"I've got four possibilities here, but my money's on this puppy." Faith spun the book around to show the others. "A Gallu Demon. Nasty little buggers from Samaria. Basically hit men for the gods, nothing but killing machines. Here's the relevant part: they can go dormant for years, basically becoming shadows and they prefer caves to hide out in. When they're called, they possess a new body … or if they're disturbed and then they wake up hungry and pissed off."
"So these … demons … one of them was inside of Jasper? But he got up after I shot him." Clint tried to wrap his brain around this. In some ways, it was much easier to buy this story than the one the psychologists were peddling about stress and mental breakdowns. His own brain had been fighting their answer, knowing that Jasper hadn't snapped, thus the dreams and the confusion.
"They're pretty powerful," Angel said as he read through the rest of the information. "But they would have had to jump to a living host pretty quickly, day or two at most."
"So how do we get one of these guys here? The mountains of Afghanistan, that's a perfect party waiting to happen, but L.A.?" Faith shook her head.
"Bodily possession. Some soldier that came back a Gallu." Angel looked at Clint.
"Whoa, no. Don't start that again. I'm not a demon." Clint protested.
"Snake venom." Faith declared.
"What?" Angel and Clint said at the exact same time.
"They hate snakes. Ishtar, the Goddess of War and Strife, could order the Gallu around like her servants and used snakes as messengers. Snake venom, even just rubbed on the skin, will freak them out." Faith smirked. "Didn't read the rest of the page did you?"
"That's pretty dangerous, isn't?" Clint said, swallowing. Okay, he didn't hate snakes or anything, but he wasn't particularly fond of them considering the cave versions he'd run into while on deployment. Nasty sons-of-bitches. "Look, wouldn't I know if one of those things were in me? And then I sure as hell wouldn't come to you for help if it was."
"Relax. You weren't even in town during the first killing," Angel waved his concern off.
The phone rang; Faith picked it up. "Angel Investigations." She winkled her nose and shot Angel an annoyed look. "Probably didn't chargeiIt. He's bad about that." She waved the receiver at him. "Cell phone's dead again and we've got another body."
There was a part of Clint that was relieved to finally know what had happened that day, even if it was a wild story about demons and shadows and walking corpses. He'd always known that psych's answer wasn't right, and now he had a goal, something concrete to do that might help bring closure for his teammate's deaths. He wondered, as he stood quietly by the lovely old convertible Angel drove, if he should tell Sarge the truth; it might do the other man a world of good to know there was nothing they could have done once the Gallu demon took over Jasper's body, that they'd all have been dead if he and Sarge hadn't reacted quickly.
He wracked his brain as watched the CSI unit canvas the scene – another young woman, throat slashed, body dumped in an abandoned lot – wondering if he could have been the demon's ride out of Afghanistan. He was pretty damn messed up when Sarge had gotten him back to base; twice he'd tried to go back, sure that he could save the others, ripping out the IV and fighting his way out of the hospital. Talking about shadows was a sure way to get a psych eval and quick trip stateside; doing so after a terrorist attack on the team meant a stint in the VA mental ward. If he was honest, he'd been so screwed up by meds and well-meaning doctors that he didn't remember half of that time. But one thing he was sure of – he hadn't killed these women. He could account for his whereabouts for each of the murders; Angel was right, he wasn't even in L.A. for the first one, and the others had all occurred while he was working, in the club in clear sight of any number of witnesses. So if he had been the damn thing's ticket to the States, he wasn't any more, and he was more than ready to see the thing dead for what it had done.
Faith was on the phone, talking to someone about jewelry or something; she'd said she was working on a way to kill the damn thing once they figured out where it was, luring it out and destroying it. That sounded great, and he was all for it, but right now he was trying to stop shaking as a full blown panic attack threatened to swamp him. The hypnotism, or whatever the hell it had been, had taken a lot out of him; add that to the lack of sleep and he was running on fumes. It was the worst moment to have a breakdown, so he shoved it back, went with breathing techniques; okay it was Lamaze breathing, but he didn't give a damn as long as it worked.
"We've got a problem," Angel said as he came up to the car. "Guess which club she was dancing in last night?"
Clint blinked. "Stage Right?" Damn it. Damn it all to hell. "Were the others there as well? I didn't get a good look at her face. I might remember her."
