TITLE: The Substitute Teacher

AUTHOR: Roseveare, t.l.green@talk21.com

RATING: PG-13

SUMMARY: Alternate Universe Angel/BtVS story set after the episode 'The Wish' in

BtVS season 3. The Buffy gang suspect a new teacher at Sunnydale High may be a

demon.

NOTE: An answer to the fanfic challenge 'The TA' at 'A Demons Heart'

DISCLAIMER: All Angel and BtVS characters belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy,

WB, etc. not me. Not making any profit from this, yadda yadda yadda.

-------

 

The Substitute Teacher

 

Chapter 1

Monday morning. She hadn't used to dread the start of school like this.

Cordelia Chase walked down the deserted corridor, hearing only the click of her

heels on the polished floor. The noise echoed around the walls and was bounced

back at her from every side by all the empty space and smooth surfaces.

Everything was far too quiet. Morning lessons had already begun.

She knew she ought to hurry, but couldn't make her feet move any faster. She was

never usually late for class, but a lot of the certainties in her life had

changed recently.

Lately, she'd been finding out just how much life really could suck. It was an

alien feeling. In the past, she'd felt bummed when Harmony got to the dress she

liked in the sales before she did. Or when somebody came into school with the

same hair. She'd had no concept of how low down on the scale of lousy that

actually was. And she so much didn't appreciate the world deciding to give her a

demonstration.

Notable among her problems was the puncture wound in her stomach which was

taking its time to heal. That was behind her lateness this morning. She'd

accidentally left the house without painkillers, and had to go back for them

when the injury started hurting as she pulled up outside Sunnydale High.

She approached the classroom door nervously. From the noise level inside, she

was in luck; the teacher hadn't arrived yet. Rumour had it Mr. Matthews wasn't

somebody to get on the wrong side of. Clutching the strap of her shoulder-bag so

hard her nails left marks in the leather, she peered through the glass window in

the door.

No teacher. She noticed it with small relief. It wasn't really what the staff

thought of her which bothered her the most, whatever she might have heard about

Matthews.

No empty seats. That was what she noticed next. No, wait - there was one, at the

front of the room...

At the front of the room next to Willow Rosenberg.

Cordelia leaned back against the doorframe, closed her eyes for a pained moment,

and sighed. It would be too much to hope that life would decide to make anything

easy for her, the way her luck had been recently.

She pushed the door open, stalked in, and sat down, determined to remain unmoved

by anything that happened.

She felt the stares. Everyone knew what had happened between Willow and her;

between Willow and Xander.

Willow had been her opposite number for years. While Cordelia was the most

popular girl in school, Willow was the least. It had been like that since

kindergarten. They'd never got on until recently, when Cordelia had begun to

date Xander, and hence started to associate with Willow because the two of them

were like geeky matching bookends.

They actually got along quite well. When she'd walked into that basement and

seen Xander and Willow making out, it had been a double betrayal.

And now they were enemies again.

After a moment she felt the stares get bored and direct their attention

elsewhere, and the noise level in the classroom rose once more to its previous

volume.

Hesitantly, nervously, Willow said, "Hi, Cordelia. You look well... better. A

lot better. I'm glad..." Willow tended to talk when she was nervous... or

terrified.

Cordelia knew from experience that Willow could gabble on for hours given

sufficient tension and no interruptions. She sighed and let it roll right on

over her, not hearing a word.

Actually, it was the first time in a couple of days that anyone had made much

effort to talk to her at all. Harmony and the rest of Cordelia's old crowd -

they'd used to be called the Cordettes, but nobody used that name any more, not

in a while - were still in full bitch mode with her. In the aftermath of being

cheated on by Xander Harris, she didn't have any cred left to speak of. With

anyone.

Her parents were no less indifferent than usual, wrapped up in their own worlds.

She wasn't unused to feeling lonely, as she'd once told Buffy. Being popular

didn't mean you couldn't feel alone in the crowd. But this was the first time

she'd ever had to feel lonely while she was, well... alone.

She contemplated the irony that the only person who was making real efforts to

be nice to her was the one who was largely responsible for her current situation

of unpopularity in the first place.

Then she started working on a put-down which ought to leave Willow's fragile ego

in shreds for at least the next few hours.

After all, she was definitely owed some malicious amusement at Willow's expense.

Thankfully, it was only a few minutes before the classroom door swung open. It

wasn't Mr. Matthews who walked in, however, but a man she hadn't seen before.

Cordelia brightened up, her interest caught by this substitution, and studied

the new arrival critically.

This guy was considerably younger than Matthews - which wasn't difficult,

because Matthews was practically mummified - and was at a guess somewhere in his

mid to late twenties. He had dark hair, pale skin, blue eyes, a slightly nervous

smile. A pleasant enough face; features comfortably approaching good-looking if

not precisely dazzlingly handsome.

Unfortunately, he was also way short and his taste in clothes was like a Greek

Tragedy.

He drew everyone's attention by dropping a heavy file onto his desk with

deliberate volume, and waited for the room to quieten before he started

speaking. His stance - arms folded across his chest, leaning back a fraction -

was slightly too casual and slightly too nervous all at once.

"Mornin' class," he said. "I'm sad to say that Mr Matthews was taken ill last

night. The doctors say he'll make a full recovery in time, as I'm sure you're

all happy to hear. Meantime, I'll be takin' your lessons."

"He's going to teach us english?" Cordelia muttered. "Come off it - most of that

wasn't even recognisable english. And what's with that fakey accent?"

"It's Irish," Willow whispered. "Shush."

Cordelia rolled her eyes in exasperation.

"I'm Mr. Doyle," the guy said, unpacking papers from his file. He stumbled

slightly over the 'Mr' - or it could just have been the unfamiliar accent,

Cordelia wasn't sure. "I was to start here anyway in just a few days, but with

Mr. Matthews being indisposed I agreed to come in early." He grinned lamely.

Cordelia wondered if his nervousness was as clear to everyone else; looking

around, she couldn't see that they'd noticed anything.

"Goody for us," she breathed sourly. As if it wasn't bad enough that most of the

school treated her like a leper and the almost-healed injury in her stomach

still ached like anything, now she was going to have to sit through several

lessons with this clown every week.

Mr. Doyle looked around, a query in his eyes as they searched the room and

finally rested on Cordelia. "What's that you say? Do you have something you want

to share, ah, miss...?"

"Cordelia Chase," she filled in, her voice a bored monotone, trying to keep her

face from burning with the embarrassment of being singled out.

