sinking up to the wrist.

"Stop it," Kate said. "It's not the same. Yours were duty, trying to stop the real killers. I've killed more people than you have. Hannoy's killed a lot more people than either of us, and his weren't duty, and he meant to do it, and he enjoyed it. And he's human - which for some reason I'm not quite one-hundred-percent on right now grants him special dispensation: a trial and a ticket to a secure cell and a lifetime's mental care instead of a swift kill... what are you doing?"

I'd started to pull my hand out of the wall before it registered that my fingers were moving freely through air and space on the other side. I leaned further in, feeling around. The space went back and back, right to the end of my reach. "There's something..."

I wrenched my arm aside, yanking on the edge of the hole I'd made. Half the wall came away as I jumped backwards, crumbly plaster spilling out over my feet. Kate leaped up with an exclamation of surprise.

I leaned forward to look into the hole. About the last two metres of the end of the room had been partitioned off. A little of the dim light from the rest of the attic trickled inside to illuminate the contents of the small den. The gothic paraphernalia. The newspaper clippings. The... mementos from the victims. For the first time I pinned down a faint unpleasant smell which had been present from the start - and its source. This hadn't just been going on for the past few months and it hadn't just been the vampire-style killings. Hannoy had done some diversifying in his grim obsession before working his way back around to his original pet psychosis.

Kate, behind me, made a small sound. I turned: she was staring at the tapestry of clippings that covered almost the entire blocked-off end wall of the attic. I ran my eyes over unsolved brutalities stretching back over the past five or six years.

"Where's that line?" Kate murmured under her breath.

***

Kate was oddly quiet as she drove me back to the office. She drew the car up a little way down the street and killed the engine, and we sat there in silence for several seconds.

Eventually, she said, "There never were any good times, were they? You just get used to things the way they are, and then find you miss them after they're over."

"Oh, I don't know. I reckon we had our moments," I began, but stopped when I saw her expression. Reluctantly, I nodded. Trying to avoid looking at each other, our eyes met anyway in the rear-view mirror.

"I have missed it, though," she said. "Missed not working alone, or with someone I have to make excuses to because I can't tell them what's really going on. I've missed you."

"I'm sorry," I said, inadequately.

"It wasn't your fault."

I said nothing: I rather thought that it was.

"Anyway, you can't go back," she sighed, flexing her hands where they rested on the steering wheel.

I thought about it for a moment, then concluded it really didn't make any difference whether she meant that as a generic 'you' or not. "No. We - I - burned our bridges," I said.

"I think we nuked them," she murmured, with the faintest trace of humour. I knew she wasn't just talking about our history regarding Newton. She turned to me and smiled, a rare genuine smile without a trace of sarcasm or irony. It highlighted all the fine lines in her face that hadn't been there even six months ago. "Things change. Life moves on. I'll be all right. You should worry about yourself, and your people. Your jailbait girlfriend." She gestured to the door, and waited. After a long pause, she asked, "Are you... planning on getting out of this car anytime soon?"

"I suppose I am," I said slowly. I leaned over and touched her shoulder, a parting gesture conveying more than words ever could. Halfway out of the car, I stopped and turned back to her, crouching down to address her through the half-open door. "I can't go back, that's true enough. But you could always come and work with me."

But she shook her head - as I'd known, really, that she would. "It's not just who I am," she said, briefly. Meaning - a cop, always and absolutely. In her blood; a family burden and duty. "It's who you are now. It's not the same. It couldn't be the same. You've... moved on. Found something new. Besides," she added with a snort of laughter, "Your girlfriend looks at me like she's just waiting for her chance to gut me."

"Wes likes you, though," I protested, only half seriously trying to defend my offer, because it was true that the thought of Kate and Faith having to work together for any extended length of time made the brain boggle.

She rolled her eyes. "Don't tell him I said this, but I guess he has a certain... goofy, bookish charm." Her expression grew sober again, though, very quickly. "I mean it, Doyle. I know it was rough, those first few months, but you have a new life now. And it has to be better than all that shit we put up with at the precinct. I don't want to intrude. Just remember you can call me when you need me. To watch your back. And I'll... well, I'll remember I can do the same."

"Yeah," I said. "Yeah." I stood holding the door, and didn't move. "They're good people, Kate. More than employees. Actually, the 'employees' label is kinda debatable, at that. It's been a good deal, though. More than I'd dared hope for." I looked along the street to where the dark outline of the office building rose up into the night. The familiar shape of the convertible squatted outside, and the lights were on up on my - our - floor. I winced remembering the circumstances under which I'd last walked out of that place. "Anyway, I guess I better be goin'. I think I've got some major sucking up to do."

"I'll see you around," she said, almost laughing. "Stay alive, huh?"

"You too."