A grainy picture on his phone was all Angel had, but it was enough to jog the memory loose from Clint's mind. "A group of them, five, all women, young, mid-twenties. Sat at a round booth, fruity girl drinks, lots of dancing. Popular with the guys, all of them. One of the girls left with a studio guy – works in marketing I think, liked to talk to everyone – but I didn't see what happened to this one."
"Two of them last seen at the bar you work?" Angel sound skeptical. "We should check it out."
"What about the other two?" Clint asked out of curiosity. "Were they taken from clubs too?"
"One from a club called Clover over on Sepulveda and another just a few streets over from one called 99 Steps," Faith supplied.
Clint tried to hide his reaction, but Angel must have sensed the change. "What?"
"All three of those clubs belong to my boss, Roger Mortimer."
For the first time in what seemed like forever, Clint managed to get a good four hours of solid sleep – no dreams troubled him even after the sun rose and warmed the room. He'd forgotten what it felt like, to not be drenched in sweat or have his heart pounding out of his chest. If he had something besides instant coffee, he might even be feeling something approaching normal, whatever the hell that might be. The memory of the dead still haunted him, but there was a clarity to his thoughts this morning that hadn't been there yesterday. Truth was an amazing thing. He checked his phone; there were two messages, and the clock showed that he had time to head down to the coffee shop for a real cup of Joe before he made the call to Roger for the afternoon meet. The man had no idea what was coming.
"Blood? Really? That's the answer?" Angel asked. Faith turned the page in the large book.
"For these guys, it's like an infection. A transfusion would work. Or just bleeding enough out to force it out of the body." She cut him a sly smile. "Seems you might have had the right idea with the whole blood letting thing and demons in your day. Plays with the snakes too – a snake can sense the Gallu through blood."
"So what, we go in with a snake in one pocket and a needle in the other?" Angel shook his head in disbelief.
"Oh, god, don't make me drag out the 'is that a snake in your pocket' joke." Faith closed the book and reached for her backpack. "Come on. Got to stop by a store and see a man about a snake."
3 o'clock in the afternoon was the quiet before the storm in the club. Cleaning crews were at work, along with restocking of the bar; the DJs were working on the sound system in the back room. Clint loved this time of the day, when he could hang out at the bar and talk to Jamie and Karen, the early bartenders, or fiddle with the music playlist and learn more about the system. Today, however, there was only Karen stocking the bar and Dave, one of the technicians, working in the back. Roger was there and, to Clint's surprise. Sarge was sitting in one of the comfortable chairs around a low table.
"There you are. I left messages, but you didn't get back to me. Thought I'd just catch you here." The older man stood up as Clint approached. "You got a minute?"
This was all kinds of wrong. Angel was due any second and the plan had been to question Roger about the employees of the various clubs to suss out any potential suspects. Sarge complicated matters; Clint's role had been to play Roger's supporter, to watch for any tell-tale signs of lies or subterfuge. After all, he'd come to know a lot about Roger's little empire, and there were any number of flunkies who might make a perfect vessel for a nasty demon.
"Sure, Sarge. Come on over to the bar," Clint pulled out a stool, one where he could keep an eye on the room as they talked, close enough to overhear what was going on at the other table. They sat down just as Angel and Faith came through the back door – the man traveled by sewer during the days, he'd said. Clint divided his attention between the two conversations.
"Clint, listen to me. There's another woman. Last night. She's connected to the club, just like the last one. Something's going on here." Sarge leaned in, concern in his eyes, voice pitched low. "If there's anything you need to tell me, anyone you want us to look at, you'll let me know, right? Mortimer's on the radar in the precinct; I've been checking, and I'm worry about you. I can find you another job."
"Mr. Mortimer, thanks for taking the time to meet us. We appreciate it," Angel offered his hand and the two men shook, Roger standing up to do so. "We just have a few questions and then we'll be on our way."
"I have to admit being unclear on exactly how you're connected to the police department," Roger said, not sitting back down. "Consultants? Detectives?"
"There are four murdered women," Faith went with her bad cop voice. The woman was good at being scary and sexy at the same time; if Clint wasn't in love with his balls, he'd make a move on her. But he really didn't want to be a eunuch. "And all of them disappeared from clubs you own, Mr. Mortimer. We don't believe in coincidences."
"There's some of the guys, retired, they're opening a bar and need a bartender. I think you'd be good at it. Let me give them a call …" Sarge was saying when Clint dragged his attention back to his friend.