"Oh." He squinted down at the papers on his desk, and he frowned as his eyes

flickered back to her. Then he carried on as though the incident hadn't

occurred, saying nothing further on the matter, turning instead to Shakespeare.

His reaction only made Cordelia feel more angry and embarrassed. 'He's got some

sort of file on me there,' she realised furiously. 'He knows all about all that

time in hospital. He's sorry for me.'

God! She so did not need pity right now! She was Cordelia Chase. She was not

someone to be pitied. She was, had always been, the envy of Sunnydale High!

And that was why she subsequently sat through the lesson bitching to Willow

about every little thing she could find fault with about Mr Doyle - his method

of teaching, his clothing, his accent, his B.O, and anything else she could

think of. Just loud enough so he had to hear at least some of it, although too

quiet to reach the other students sitting further back. As she'd expected, he

continued his policy of being nice to poor pathetic Cordy and didn't even look

in her direction once.

It didn't give her any satisfaction. She just felt madder, and increasingly

guilty because he was after all only trying to be nice to her, and consequently

even madder. Willow shifted embarrassedly in her seat the whole time, obviously

itching to get away.

At the end of the lesson, when she sauntered last out of the room - having hung

back in the perverse hope he'd see fit to say something - he merely gave her a

tight smile and inclined his head in an ironic little gesture she found

intensely annoying.

Cordelia forced the muscles of her face into returning her most dazzling smile.

 

 

"Cordelia!" Willow gasped, obviously appalled, once they were well clear of the

classroom and in the midst of the busy corridor full of students. "Why did you

do that? He was nice! And you were... And I was sitting next to you! I'm now

tainted as the associate of the class bad girl!"

Cordelia sighed. She couldn't even remember that put-down now, the teacher guy

had got her so riled. And she'd worked hard on it too. "He pissed me off," she

said. "And he's not the only one. Some people seem to be forgetting that their

place right now is merely to grovel."

Willow huffed but predictably didn't retaliate. "Didn't you even think he was

just a little bit nice?" she ventured, after a moment, as Cordelia paused by her

locker and searched for the key. "I mean, that accent, and those eyes... And oh

my gosh please don't tell Oz I said that!"

"Oh, yes," she retorted scornfully, ignoring the last part - let Willow sweat

that she'd just given the person with the most reason to harm her the ammunition

to decrease whatever chances she had of winning back Oz. "That accent! And those

clothes! So he's about two decades younger than any of the other staff at this

mausoleum of a school. So what? That does not by definition make him droolsome.

And I'll remind you that most of the staff here end up turning out to be

monsters! He's probably some kind of really yicky demon. Remember what you said

happened when Xander dated a teacher?" She broke off. "Which reminds me, why am

I talking to you?"

Cordelia threw her work at the back of her locker and slammed the door shut

before it could all cascade back out again. She stalked off, leaving Willow

standing there speechless.

 

 

Man, what a morning.

After the door swung shut behind the last of the departing class, Allen Francis

Doyle sighed and looked around the empty room which seemed, at the moment, the

most wonderful sight in the world.

He closed his eyes and leaned back against the door. He tried to breathe deeply

and regularly. Tried to force the tension away.

Didn't work too good.

It was ironic to think that, not so many years ago, teaching had been his life.

And now, six or seven years down the line - down the drain - he'd never felt so

terrified as upon this, his first day back in teaching.

It was nerve-racking enough to face a class of teens when he'd previously only

ever taught kids half their age, and that a good few years ago. The Chase girl,

and that sharp tongue she had on her, hadn't helped any. But that was nothing to

the overwhelming fear of something as simple as a mere sneeze, which could so

easily reveal his demon heritage before an audience of so many young eyes.

Yeah, there was a bloody good reason why he'd given up teaching in the first

instance when his demon side had begun to show. Far as Doyle was concerned, it

was damned unreasonable, not to mention impractical, of the Powers to demand

that he take it up again.

He hoped it was only a temporary measure. Aside from everything else, Cordelia

Chase was a real stiffener, and he really, really shouldn't be entertaining

thoughts like that about one of his students.

He walked around the room, restlessly rearranging chairs and tidying desks. His

hands were shaking slightly. Had been all morning; he couldn't stop them. He

could definitely use a drink... but he couldn't drink. If the kids smelled it on

him, he'd be sunk.

He felt trapped, and afraid, and alone.

When his visions had told him in their usual vague, painful bursts of disparate

detail what he was meant to do, he'd spent the following several long weeks

losing himself in a bottle and telling himself, bugger the visions.

The teaching, that was a part of himself he'd left behind long ago. That old

Doyle, he'd been a human being, a person, with a proper name, a wife, a job, a

normal life - hell, any kind of a life.

He'd been a fiction.

He wouldn't go back. He couldn't. That other Doyle had never been real. He might

not like the drunkard shadow of a loser he'd become, but at least he wasn't a

lie any more. He'd sunk neatly into the kind of existence he best fit and

deserved.

So he'd ignored the visions.

But they hadn't ignored him.

After a time they'd become too insistent, too regular. Until finally they

shattered his resolve. He could only take so much pain. And so eventually he'd

come to Sunnydale, as they wanted, because he couldn't live with that level of

agony assaulting his brain on a daily basis. He'd thought it would hurt less to

just go ahead and do what they required of him.

He was beginning to suspect he'd been wrong.

And it had only been one lesson, he thought, with growing horror. How many more

were still ahead? Today. Tomorrow. The rest of the week... The rest of the year?

It had been remarkably easy to get the teaching job at Sunnydale High. They

seemed to have no small amount of staff casualties. Teachers missing, attacked,

murdered, eaten... He shuddered to think of some of the reports he'd heard. It

seemed word was spreading, and people were becoming unwilling to work there.

When Doyle had applied, they'd snapped him up eagerly. They hadn't looked too

closely at the mass of fabrications that constituted his resume.

He realised he was straightening chairs that were already straight, and forced

himself to sit down and attempt to relax. He was way too keyed up.

It was about an hour before his next lesson of subbing for Matthews. Research

time, he told himself.

Pushing the file of school papers aside, he dug into his case for a thicker

sheaf of paper. He sorted through it until he found the list of names. He ran

his finger down the list until he reached 'Cordelia Chase'. He took up a pen and

crossed her name off.

Well, it was a start.

The unmarked remainder of the list looked long, and daunting. If he was going to

do this by process of elimination, he realised, it was going to take him a very

long time.

He sighed, leaning back in the chair. Through the window across the room, he

could see teenagers haunting the grounds of the school in little untidy clumps.