I shut the door as she started up the engine, and stood back and watched her as she drove away.

The initial drops of a rare rain shower started to fall as I turned away and headed along the sidewalk.

***

I could hear their voices as I ascended the stairs to the office, shaking out the droplets of moisture that clung to my jacket. Kate was right - it felt like coming home, coming back here now, knowing there was someone waiting for me. Even the awareness that I was heading into a severe ear-chewing from two sides simultaneously had the feel about it of... family.

It wasn't too long ago that this office had been simply dead space, with nothing to fill it but my own hastily moved in possessions and disillusionment. The loss of my second life had felt like another genuine bereavement for a time, and those months had been dark - the lack of human contact; racking up the kills by night and sleeping at my desk, mostly, by day; snatching only the briefest exchanges with Kate in hurried moments when our now separate schedules allowed, in the guilty awareness that being seen together wouldn't do much for her career.

It was good not to be alone. I took the last few steps two at a time. "Faith?" I called out. "Wesley?" Within the office, the murmured voices had ceased. I walked in, frowning over their silence.

They were sitting in the inner office, Wesley in my chair with a cup of gently steaming tea in front of him, and Faith perched on the desk, a bottle of beer in one hand, with her body angled towards him in concentration. They looked up at me with slightly dazed expressions, as though surprised to be interrupted. The whole tableau looked as though I'd walked in on a fairly intense conversation. I wondered what they'd been talking about.

"What, did I interrupt you two brushin' up on Watcher-Slayer relations with a quick match of tonsil tennis or somethin'?" I asked, with a laugh that struck the atmosphere of the room and sank like a stone.

That was when I noticed Wesley had a large band-aid stuck across his forehead, while Faith had bloody strips of bandaging on her left arm and ankle. Shit, I thought. Evidently they'd had a hard time of it with the demon I'd left them to deal with and now they were - understandably enough, I supposed - pissed at me.

"We were talking. Contrary to popular perception, we do that occasionally," Wesley said, although his sarcasm was half-hearted through tiredness... and something else? "Oh, and: 'hello, Doyle - yes, we survived the fight with the demon, thank you for your concern.'"

"Vampire hunt go okay? Or are even the fake ones running rings 'round you now?" Faith put in nastily.

Obviously, it was time to start grovelling - at least if I didn't want to be kicked out of my own bed tonight by Faith and to have Wesley frostily declining to speak to me for, oh, at least the next ten minutes.

"Look, guys, about earlier. I'm really sorry," I began. Their faces made me falter, but I pushed onwards anyway. "I shouldn't've just gone off like that, there had to have been a better way to handle things..."

"Better than haring off like a complete and utter lousy bastard?" Faith cut in. "Yeah, I'd go with that."

I studied her. Now, I'd seen Faith mad before, and was aware that it wasn't a sight any sane man would want to see more than once in a lifetime. When a Slayer gets pissed at you, might as well give up on the idea of living or leave the country fast. When Faith slams doors, seismologists all over the city are probably peering at their instruments in consternation.

This wasn't like that. I'd never seen her angry like this, with such a coolness in her eyes, an anger that was calm and cold rather than violent and explosive.

"If I'd died tonight," she said scathingly, "I'm sure you'd have felt real guilty about not being there. I could have, you know. We both could have."

"We could have used an extra body to help out, too," Wesley added.

I took a breath, preparing to try again, but she cut me off before I could even begin. "You can save the apologies," she said. "I'm not much of a one for words, you see. Never have been. The way I figure it, you best judge a person by what they do. And, Doyle, lately what you've been doing is mostly running away from me - from us. I don't think it's too hard to figure out the message behind that."

Wesley took over, his own tones more polite and detached. "What Faith is saying is that perhaps it's time we parted ways. Clearly our presence is becoming wearying to you, and I do realise that this is after all your business and we did fall on you uninvited, so to speak, so of course I'm not blaming you for that-"

"I am," Faith muttered.

He shot her a reprimanding glare and continued. "The original terms of our staying here were that it was a temporary arrangement, until my injury had healed enough for me to resume handling Faith's training myself. Well, my leg is quite recovered, now - or near enough not to make any difference, anyway - and, all things considered, it is time to move on."

"What?" I choked, half laughing, half convinced they were just pulling a fast one, trying to give me a scare. I sort of remembered the arrangement Wesley was referring to. We hadn't liked each other all that much at the time, and as things had become more relaxed between the three of us it had all been forgotten because, damn it, we had something here that worked and... "You've gotta be kiddin' me! Everything's fine. Things've been goin' great! You can't leave-"

"When your demon boyfriend would rather fight bad guys beside Policewoman Barbie than you, that does not come under the heading 'going great'," Faith snapped. "Think about it, Doyle. First Darla, now this. Lately, you've been shutting us out of the action every chance you get. What is it about you and freakin' blondes anyway?" Her anger intensified. "You don't get it, do you? I could've died tonight, because you abandoned us. You don't get a second chance on this. You had your choice, and you showed us right where your 'priorities' lie."