"I don't know a thing about mixing drinks," Clint replied.
"I own over fourteen different businesses, Mr. … Angel?" Roger waited for Angel to supply the rest of his name, but there was no answer forthcoming. "Eight of them are clubs, all very popular, packed on the weekends."
"And you know everyone who works there? It could be a regular patron, someone who frequencies them all." Faith leaned forward, putting her fingers on Roger's wrist. Her bracelet rubbed along his hand; Clint knew it would release some of the snake venom onto Roger's skin. He watched for some reaction, something, but Roger just patted her hand and gave her that leer he thought was irresistible to women.
"True. I will gladly put my managers and employees at your disposal. I can assure you, it's not one of them. I thoroughly check the background of everyone who works for me. Everyone. But it could be a customer. You can ask as many questions as you like." Roger stood, walking over to the bar; Karen knew to pour him a scotch, having it ready when he got there. As he reached for it, his hand brushed Sarge's arm, just below the edge of his checkered sleeve. The reaction was immediate; Sarge jumped off of his stool, hand scrabbling at his arm, trying to wipe the venom away. His face changed, human features fading into a monstrous visage worthy of a horror movie. In a flash, Sarge whirled, grabbed Roger, twisting his arm behind him and using him as a shield.
"Fucking vampires." Sarge's voice changed, more guttural and animal-like. "Just roll over and take the blame, why don't you? That's the way it's always been."
"Sarge?" Clint asked, incredulous. He couldn't believe it, but it made perfect sense.
"Not Sarge, you whiny little shit. Not since he went back to get those bodies. Got to return the meat suits to their families." Sarge laughed and his hands grew long talons that sank into the skin of Roger's neck, rivulets of blood trailing down onto Roger's expensive polo shirt. "Now, you are all going to be really good and let me walk out of here, or I'm going to rip this drug dealer's throat right out."
"You're not getting out of here," Angel warned as they started to slowly move, trying to flank him.
"Oh, you have no idea." With one fluid movement, Sarge ripped open Roger's throat, the arterial spray spattering Karen behind the bar, her face frozen in terror. Roger jerked, body trembling as his nerves sent jolts out through him, a death gasp as it were. Roger's eyes went dark as Sarge – the demon – raked across his stomach, opening a wide gaping wound, his intestines spilling out across the floor, the smell overpowering.
Clint went for his gun, drew it from his waistband and took a solid bead on Sarge's forehead. "Sarge. Stop. I don't want to do this, but I will."
"Fuck you," the demon answered. He let the dead man slide to the floor as he moved with lightning quickness towards Karen who huddled behind the bar. But Angel moved just as fast, grabbing the demon's arm and pulling him away.
"Get out," Clint ordered the woman who was cowering back against the glass wall of bottles. "Get Dave and go out the back."
He watched Angel lash out with a punch to Sarge's middle, more powerful than any human could manage, but it didn't slow the demon down. Faith came from behind, kick landing in the middle of Sarge's back, pushing him forward into Angel; talons swung and caught her calf, blooding blossoming in their wake. Sighting down the barrel of the pistol, Clint fired one bullet into Sarge's shoulder; Angel glanced over at him, surprised. It hadn't been a clear shot and most people wouldn't have been able to make it. But even the bullet didn't stop Sarge; he knocked Angel off of him and lunged for Clint, wearing his demonic face for all to see. Clint took out his knee with one well-placed shot and Sarge went down; even as Clint watched, the demon screamed and jerked, trying to move forward.
"Can we get it out of him?" Clint asked; he didn't want to watch a good man die, someone who had saved his life. "Kill it somehow without hurting him?"
"We take him back to the office, get him set up for a blood transfusion," Angel suggested. "He'll need a doctor for the other wounds."
"Clint?" Sarge begged from his place on the floor. "What's happening to me? Did I do that? Kill those girls?"
"No, Sarge, it was a demon, the shadows from the cave. Not you," Clint assured him.
"Please," Sarge caught Clint's wrist, his eyes wide, pleading. "Kill me. What I've done. I can't live with it. Kill me and this thing as well." The man was coughing up blood just before he lost consciousness from the pain of the two gunshots.