A half-hearted game of basketball was going on. It was a sunny, pleasant day.

He wondered how many of them had ever suspected their nice little town was a

hive of activity for the undead. He'd heard only that morning about another

couple of murders with a supernatural whiff to them. The population of this town

were dropping like flies, and the populace... just didn't seem to notice.

Somewhere here too, among the monsters and the regular folk, there was a vampire

with a soul by the name of Angel. He was the guy Doyle was supposed to help, the

one who had the potential to serve the Powers That Be in the fight against evil.

Somewhere. The where part being the problematic area.

He'd been supposed to be in Sunnydale much earlier, he knew. Something had

happened while he delayed all those weeks in LA, getting himself acquainted with

every gutter there was to know in the city. And Angel... well, he wasn't turning

out to be so easy to find.

Doyle sincerely hoped the guy wasn't dead... dead as in dust, at any rate. The

Powers seemed to have left him high and dry since he'd given up his resistence

and come to Sunnydale. He liked to entertain the fact they were sulking, but

they probably didn't feel he deserved their making it easy for him after the

last several weeks. He'd had no contact at all, no visions, nothing. And that

hideous, repeated vision which had trawled its way through his brain too many

times to count in the past month or so, it hadn't had much detail as to where

Angel might actually be found.

However, his mission was twofold, and the vision had also indicated he was to

assist the slayer who currently resided in Sunnydale. Since the slayer knew

Angel... if he found her, problem solved.

But the only information he had to go on was that she was one of the girls in

his classes. That was the reason for the teaching thing. It was supposed to be

his point of contact with the slayer.

And of course, with the remaining girls on his list of possibilities, he'd

hardly be fortunate enough to have their absence records and doctor's note

handed over with the class lists. If it hadn't been for that, he'd have

considered the Chase girl a good bet to start his search with. But a slayer

would have healed much quicker than that; which meant Cordelia Chase was just a

normal girl with a high level of aggression and a very sharp tongue, who was in

the process of recovering from a truly horrible accident.

Doyle wished he knew exactly what he'd done to upset her so much. He'd been

trying to be kind, that was all, and had hardly expected that sort of reaction.

With a deliberate effort, he turned his mind from Cordelia Chase and his eyes

from the sunny, deceptively innocent scene outside the window. He had an hour,

he reminded himself, sternly. Enough time to begin his search for the slayer in

earnest. No more delaying. After all, it hadn't done him any good so far.

He went to the computer in the corner of the room, switched it on and sat down.

Time to examine a few student records. Actually, he hadn't yet been officially

granted access to the school's computerised records system, but it wasn't too

difficult to get around that.

He buried himself in research.

The time until his next lesson ticked by far too quickly.

 

 

 

 

-------

Chapter 2

Cordelia stopped by the library on her way out of school later that afternoon -

for purely academic purposes, for once. She needed to get some more books to

catch up all the work she'd missed while in hospital. But it wasn't a visit she

made with much enthusiasm.

She pushed open the door and, as she'd feared, discovered the whole gang was

gathered in there as usual. They looked up, their surprise evident, as she

walked in.

"Don't look at me like that," she said, irritably fending the stares off with a

flick of her hand. "You people are nothing to do with me any more. I'm merely

here to use the library as an actual library, which should be a unique

experience for it." She stalked past the little group and headed into the

stacks.

Behind her, she was aware of Giles shrugging and turning back to the others. She

heard him say, "Well, as I was explaining, there is clearly something going on

here. All the signs indicate some new kind of demonic menace in town. What

happened to those two youths last night..."

At that point Cordelia deliberately switched her ears off. She didn't want to

know. So long as it didn't come near her, the supernatural in Sunnydale was no

longer her concern. No, thank-you! No more demons, monsters, losers or other

freaks of any kind. From now on, she was going to ensure her life remained

freak-free.

Which totally included the ones clustered around the library table.

She found the books she wanted and returned to the main reception where Giles

was still yakking away. Something about demons and entrails, and some big bad

evil he was sending a protesting Buffy out after.

Buffy had some clear grief about this and she was volubly outlining her soon-to-

be-cancelled plans to go to the mall with her mother.

"Hey? Librarian-man? Can I get some service here?" Cordelia interrupted, waving

the pile of books in pointed illustration.

"Can't you see we're busy with something important, Cordelia?" Giles replied

crisply. He glowered at her for a moment, an expression she frostily returned.

"Oh... everything's over on the desk there, you can issue the books yourself."

He waved her away and turned back to the others.

"Gee, thanks," she muttered to his tweed-clad back, and leaned over the desk to

do as he said, wincing at a brief twinge from her injury.

"Demons," she heard the detestable Xander Harris prompt Giles, as the librarian

clearly tried to remember what he'd been saying. "And entrails."

"Well, any internal organs, really," Giles said. "I suspect it just happened to

be entrails in this case, if I'm right about the creature we're looking for."

"If you're right?" Willow asked nervously. "So you're not sure? You mean it

could be something entirely different?"

"Certainly. As I believe I have mentioned before, there are a number of demons

which require parts from humans to sustain them in some way, and in this case

the clues we've had are few and far between. This fellow here is only the most

likely out of a number of almost equally likely possibilities."

"But we'd know it if we saw it, right? Organ- pinching demon. Big, nasty and

ugly, yes?" That was Buffy's input.

"Aren't they all?" Xander put in.

Giles dithered, and answered Buffy hesitantly; "Well... this one, yes. But many

of the other possibilities, they can look quite human. Some of them, you

wouldn't know from anyone else if they didn't want you to. It's interesting,

actually, but in some cases the theft of body parts is what allows them to

appear normal..."

'Yuck. And goodbye,' Cordelia thought, picking up her stamped books and stalking

out of the door. Nobody even appeared to notice her leave, which didn't help to

improve her mood. Lately, it seemed, she was invisible to everyone but the

people who considered her a laughing stock.

 

 

The sky was darkening by the time Doyle trailed home from Sunnydale High and

headed back to the depressing little apartment he'd rented in a cheap, shabby

area of the town.

As he walked he considered his findings from looking through the student

records. As well as eliminating several more as possibilities, he'd actually

managed to pick out a handful of young women he deemed very likely slayer

candidates, whose lives in the last few years had contained more than their fair

share of curious or violent events.

Among them was Willow Rosenberg, the quiet girl who'd been sitting next to

Cordelia Chase in his first class. He hadn't met any of the others on the list

yet. One of them, Buffy Summers, had a very colourful record indeed.