"Faith, I am not screwin' Kate, if that's what that's meant to imply," I returned, fighting off unease. As I'd said to Kate earlier, the arguments were no rarity, but this had a bitterness to it that had never before coloured any of our fights. "For one thing, she thinks the demon thing is really, really gross -"

"So you just want to screw her, then?" Faith shot back immediately, in a tone that made it quite clear she saw no difference between the desire and the act itself, which was pretty rich, coming from her.

A pattering sound caused all our eyes to turn to the window. The rainstorm outside was gaining momentum. Shining droplets clung to the exterior of the pane until, a fraction of a second later, they were dashed aside as more drops fell, with increasing violence, swiftly growing to thick rivulets running down the windows. Our three figures stared back at us, distorted, reflected pale and transparent on a backdrop of darkness and rain-soaked glass.

"You did make a choice before," Wesley said, uncomfortably dragging our attention back. "And it forced me to reconsider a few of my own choices lately, and consider my own allegiances. This... arrangement we've had here, these last few months - none of us could say it hadn't been an experience. At times it's worked well, at others," he frowned and cleared his throat uncomfortably, "We've shown a remarkable skill for almost getting each other horribly killed. But, when all's said and done, it isn't the way things are supposed to be, it isn't an arrangement that can possibly last. Imagine what the Watcher's Council would do if they ever discovered what you really are. We're putting you in danger every moment we continue to dally here. Faith has the right idea, if not exactly the same motives as myself. I do agree with her that it is time to leave."

Stricken, I looked to Faith. "Faith...?" My voice was a hoarse whisper. She blinked back at me, dark eyes cool and glassy in the dim artificial lighting. She sifted her stance, one hip jutting defiantly as she leaned and drummed her fingers impassively on the desk.

"A demon and a Slayer, right?" she said roughly. "Hell, whose stupid idea was that, huh? Wouldn't you just know that could never work?"

Behind her, I barely registered that Wesley gulped in a deep breath with an expression like he had bees up his nose and glared at Faith's back as though he'd like to kick her. But he didn't.

"It is better this way," he insisted. "LA's your territory. You have your own mission - your visions - your own contacts. You're perfectly right: you don't need us. And we shouldn't need you. It's time we struck out ourselves, the way a Slayer and Watcher ought. And the Council have been saying for some time that they'd like the Slayer to check out recent vampire activity in New Jersey."

I wondered, when had Wesley gotten so sharp? For that matter, when had Faith ever listened to him, let alone obeyed any instructions from him? When had they ever talked to each other for long enough without fighting to successfully plan anything together? How the hell had this come about?

Looking at them together now, united, I knew how.

The world seemed to have receded to a great distance, and I could feel a dull, tearing pain which logic told me wasn't physical but my brain still insisted was concentrated somewhere high up inside my rib cage. I couldn't feel my feet on the ground, and wasn't quite sure just what was keeping me standing upright.

I'd made this happen. I'd done it to myself. I'd bridged the gulf between them, acting as go-between and mediator. It had been the job they'd always needed me for, the one thing they didn't have between them, for all Faith's strength and Wesley's academic skills. They'd still needed a point of contact.

Somehow, I'd missed noticing that the bridge I'd been building had become an independent, at least semi-permanent, structure, maybe still a little rickety and makeshift and beaten by the occasional rough winds, but strong enough, all the same, to do the job.

They didn't need me any more.

And, today, I'd proved it to them.

My brain was in a state of shock, but my lips moved and shaped words anyway, running on defensive mechanisms that somehow worked independently of thought.

The rain outside was coming thick and fast now, assaulting the windows, and from the noise you'd have sworn the office was being battered by sizeable pebbles hurled from the sky, and not mere water.

"Fine," I heard myself say, without much emotion. I looked between Faith and Wesley, saw the surprise on their faces and wondered if they'd been expecting argument. But they'd made their decision - hadn't I always known, really, that it was a short-term arrangement? Deep down, in that bitter little core which never forgot that I'd never had anything I hadn't lost, or sometime wished to lose. "Fine," I repeated. "If you want to get your gear together, I'll give you a lift to LAX tomorrow. No hard feelings, huh?"

I stalked out of the room, slamming the door after me. There was an unopened bottle of Scotch down in my apartment, and it seemed as good a plan as any for the remainder of the evening.

My eyes stung and I blinked angrily, and wished I could scour the stubborn after-image of their faces from my eyes.

And I told myself it was the rain, and not that, which kept me awake through the night.

***

End

To Be Continued in Episode 8...

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