"I can't …" Clint staggered back to the bar, feeling suddenly off-balance, cold creeping up his arm from the touch, something oily and evil sliding under his skin. The edges of his vision darkened and then it was like being pulled away from his skin, his mind coming unstuck, drifting away from his eyes, his mouth, his hands, his whole body. A putrid and foul feeling shoved Clint back, taking control, blinking his eyes, flexing his fingers around the gun still held loosely by his side. He could see Sarge, and he could sense the pulse of blood inside him, rushing through his veins, carrying a terrible disease throughout.
"Let's get him out to the car," Faith said to Clint who wasn't Clint anymore. "I'll call for help."
He tried to say something, to reach out, to do anything, but the demon pinched him tighter into an even smaller space, its lust raking over Clint, making him nauseous. Plans ran through the demons mind – follow Faith out to the car, kill her and Sarge there, take the vampire if he could, then find another city, somewhere south of the border where he could kill as he wanted. The images filled his head – blood, the soft skin parting, the taste of it in his mouth – and he struggled even more. Maybe knowing what was happening, what this demon was, would give him an edge.
"Clint?" Faith was looking at him, waiting on him to respond. He stepped over towards her, the demon heightening his senses, smelling her scent; when he got close enough, he drew on every reserve he had, the hidden depths that had kept him going through the years in the orphanage, the days in the circus, the betrayal by his brother, through all the violence and death he'd seen in the Marines. Balled it up along with the pain and the panic and the fear, opened every box he'd locked away inside of himself, waiting for this moment to be used.
He made himself stumble, reach to catch his balance, falling into Faith, his hand connecting with the bracelet on her wrist. The demon raged, turning on Clint and delivering the equivalent of a roundhouse punch to his mind; reeling, Clint could barely focus on Faith and Angel's reaction to the revelation that the demon was now inside of him. Howling, the demon turned on them, using Clint's body and his years of training. He slammed a fist into Faith's face before she could move. Angel's hands clamped down on his arm, wrenching it backwards until he could feel his shoulder pop out of the joint, an intense pain that did little to slow the demon down. A fist slammed into his stomach, driving all the breath from his lungs – Faith back in the fight, talking to him as she hit him two more times.
"Fight it, Clint. We can get it out of you."
Twisting his body, heedless of the damage he might cause to himself, he wrenched himself free from the iron like grip, spinning and landing a blow on Angel that made the vampire back up a few steps. Agony jolted into him as Faith's kick to his back did some damage, but the demon still fought, using every trick Clint knew. One arm hanging useless, splinters of pain with every movement, Angel's next blow crashed into his jaw and shook his whole head, snapping it to the side. He managed to get one more punch in, and then it was a back and forth between the two. Faith took out his knee, and he fell forward into Angel's hard right to his solar plexus, and yet the demon still fought, Clint unable to stop it, despite the brutalization of his body. Finally, Angel used Clint's good arm, twisting it behind him and shoving him against the bar, immobilizing him. Clint could see them in the mirror, his own bruised face, blood trickling from the corner of his mouth and his nose, arm at an odd angle. He could see Angel's eyes, and he knew there was no way this demon was going to go quietly.
"He won't go," Clint rattled out between his teeth, followed by a groan as his ribs were pressed down into the bar. "Only one way. Kill me."
"I'm just going to knock you out and then we'll get this out of you," Angel argued.
The demon laughed. "I never imagined I meet a vampire gone soft enough to care for human life. Only one way you're getting me out of this body. I like it. He's smart and tough and has more potential than I've seen in quite a long while. I could do things with this one."
As the demon spoke, Clint could hear the thoughts, see what he was talking about. To say he didn't scare easily was an understatement – Clint had lived through some of the worst things this life had to offer – but this terrified him right down to his toes. But it was truly the only way.
"Do it." Clint fought for every word. "Take the blood."
Angel's eyes met his in the mirror, understanding and remorse there. Aches and pains helped Clint take back enough control to nod, ever so slightly, in agreement.
"You just have to take enough to kill it," Faith said, behind them.