Unfortunately, he was stumped as to how he should proceed in finding out which,

if any of them, was actually the slayer. He could hardly go up to them and ask,

causal-like, "Say, do your extra-curricular activities happen to include slaying

vampires?" His imagination filled in the rest of the scene: "No? Well, never

mind - no, don't phone the board of Governors... What? No, not the psychiatric

hospital either..."

He knew the slayer's Watcher was also one of the staff at the school, but hadn't

had opportunity yet to even compile a list of possibilities.

And he had to admit it would be easier if he stopped avoiding the staff room.

But he didn't want to answer friendly questions about his previous - fictional -

teaching jobs, or be welcomed by the people he was lying to.

It occurred to him it shouldn't be too hard, anyway, if he investigated the

students on his shortlist, to find out if any of them associated closely with

particular members of staff. That should make it simple to narrow down both

slayer and watcher.

It didn't take him long to near his new apartment. It was necessarily close to

the school, as he didn't have a car. It was also opposite a graveyard, but since

there were about a dozen cemeteries in Sunnydale it was kind of hard to avoid

living in close proximity to at least one.

There were broken railings interspersed with trees and bushes bordering the

cemetery, running parallel to the path Doyle was walking along.

He was almost home when a figure stepped out from the shadows of the shrubbery,

blocking the path.

He stopped, squinting at the figure through the dingy light. His distracted

brain kicked into gear and formed a few unhappy connections.

Sunnydale. Hellmouth. Vampires. Figures lurking around cemeteries in the dark...

Not good.

Whatever - or, indeed, hopefully whoever - it was, it had made no move to

attack. In fact, it didn't appear to have noticed Doyle there.

That was when the smell of fresh blood hit him, so strong it was dizzying. It

made him feel ill.

He reached into the pocket of his battered leather jacket and gripped the

sharpened stake of wood he'd figured to be the best form of self-defense he

could carry around in Sunnydale.

He couldn't say the possibility he'd encounter something hadn't been squatting

in the back of his mind since he'd arrived in the town, and he realised now he

should really have been more wary, walking alone through the darkening evening.

He'd kind of hoped that perhaps the vampires which were known to infest

Sunnydale would smell the demon in him, and stay clear.

On the other hand, perhaps not.

The figure turned around, its twisted and demonic face visible in the dim

evening light, and hissed threateningly upon seeing him there.

It was a tall, lanky man, or at least it had been once. Its clothes were covered

in a layer of mud, and Doyle realised it must be a newly risen vampire that had

just dug itself free of the grave.

Already it had made a kill, though. There was blood messily daubed all over the

lower half of its face.

It took a few steps towards him, then hesitated and sniffed the air. Evidently

it could tell there was something amiss with him - but it was too new risen for

caution. It lunged forward, and Doyle barely managed to back out of its reach.

He raised the stake defensively. "You don't wanna do this," he warned it -

although the shake in his voice probably spoiled the effect. "A little more here

than meets the eye, y'know."

"Yeah. Dessert." The vamp, wary of the stake, circled around him. Doyle, knowing

it was expecting him to hold back until it attacked, stabbed at it before he had

time to think about what he was doing and be afraid. Took it by surprise, but

his aim was slightly off and he only stabbed it in the arm. It retaliated with a

blow which sent him flying backwards to finish up in an untidy, hurting sprawl

on the pavement.

And without a stake.

The stake was still sticking out of the vampire's arm. It pulled it out, studied

it for a moment, then laughed and threw it aside.

'Well, this is just great!' A little voice in his head jeered. 'I get killed

first day on the job. Some messenger. The Powers That Be sure know how to pick

'em!'

Unless, he realised sourly, they'd had enough and given up on him already.

Doyle tried to pick himself up off the sidewalk, but the heavy fall had shaken

him and his limbs weren't responding too well, and by the time he managed to get

to his feet it only made things easier for the vampire. Meant it could grab the

collar of his jacket without even having to lean down. It shoved him roughly

backwards.

His shoulders slammed against metal railings, hard enough to finally shake loose

his control. He felt the change sweep over him, bringing with it the increased

power and strength of his demon form.

"Damn it!" He shook it off, feeling his face smooth back to human.

The vampire watched him warily. Doyle could practically hear its brain ticking

over. Then, after a moment, it snorted in digust, turned its back on him, and

started to walk off.

Doyle watched its retreat incredulously for a long moment, before it occurred to

him that if he let it go, it would only find somebody human to bite. And that it

was really, really annoying for the thing to beat the crap out of him and then

decide he wasn't even worth bothering to kill.

He staggered unsteadily over to where it had tossed the stake, scooped it up

from the road, and sprinted after the vampire. It didn't hear his approach until

the last second, by which time it was already too late. It occurred to him that

probably it wasn't too wary because it considered him one of like kind, a

concept he found all the more annoying.

He had to use all his strength to drive the stake through the vampire's heart

from behind, slipping into demon form again for the instant it took to deliver

the blow.

The thud as the stake went in felt appalling. It jarred his arm right up to the

shoulder. Then, abruptly, there was no pressure on his arm, and no vampire, and

the stake was falling to the ground amid a cloud of dust.

Doyle backed away, shaking the demon form off once again, unable to take his

eyes off the spot where the vampire had been. He'd seen a lot of things, the

past few years, but he'd never actually killed anything before - although, he

supposed, the vampire was technically dead already, and he had no cause for

guilt.

Much the reverse, in fact. He'd probably saved someone's life, somewhere.

It occurred to him then that there was at least one life the vampire's

destruction had been too late to save.

With some reluctance, he parted the branches of the bush the vampire had first

emerged from and followed the scent of blood back to its source.

What he found, in the shadow of a huge headstone, would have made him lose his

dinner if he'd had any. The corpse...

'Oh, man, that's no vampire kill. Vampires don't do... that. The vampire must

have just found the fresh corpse and drained it of its remaining blood.'

He turned his gaze away from the gaping hole where most of the poor woman's

chest had been ripped open.

But even from the brief glance he'd had, he could tell that there was a lot of

stuff that should have been in there that was missing.

 

 

Cordelia pushed open the door onto an empty house. A few token calls - loud

calls, it was a big house - affirmed what she already knew. Nobody was in. She

went straight upstairs to her room, and dumped the library books in a pile on

the bed.

As soon as she turned her back on them, all thoughts of the work she'd been

planning to do evaporated from her mind.

It wasn't fair. She was hurting, but the world continued to turn, oblivious.

