Author's Notes: sorry for the delay. I had almost thought I had gotten out of fanfiction forever but I couldn't leave you guys hanging, not when I've got Being Human stories and Torchwood stories swirling in my head. I want to try to wrap this plot up by the end of summer and maybe throw in some fic-lets to keep us going till the next book. I'd like to thank ThoughtCriminal. Reading her updates just now is what put me in the mood. Also thank you to all those that reviewed, even in the dry times. You and ThoughtCriminal really just kicked my but into finishing this story.
"We're what?" I asked loudly as we walked to the house, arm in arm.
"We need to lure him out."
"I will not be used as bait."
"If you like, think of me as the bait. Anyway, I thought you would like this idea better than my first one, which was to have sex here. In reality. Somewhere public. That would really get his goat."
I smoldered in silence. He was right. We needed to get to Pierce before Pierce got to us and did something we'd all regret, and this was the best, safest way. I thought of Al standing downtown blowing up apartment buildings whistling, "Here, Runty, Runty, Runty," and knew this was infinitely better. A quiet night out. But how could we apprehend Pierce quietly. "Just promise me one thing: don't make a scene trying to bag Pierce."
"That, my dear, is entirely up to him."
"No, part of it is up to you. Al, promise me you won't try to make a scene. No killing. No maiming—"
"Now you're just being difficult."
"No maiming any innocent bystanders," I clarified.
Al stopped and looked at me. He put one hand on my chest and the other in the air. "With my right hand on your heart, I swear I will not cause havoc where havoc isn't due," and that was the best I could get out of him.
We walked inside the kitchen. Ivy and Jenks looked at us expectantly, wanting an explanation. "We're on Pierce duty tonight. Going out," I said quickly.
"Together?" asked Ivy.
"I'm not letting him out on his own!" I responded.
"Someone will recognize him! He's on the news, dragging you down the street on your ass!" said Jenks.
I hadn't thought of that.
"Somebody filmed that? Oh dear, I must get a copy," said Al. "I've sworn not to wreak havoc. On purpose."
I sighed. "He's not in his green suit. You can't really see his face. Look, he even changed his eyes and he doesn't smell like burnt amber."
Everyone looked at Al. Al smiled broadly, his flat, blocky teeth extra white in the kitchen light. "It's not up to you," he said pleasantly.
I set my bag down on the table and took Al's (rather muscular, if I do say so myself) arm and walked him towards the front door. Maybe we wouldn't even meet Pierce. Maybe if we did, we could just sit down and work it out quietly over egg rolls. Suddenly, Al stopped, and it was like I was trying to pull a rock. I turned around. We were in the door to the kitchen. Al looked at me. "Really, Rachel. Have you forgotten? I don't know whether to be flattered or insulted." Right. Demon. Holy ground. "Either you unsanctify this church immediately or we walk round the side path."
It seemed that sighing was my main form of breathing now, because I did it again. "Walk around it is," I said. "You have no idea how expensive it is to sanctify a church. I had to have it done after Newt came, and it took half an hour to convince him I wasn't a black witch. I couldn't get anyone to do it now, probably."
Al was practically glowing as we walked along the slate path. Now that I had actually considered what it would be like to live in the Ever-After, I understood a little better why he wanted to come with me that night when I was tracking Mia Harbor. Being in reality must make him so happy, when he's not trapped in someone's bubble.
"Do you miss reality, Al?" I asked.
"Always, my itchy witch. Always. Even more now that I live in poverty. My rooms used to be grand, and it dulled the ache."
"Would you rather be free in the Ever-After or trapped in a bubble in reality?" I asked. I wondered how long I could get him to keep answering my questions.
Al peered at me, his smokey glasses gone from his face. "Ever-After, I suppose. At least there I can work."
"What would you give to see the sun?"
He stopped walking at that one. "So inquisitive, itchy witch. Is this how you are with all your dates? It's truly a wonder how you only attract small, dangerous men, thieves and killers."
I felt my face grow red with both embarrassment and anger. "Is this how you are with all your dates? It's rude to talk about exes," I said hotly. I started walking again, and he followed.