A hand tugged his hair, tilting his head to the side, baring his neck; Angel's face shifted, his fangs revealed as his mouth opened. The demon tried to win free, kicking back with his feet, but the weight of Angel's body bore down on him, pinning him in place, tremors of shock from his wounds loosening the demon's hold even more. He didn't close his eyes as Angel's mouth descended; the first brush of fangs was a cold little line along the vein, and he flinched, involuntarily. Then twin points of fire shot into him, all the way down to his heart; teeth sank in, little rivulets of blood trickled to the collar of his grey t-shirt, growing stains of dark red. Screaming in frustration, the demon scrambled inside of him, but Clint kept his mouth shut, only a sigh of pain escaping, nothing showing of the internal battle he was fighting. A current pulled at the darkness that was settled in his head, carrying it away bit by bit; Clint swore he could feel it too, the pull of Angel's mouth as he sucked, the ebb and flow of his life blood. The first sting of the bite was replaced by something else, something that stirred in Clint's body, a sort of longing; he'd lived with death so close for so long, with the knowledge that life was pain and there was no happy ending, and now this, an intimate offer of another possibility. What was the phrase? A consummation to be devoutly wished? As the demon's flailing grew weaker, Clint's eyes sagged, his energy fleeing with each ounce that drained away, and he wondered exactly what it would be like, this dark sleep that claimed so many but never him. Taking the demon with him had seemed reward enough, but now he found himself desiring something more. The revelation hit him, here at the end of his life, that dying might not be the answer after all. Maybe there was another path for him, one that didn't end with his body splayed out on a bar. And yet, as always, Clint thought, truth was a day late, and a dollar short.
The room was starting to spin, his vision dimming. One last time, he looked at the two of them, dark-hair and blonde, blue-grey eyes and brown, one living his last moments, the other not alive but living all the same, and he thought of Jasper and C-Chord and Jackpot and Sarge and all the others. Maybe it was a fair trade after all; peace for him, justice for the others.
The room was light, window blinds slatted shut to keep out the mid-day sun. He saw an IV stand, felt the needle in his arm, could see that the bag was filled with thick dark liquid. Shifting, he only managed to hurt himself, his ribs screaming in pain, his pulse pounding in his swollen jaw. A large bandage on his neck crinkled as he turned his head, and it all came rushing back to him, the demon, the murders, Sarge, Angel biting him.
"Don't try to move too much," Angel said from his place in a chair at the desk; Clint recognized the office and the large couch he was laid out on. "You've got a broken rib, a minor concussion, and internal bruising. Doc taped you up pretty good, but you need to replenish the blood you lost before you do anything. He left some drugs for the pain."
"Oh good, he's back among the land of living," Faith came in through the door. "The police are chomping at the bit to interview him, but I think he ought to stay out of it for a while longer, don't you?"
So many questions rolled through Clint's mind, but there was one that was most important. "Am I a vampire now?"
"Nope." Faith laughed. "You have to drink vampire blood for that to happen. Just getting sucked almost dry won't do it. And before you ask, the demon is gone too."
Clint breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank god. Nothing personal, but I don't think that's for me."
"No offense taken. I wouldn't damn anyone else to that life." Angel stood and walked over to the couch. "Your friend's alive too, in the hospital. He confessed to all the murders; they're blaming it on PTSD and what happened in Afghanistan. Probably going to end up with an insanity plea and psychiatric care. The cops think he went crazy and attacked us all at the club. As far as the other witnesses, that's true. They didn't see what happened after you sent them out."
"Poor Sarge. I never even suspected. You think he got me that job in the club so he could hang around, pick out girls?" Clint was thinking it all through now; so many little things made sense, even with the fog of the pain meds clouding his mind. "Guess this means I'm out of a job now."
"You know, you've got a pretty cool head and damn good aim. You ever thought about getting into the P.I. trade?" Faith asked. "You'd be good at this."
"You want to keep me around?" Clint joked, trying to laugh, but ending up with a pained cough. "I think I've had enough of L.A. for a while."
"We know some people in San Francisco who could use some help," Faith winked at Angel. "And then there's always Scotland."
"Wait. There's more out there like you?" Clint asked, although it shouldn't surprise him. If there were demons and vampires here …
"Crazy world, huh? Just wait. You've only scratched the surface," Angel said.
It took Clint almost two weeks to get back to his apartment to gather his things, and his ribs were still hurting as he packed what little he had into a suitcase. Between police interviews, talking with Sarge's doctors and the D.A.'s office, he'd had no time to plan beyond the next day. All he knew, as Faith helped him carry the stuff down the stairs, was that he had finally decided that he wanted to live again. Where he went now didn't really matter – but he had a feeling that, now that he knew about this other world, he'd find himself drawn back into the hunting business. After all, he was good at it and he could save people. What better way to honor his friends' memories?