Buffy and the Freaky Gang continued to fight monsters, without her (not that the

latter part ought to be a bad, she could do very well without the weekly doses

of terror). Harmony bitched and bleated her way to popularity. That Doyle guy

taught english, badly. Her parents went out to expensive dinners without a

second thought about leaving her alone with her pain.

It shouldn't be allowed.

She felt a little like she was drowning, with everybody watching and nobody

noticing. Like the kid in the swimming pool everyone thinks is fooling around

until it's too late.

There was nothing left to cling to. It had all gone, result of a single act.

Xander...

She remembered there were still photographs of him - of them - she hadn't yet

destroyed. Her mother had found the used film in the camera only the other day

and taken it to be printed.

With intent, she dug them out and tore open the packet. Pictures scattered all

across the floor and the bed.

She stared around in dismay at all the faces, smiling in the sunshine. Buffy.

Oz. Willow. Xander. Herself.

He'd been two-timing her with Willow, even then.

She got the scissors out and set to work, and continued until there was only the

one remaining. The one with everyone on it, taken by Giles, in a hurry,

impatient to get back to his dusty old books.

To the left of the group, Xander, holding her, trying to lick her ear, while she

swatted at him half-heartedly with her open palm. Buffy, Willow and Oz looked

on, amused.

She hesitated, then put the picture away, whole.

Not for sentimental reasons, of course.

Only so she could destroy it the next time she was feeling down.

 

 

Amid all the sirens and lights and people, Doyle felt like the centre of far too

much attention. He was beginning to wish he’d kept his call about the body

anonymous.

He ached after the battering he’d received from the fledgeling vampire. He hoped

desperately that no visible bruises would start to develop before he could make

himself scarce.

It would just about cap the misery of the whole day if they began asking him if

he’d, say, been in any fights recently, and began to question the innocence of

his involvement in all this.

Damn it all, he’d done the responsible thing for once. He could hardly have just

left that poor woman’s body lying there until somebody else chanced across it,

maybe kids.

He stood alone on the edge of the action, watching as the body was lifted onto a

stretcher, nothing more now than a huddled shape under a white plastic sheet.

The female police officer who’d questioned him had gone to talk with one of her

fellows some way off. Too far away for Doyle to hear what they were saying.

It was frustrating to observe the police going about their work, so blind to

what was really going on. How could they protect the public from things they

didn’t even believe in? They seemed to have decided the woman had been attacked

by wild dogs, and the missing organs eaten. All the same, Doyle couldn’t see it

being a good idea to educate them about the variety of very unpleasant demons

who were far more likely suspects.

The female officer strutted back to join him. She said, "You can go now, sir.

Don’t leave town for the next few days. We may need to get in touch with you

again."

They'd already taken his address and details. His fake details. He felt like

kicking himself. Man, he so much should have kept that call anonymous. He hadn't

been thinking straight.

"Of course." He nodded.

It was as the woman turned away from him that he noticed the girl.

She was standing across the road, among a group of passers-by and street

residents who’d decided to nosy in on all the excitement.

She was a pretty young blond thing, quite the stunner, slim and delicate. The

hard look in her eyes, however - which was directed right at himself in a

penetrating, fixed stare - was much older than her evident years.

He had the impression she’d been there a while, and watching him for as long.

She didn’t turn her gaze aside when she saw he was looking back at her.

Two thoughts hit him almost simultaneously. One was, 'Could this be the vampire

slayer?' The next, slapping down its predecessor, 'Could this be the demon?'

He was aware of a number of demon types who might be responsible for the body

he’d found, and some of them were quite capable of appearing human.

Whatever she was, it was clear from the hostility in her expression that she

wasn’t loving him.

He couldn’t help flinching away from her direct gaze. When he looked back, a few

seconds later, she was nowhere to be seen.

Unnerved, he turned and hurried back to his shabby apartment - all of a twenty

yard journey further down the street.

 

 

 

 

------

Chapter 3

"Cordelia!" Just what she needed to brighten her morning - Willow ambushed her

outside the classroom door before the day's first lesson. "I know you don't like

us very much right now, but you need to hear this. It's serious!"

She could tell it was from the concern in Willow's eyes; she let the girl draw

her aside to a quiet corner as the other students filed past, oblivious, into Mr

Doyle's class.

"All right," she said, before Willow could speak. "How's the world going to end

this time? Sucked into hell again? - because that's always fun, y'know."

"Cordy! It isn't apocalypse stuff this time. It's just a demon... something

really nasty, though. We were talking about it in the library yesterday, when

you... Anyway, the point is, there was another murder last night, and guess who

Buffy saw on the crime scene?"

"Jean-Claude Van Damme?" She was bored, already. Demons were old news. There

never seemed to be a time when Sunnydale wasn't packed with new and exciting

varieties to delight and disgust.

"Mr Doyle! He was the first one there. Apparently he found the body and called

the police, but Buffy thinks it might be a cover-up. Cordelia, what if you were

right yesterday when you said he was probably some kind of monster? Giles says

it could be him that's been killing these people and, um, pinching bits from

their corpses."

"Oh, come on. I was joking yesterday!" She didn't believe it for a moment. 'I

totally chewed him up and he was nice to me. And now they want to tell me he's a

demon? Don't think so!' "Short stuff in there? A psychotic, murdering demon?

Give me a break. Sure - annoying, tasteless, ugly. But demony? I don't see it.

Tell Buffy to ease off with the slayer paranoia already."

Willow gave her a strange look. "Why don't you believe he's a demon?" she asked

intently.

"I just don't!"

"Please, Cordy. It could be important. It could be a clue."

She rolled her eyes impatiently, looking for an escape route, determined to

pursue her resolve to spend as little time in Willow's company as possible. "I

don't know! Instinct! Just a feeling. We hated each other on sight - so there's

a connection made there, right? I don't think he's your killer."

"A... connection," Willow repeated slowly, seeming confused at Cordelia's

definition. "Right."

"Are we finished now? Or do we want to explore the possibility that the staff of

this school are made up from all the hordes of hell?" She thought about that for

a moment, then added sunnily, "Which would make Snyder the devil. Which,

actually, I can see." She smiled brightly and turned to head into the classroom.

Mr Doyle was standing in the doorway watching them, with his arms folded across

his chest, a laconic expression on his face. "Are you both goin' to join us

today?" he asked in a bored, level tone.

Cordelia sensed the tension in Willow's form as she stiffened abruptly. Her

sudden heightened nervousness... she really did believe the guy was some sort of

evil - which Cordelia, looking at him, found ridiculous in the extreme; evil

tended to dress better... still lousily, but nonetheless better - and now he'd

overheard them.