"I do not have dates, love, only familiars. Funny, I don't seem to be in possession of your soul." This wasn't going well. I remembered Al's comment about Pierce not touching him, even when he looked like me. He was scaring me, and I wondered if it bothered him. I angled myself away from him and walked a little further to the side. I couldn't look at him. Al's steps grew heavy, and I realized that upsetting him was the opposite of what I wanted to do. I needed to find something pleasant to talk about fast.
"So… uh… how's Treble?" I asked. This was in the vicinity of a normal question where someone asks about a pet.
"A cantankerous old hag of a gargoyle, as always, but she eats the old grounds. She holds her own," he answered. "And your fish, he's well too."
"Have you been remembering to feed him? A few pellets every other day?"
"Yes, yes. He doesn't need it. I never fed my familiars and they lived for over a thousand years. Things are different in the Ever-After."
Familiars. We were back to what I didn't what to talk about. How Al was a slave trader. What he did to Ceri. What was he going to do with Pierce? I wanted to ask, but we weren't even at the restaurant yet.
"Bet you never had a fish as a familiar?" I said, trying to make him laugh.
He chuckled. "That's how you got Nick as your familiar, yes?"
I wished I could chuckle about that. "I don't keep people as familiars, Al."
"I think Trenton Aloysius Kalamack would disagree, unless you've stopped counting him as a person since he turned you in to the coven."
"Oh, he's a person. Just a terrible person, is all. People can be real assholes, ya know? If there's one thing I've learned in the last few years, it's that." Then I realized how bitter I sounded and stopped. It reminded me too much of all the bitterness I'd felt when I was trying to find Al in the ley line. Algaliarept: Old, bitter, and alone. I didn't want to turn into him. "People are assholes, but you really can count on your friends. Your real friends. Like Ivy, Jenks, and Ceri. They've done so much for me."
"And they're the only people you trust?" Al asked inquisitively.
"Yes," I said. "I trust them absolutely."
"I suppose that's a passable view. I am sure they'll do their best for you any time they can, but consider, Rachel, that their best might not be enough, especially as years go by. However, I'm glad you've come round and realized the darkness in the world. It's safer that way. I can't have you running around in the daylight filled with naïveté."
I could see the lights of the restaurant. "Make sure you know what kind of meat you're getting. They serve stuff like tendons here, but the food is good."
"I trust your taste. In food, at least. In men, I can honestly say I am the best thing to ever happen to you."
Now it was my turn to stop walking. The only reason I didn't hit him was because I couldn't decide where. So many times… so many times I had thought about what my life would be like if I had never met Al in the library basement. "I could be baking cookies and getting familiars out of trees."
"You could be squandering your potential."
"I could still be a witch."
"You were never a witch. You weren't when you threw Trenton Aloysius Kalamack into a tree with a ley line and you aren't now. The only difference is you wouldn't know. You're children would still be demons, it would just be a surprise."
I hadn't thought of that. "Don't make me want to throw water on your face before we even get inside the restaurant. What happened to your little plan? How are we going to get Pierce if you insist on needling me every five minutes!"
Al shushed me and stepped forward, and I remembered Pierce's hearing charm. What if he was already here. Al was looking around.
"You could have just compromised our mission," he said.
"You could have just compromised our mission! You're baiting me. And you can't even help yourself."
Al moved towards the restaurant and opened the door for me. "Is that green tea ice cream I spy? A capital idea!" I had gotten him. He wouldn't say anything, but I was right about him not being able to resist baiting me. I had found a weakness.
We sat at our table. My heart was pounding. I kept waiting for the screams, but they never came. His disguise was working.
Al saw my discomfort and said, "Rachel, who do you think I am? If I can't fool a restaurant of unsuspecting people than I'm not worth the space I stand on." Al took out a pocket watch that I saw held not a clock, but a tracking amulet. "He's getting closer. Soon he'll be right on top of us. Don't talk about it, don't even look at him when he comes."
"You think he'll try to kill you here?" I asked incredulously.
"He didn't mind killing four-hundred people in Eleison, and his freedom wasn't at stake there. Now hush."