But from his reactions Cordelia thought he couldn't have heard more than the

last few remarks of their conversation. If he'd heard any more, he'd never be so

calm about it.

"Sorry, sir," she said meekly, covering for Willow before she remembered she was

trying to forget she'd ever been friends with the girl.

"Well." The little irritation he'd managed to muster to tick them off faded

away. He smiled gently. "Come along inside. Othello isn't so bad as all that."

"Just don't try to upset him again," Willow whispered into her ear, as Mr. Doyle

ducked back into the classroom. "Just in case. I mean, if Buffy's right, it'd be

sort of like painting a big target on yourself that says 'demon-bait', y'know?"

 

 

The lesson passed without incident despite the presence of Cordelia Chase. Doyle

would have liked to know what she and her friend - or not-friend, rather, as he

was sensing a weird hostility between the two girls, which made it seem odd they

sat together and talked together - had been talking about outside.

What he'd heard... had sounded strange. He wondered exactly how many of

Sunnydale's residents really knew what went on in the town. There had to be

some. He rather thought the two girls might be among them.

And Willow Rosenberg, he reminded himself, was on his list of possible slayers.

She didn't exactly look the slaying type, but... well, you never knew.

At the end of the lesson Cordelia Chase filed out of the room among all the

others without comment, casting a slightly nervous glance back at him.

Perhaps she'd had a particularly bad day yesterday, and he'd just got the brunt

of her irritation. Perhaps she wasn't usually like that at all.

He reminded himself sternly that she was a student, and that his flirtations

with girls younger than she in the bars of LA were not an issue here in

Sunnydale, where he was a teacher, and could not afford to jeopardise his

position of responsibility.

Man, this job sucked.

He was packing up his notes into a file when he heard the voices outside in the

corridor. One of them, an unpleasant feminine mewl, was unfamiliar to him. The

other, raised in anger and upset, belonged to Cordelia.

 

 

She saw Aura strutting along the corridor in some painful looking new shoes as

she left Mr Doyle's classroom. "Hey, wait up!" she yelled. Aura appeared to

hesitate before deciding to hear her - she'd noticed a lot of people doing that

before they spoke to her, lately.

Never mind; she was going to rebuild her image. The all new Cordelia Chase was

to be born today. That was why she simply couldn't wait to hear the news Aura

had for her.

Cordelia hurried over to her, deliberately ignoring the way the girl cuddled the

file in her hands in front of her chest like a shield, and the way her eyes

shifted around as though in search of escape. "Well?" she said brightly. "Did

you put in a good word for me? What did Mark say? Tomorrow? Friday? Or maybe...

this evening?"

"Cordelia..." Aura was looking decidedly uncomfortable. She sighed, in that

pained way which meant she was about to tell the Horrible Truth. Cordelia's

hopes sank. "He said totally no way ever, Cordy. He said he may not be the best

catch in Sunnydale but he's still not about to sink so low as to date Xander

Harris' castoffs when every more popular available guy has already said no." She

hugged her work tighter to her defensively. "Jeeze, Cordy, I mean, what did you

expect?"

"Well, a simple yes would have been nice," she managed to venture, albeit in a

rather small voice. God, she could remember the time maybe a year or so ago when

Mark had been begging her to give him a chance. Even serenading her with some of

the worst poetry she'd ever heard. "He really said that?" Doubt crept up on her,

and she forced a smile and a laugh. "You're kidding me, right? Ha ha funny! No -

not funny! Not funny at all. I'm annoyed, Aura! That wasn't funny!"

But Aura just looked at her and said disgustedly, "God, Cordy, get over

yourself, will you? I wasn't joking. He really said that. Actually, he said

worse than that, I was being diplomatic. Come back to the real world - which

doesn't revolve around you. You did it to yourself, you know. Xander Harris!

Honestly! Live with it."

And with that, she marched off, skidding down the corridor in her new shoes.

Cordelia stood there, lost for words. Hardly able to form a coherent thought -

except to keep a tight rein on the tears which threatened to escape her eyes and

cement her total humiliation. Thankfully, the corridor was now almost empty

after the initial rush at the end of first lesson, and there were few around to

witness her state.

"Sheesh," said someone behind her, with a low whistle. "No small amount of venom

there."

She knew who it was without needing to look. That weirdo accent was

unmistakeable. She sighed and closed her eyes for a moment, trying to force calm

upon the turmoil in her mind.

He was about the last person she'd want to see her like this. Well, not

entirely. Better he than Harmony. Or Buffy. Or Xander. She breathed in,

gathering her self control.

"Every hear of privacy?" she snapped, swinging around angrily to confront him.

"You know, someone else's conversation..." She abruptly remembered that the

person she was using that tone of voice on was a teacher, and her voice dried up

as she tried to finish. "...is their own business... and nobody... else's...."

"Yeah, I'm sorry," Mr Doyle said, seeming slightly embarrassed. It registered

slowly upon her traumatized brain that he wasn't angry with her, that his eyes

were kind, and his tone was comforting. "But I couldn't help overhearin'. And

you sounded like you could use a little help."

"I'm fine," she muttered, almost inaudiably, reminding herself how much she

didn't like him.

"I can see that." The gentle sarcasm was unmistakeable. "She's just jealous, you

know."

"Jealous?"

"Yeah. I can see it a mile off. I don't know precisely what it is that's between

you and she, mind, but that much is very clear."

Cordelia laughed bitterly. "My boyfriend was a jerk who cheated on me, the whole

school thinks I'm a loser, and I have a hole right through my side that still...

really... hurts... not to mention looking ugly as hell and totally ruling out

all this season's short-cut fashion tops! Why would she be jealous of me?"

Mr Doyle shrugged and smiled nervously. "Ah, there's the mystery." He seemed as

though he'd like to say more but stopped himself. "Must be somethin', huh?"

She noticed how his eyes sparkled warmly, looking at her.

Abruptly, she remembered what Willow had said. And she couldn't help but feel

apprehensive at the possibility, despite the fact she now found Buffy's theories

about him being some kind of demon even harder to believe than before.

She dredged up a smile for him anyway. He'd made her feel better, monster or no.

And, well... if he was a demon, she didn't want him to suspect she knew, did

she?

So she smiled at him. "Thanks," she said. "I'll... see you tomorrow, Mr Doyle."

"Doyle," he corrected, apparently automatically, sounding a little distracted.

"Just Doyle."

 

 

'Damn it.' She'd only smiled at him. And it had felt like she'd thrust her hand

through his chest and closed her fingers about his heart.

'This is not good.'

Doyle wondered what the Powers That Be would think if he lost his point of

contact with the slayer because he'd been fired for hitting on one of his

students. Not that it had come to that yet. Well, honestly, he'd only seen her

twice. You couldn't rush into these things.

'No. Stop that thought right there. Not gonna happen, ya dirty old demon. She's

seven or eight years your junior, and a student to boot.

'Also, I'm bettin' she'd be none too happy to find out ya not completely human.

That'd be enough to send any woman runnin' screamin' in the opposite direction.

As has been proven more than once. '

He realised abruptly he was going to be late for his next lesson. He was

covering a different class next, not Matthews'. It hit him then that he wasn't

even certain where the room he should be teaching in actually was. Cursing, he

hurried back to snatch up the paperwork forgotten in his concern for Cordelia

Chase.

 

 

What he wasn't expecting - although perhaps, if he'd bothered to check the class

list for that lesson, he would have been - was to find the girl who'd been at

the crime scene the previous night sitting near the back of the room.

Seeing her gave him something of a jolt, and he must have betrayed some reaction

which caught her attention. She glanced up and her eyes widened briefly in

surprise and apprehension. Then she lowered her gaze determinedly back to the

open book on her desk.

The dark haired boy sitting next to her looked confused and leaned across to

engage in a brief, whispered conversation.

Doyle discovered who she was from the class list. Buffy Summers. One of his

prime Slayer suspects. Or, alternatively, possibly a rather hostile demon.

He'd done some research last night, though he'd been exhausted and battered and

really hadn't felt like it. Not to mention wondering why he was even involving

himself in this at all. After all, he was just the messenger. With the blinding

agony of the visions alone, he figured he was doing his duty. Except what had

been done to that young woman made him sick. He didn't want to think about the

next victim. He wanted to stop it, if he could, before there was a next victim.

He'd looked into the recent spate of murders. They had all occurred within the

last two nights. That didn't necessarily mean anything; some demons needed human

organs to sustain them every few months or even years in cycles. It could be

someone who acted as a perfectly normal member of the community the rest of the

time.

Or of Sunnydale High.

It could be a coincidence, but of the three victims so far, the woman last night

had worked in the school canteen and the two youths the night before had been

senior students at the school.

It didn't take much in the way of intuition to figure the killer probably had

some connection to the school.

He conducted the lesson very much aware of Buffy Summers sitting hunched over

trying to make herself invisible at the back of the room.

He'd been sent here to contact the slayer. And this girl might well be she. Damn

it, what should he do? Approach her anyway? Take the risk that she might turn

around and rip out his insides in return? - Or she might just kill him for the

hell of it; it could be that whatever she was needed human parts, and his

weren't precisely a hundred percent the real deal.

'Couldn't the Powers That Be damn well be a bit more specific just for once?' he

thought irritably. 'A name, a picture would have been helpful. "Hey, Doyle,

here's the Slayer, you go play nice and find her now." I swear they're sat up

there laughing at me.

He needed more possibilities. If he could find another suspect, he promised

himself, he'd approach her.

Plus he needed to look into the staff at the school. One of them was a watcher.

He'd done some checking on staff nationalities, when he'd got in that morning,

bearing in mind that the Watchers were reportedly an English institution and

hoping it would be as easy as that. But he'd checked all the teachers records

and found no Brits, so maybe the Watchers Council were recruiting overseas

talent these days.

Before he could do anything, though, he had to conduct another two lessons after

this one, and sit through a staff meeting about student vandalism.

It was bad enough trying to juggle teaching and his search for the slayer, but

throwing demon-hunting in as well... man, where was the room for a social life?

He really needed that drink.

'Tonight,' he promised himself. 'After the demon-hunting. Say, maybe I could

even check out that club all the students frequent and mix the two. You never

know, there may be some evil lurking there.'

 

 

"So remind me again, why am I here?" Cordelia asked irritably, glowering around

at the group who'd once again somehow managed to pull her back into their world.

She didn't know what had possessed her to listen to Willow. "I'm bored already."

They were in the library - as ever, they never would agree on a slightly less

image-damaging place to meet - waiting for Buffy to decide to show up. And

Cordelia was getting very tired of watching Xander trying not to watch her,

shifting his big awkward feet nervously whenever she glared in his direction.

"Yeah, Giles," the big doofasaurus himself put in somewhat plaintively. "Remind

us why she's here?"

Giles sighed, but was saved answering by Buffy's entrance.

Cordelia watched the others greet Buffy with typically sickening enthusiasm.

Even though Xander was totally nothing to do with her now, it still annoyed her

to see how he hung on Buffy's every word, gesture, movement like he did. He'd

never really stopped doing that, all the time they'd been so close, and now

they'd broken apart he was still there, the slayer's faithful lapdog. Nothing

had changed, except for her. It made her feel physically ill, watching him, and

remembering what he'd spoiled.

She couldn't believe she let these people do this to her. She'd been the Queen

of Sunnydale High, before Xander. She'd risked all that for him, and he'd

destroyed it all.

'What am I doing here?' She abruptly turned for the door.

"Nah-ah!" Buffy said, catching her arm. She tried to pull away, but couldn't

match that slayer strength. "This is serious, Cordy. You could be in danger."

Cordelia sighed, shook Buffy's hand away, and sat down huffily in a nearby

chair. "Well, get on with it then," she snapped. "What's the big?"

"Demons," Willow said.

"Isn't it always? Can't we we move on, here? 'Cause the demon thing is just old

now. And I didn't want to come to your crummy meeting anyway." She glared sourly

at Willow, who'd caught up with her at lunchtime and talked at her until she'd

agreed to show.

Giles coughed. "I do think you should take this seriously. Buffy had an

encounter with one of the staff whom according to Willow you made a rather

adverse impression on yesterday. This new teacher, Mr Doyle..."

"Yeah, he could be a demon, yadda yadda yadda. I've heard it. I don't believe

it. He's too short."

The librarian sighed, took off his glasses and pinched his nose in that way he

had when he was getting peeved. "I hardly think his height has any bearing on

whether or not he is demonic in origin, Cordelia. And some new evidence has come

to light since Willow spoke to you."

"Well, 'evidence' could be a misleading term," Xander chipped in cheekily,

albeit in a subdued mutter. "More like a, um, smell."

"A smell?" She looked around the group in disbelief.