I took a long pull on my pop. "I hate how you know so much about me and I know almost nothing about you," I said, remembering how he knew about me throwing Trent into a tree, how Nick had sold him pieces of information about me.
Al just blinked at me. He hadn't been expecting that. "My personal history is far too long to be covered in a mere dinner," he deflected. "You know the basics, or you should by now."
"What do I know, that you like Asia?"
"That's one thing."
"You also like nineteenth century England," I realized. "And green."
"See, you do know me," he said, pleased I had noticed.
"And dogs?" I guessed, thinking about his disguises. "No, you just like scaring people. You always show up as the thing that scares people the most." I thought about this. "What would you do if you didn't have a curse for what scared someone the most?" I asked.
"I can turn into anyone or anything. You know that." I did. I remembered the way he turned into Ivy in the basement and when he used to show up looking like me. "But I have encountered some odd fears. You'll never guess what Hildy is afraid of."
I huffed. I didn't want to admit it, but I didn't like him talking about his other women. "Chlamydia?" I guessed.
He laughed. "No, no." He paused. "It's butterflies. She's afraid of butterflies."
I laughed, then I realized something. "That's another thing! You like butterflies. Well, not enough to not let them die in the snow, but enough to make them when you're bored."
Al's face froze in evaluation. "Very good, Rachel. You are more observant than I give you credit for."
His complement pleased me. Our waitress came back to the table, and I stiffened, afraid. Al ordered chicken lo mein with a perfect accent and I just mumbled "Same." I had forgotten to look at the menu.
Al was fiddling with his napkin, finally smoothing it across his knees in one graceful motion. "One thing I do like about the Ever-After is that we demons have much better manners."
"Manners!" I cried out laughing, flashing back to all those Black Magic crime scenes and summonings gone wrong and hell, even the shit I'd seen Al do at Trent's stables which seemed forever ago now—and he has the gall to say demons have better manners.
"I do wish you'd share what's so funny, dove?" and I could hear the danger in his voice.
"It's just… after all the destruction I've seen demons bring on this world… it's difficult to imagine them having manners in their own world."
"Do you find me ill-mannered?" asked Al.
"No. Well, you've been nice to me since you started treating me like a student and not like a demon familiar thing. It's like there's this split you. There's you in the Ever-After with your books and instructions and then there's this other you that just want to frighten and torture people. I had the fight and circle you so many times because you were going to kill me! Or worse, you were going to take away my soul and let me live as your slave for a thousand years!"
"And yet when Pierce had me on the ground, you saved me," said Al, his voice completely calm and entirely serious.
"Well, we left the whole slave-enslaver dynamic back a while ago when I agree to be your Student, and since then we… we were kind of friends too, I think."
"Demons don't have friends. Not really. We have rivals and we have those whose old crimes we are tolerating for the moment but mostly—"
"You're a lonely bunch," I said.
Al stayed silent, so I knew I was right.
"And now we've gone past the usual teacher student relationship… though I have no idea what teacher student relationships in your time were like."
"So are you implying that you, Rachel, have feelings for me?"
"You've wanted me in your bed for a long time. What does that mean?" I shot back, avoiding the question.
At the point, something in Al's jacket emitted a faint buzz. Al picked up the amulet and turned it over slowly in his hands.
"What's our strategy?" I bellowed, going into full runner mode. Pierce was clearly right on top of us and I still didn't know our plan of action. This was clearly a trap where there was just bait and no way to close the trap and bag the whole reason we were here in the first place. Oh wait, no. That was me. Pierce is just the victim here. And I'd bet my splat gun that he was most deadly black magic victim this side of the lines. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. They don't even have sayings for what kind of fury scorned black magic witch men hath.
"He's almost here…" said Al.
I kept trying to brace myself for what was coming. Broken glass. Screaming customers.
"Up the road, perhaps," he added.
Babies crying, children screaming for their mothers. Body parts flying across the room. Pierce riding in on a freaking pterodactyl.
"He's Three. Two. One. Here," and the bell above the door to the entrance of the restaurant tinkled as Pierce strode calmy through, taking off his hat.