Buffy looked embarrassed. She hesitated, looking apprehensive, before finally

admitting, in a muted voice, "He doesn't smell human."

"What?"

"I said he doesn't smell human!" Buffy snapped. "And don't you start as well,

I've heard it all from them." She glowered at the other three, and Cordelia

enjoyed a private moment of pleasure at the thought of dissent among the group.

"I was in class with him earlier - which I did not expect and I swear I almost

died when he walked through the door, after last night - and I had to walk way

too close to him to leave the room. And I... smelled him. And it was like

instant warning sirens screaming 'not human!'"

"Is this a 'slayer senses tingling' thing?" Cordelia asked sarcastically.

"Because, you know, I wasn't aware you did smells."

"You don't believe me?"

"No! Yeah, he smells weird, I'll grant you that. But no, I don't think it

follows that he's a big evil! Although his fashion sense may well be demonic.

God! How many times do I have to repeat myself on this?"

Giles frowned. "You do seem uncommonly sure of this, Cordelia. How can you be

certain it isn't because something is affecting your judgement? Some sort of

spell, or demonic mesmer?"

Xander muttered something about hormones and Giles gave him a withering glance.

"Do speak up, if you have anything relevant to add."

"I just said -" Xander's eyes flickered around nervously, avoiding Cordelia. "-

that it might not be supernatural. What if it's simpler than that? Maybe she

just has the hots for demon-guy and doesn't want to admit he might be..."

"Right, that's it." Cordelia stood up, knocking the chair over in her annoyance.

"I've had it with this. I now officially do not know any of you people. Get

that? I'm not listening any more. You keep your demons and your icky slayer

stuff to yourselves. And I... will attempt to get back to something resembling a

normal life."

She stalked out of the library. This time, Buffy didn't try to stop her.

 

 

 

 

-------

Chapter 4

She was still fuming when she got home. She unlocked the front door and yelled,

"Hello?" Found the house empty again. Knowing her parents, they could be

anywhere. She went to her room and started sorting through her clothes.

Cordelia had decided, driving home, that she was going out to the Bronze

tonight. She hadn't really been much since the accident. She'd generally been

too aware of what would be said, had known she wouldn't enjoy herself and hadn't

seen the point.

Now, there was a point. She was going to win back her popularity or die in the

attempt, she thought grimly as she tossed aside designer dresses that just

weren't up to the job.

As for the rest of her old friends, if they didn't want her around they would

just have to deal with it. Because they weren't going to chase her away.

Whatever they had to say about her, she would ignore. She would rebuild her

image until Xander Harris was nothing but a little insignificant speck in the

way distant past. Even if she had to listen to Harmony's bitching for a few

weeks, she was determined that eventually it would all be forgotten.

Whatever she might have done, she was still Cordelia Chase, she told herself

firmly. And none of them had ever been able to match her in anything. Harmony

could never reign queen for long. She hadn't the imagination. She would always

be a sheep by nature.

Cordelia finally picked out a slinky green dress and carefully slid into it,

anxiously smoothing down the material over the bandaging on her side to reassure

herself it didn't show. She admired the result in the mirror and nodded,

satisfied. The dress looked expensive, and flattering, and though it didn't show

the bandaging it showed a good deal else, and if it didn't knock 'em dead with

lust or envy, nothing would.

She pulled out a pair of new shoes she'd not yet had opportunity to wear and was

delighted to discover they complimented the dress perfectly.

She twirled around for the mirror, grinning. Feeling almost like her old self. A

feeling she'd not experienced in way too long.

It was going to be hard, cutting the ties to Buffy and her Scooby freaks. They

were too used to coming to her when they thought there was danger, to warn

her... or more often than not because they needed wheels. But this was it, she

promised herself. It would end, now.

She contemplated the photograph of herself and Xander and the others, which

still lay where she'd left it on the dressing table. She could hardly start

afresh with that lying around, she thought, irritably, and looked around the

room for the scissors.

But then the clock on the wall caught her eye and she yelped in panic, the

picture forgotten. There were only two hours to go until things started humming

over at the Bronze, and she hadn't even started work on her hair yet.

 

 

It was raining a rare, lazy drizzle as the last of the sunlight slowly vanished

on the horizon. Looking out from the small window of his rented room, Doyle

could just about see the thin strip of light that remained where earth met sky,

sandwiched in a gap a foot or so wide between two intervening rooftops.

The night seemed to fall quicker here in Sunnydale than it did in LA. He

wondered idly if it was the effect of the Hellmouth or merely psychological.

He left the window and glanced around the messy apartment. If it could even be

called an apartment. It was a single floor of a terraced house which was not

overly large to start with, and was basically one room with a bathroom and a

kitchen - both about the size of closets - leading off from it.

It was currently strewn with junk. Mostly consisting of his lesson plans for the

next few days, his research into the entire populace of Sunnydale High, and a

variety of articles on demons and mutilated corpses.

This was a lousy job. Both of them.

The paperwork alone was killing him. And with the bruises and the risk of actual

painful, brutal death on top of that, he wasn't feeling particularly happy about

the way all this was going.

Not to mention the stress of having to pretend to be respectable. He'd buried

himself in drink and the seedier parts of LA for the last four years. He didn't

consider himself in any way prepared for all of this.

Trust the Powers That Be to ignore that fact.

He walked back across to the battered, flickery-screened computer, a recent

back-of-the-lorry acquisition, and switched it off. Research time was over.

The sun had set. The nasties would be out in force... and along with them one

very dangerous demon, a slayer, and a certain vampire he still had to find.

Not that he had any real idea how to go about doing that. But if he went out and

walked around for a bit he'd at least feel like he'd tried to do his duty. And

maybe then the Powers would forgive him for settling down in a nice comfy pub

for a good few hours until closing time.

He threw some stakes into a bag. Wondered what he might have that was any good

against demons, and settled finally on a small knife. He didn't have much in the

way of weapons. Had always been a pretty firm believer in talking a way out of

trouble - excepting, admittedly, the occasional bar fight.

He pulled on his leather jacket and slung the bag over his shoulder.

Took two steps towards the door.

...And fell to his knees on the floor as the sudden familiar pain slammed

through his skull.

A club. The Bronze. An alley, presumably nearby, dark and strewn with junk. A

woman's face, contorted in terror and agony. And something... something behind

her, in the dark. A whole lot of blood. And then darkness.

Doyle moaned and clutched at his head. To think he'd actually been worried about

how long it had been since the last time the Powers had seen fit to turn his

skull inside out....

Although the images had stopped assaulting his brain, it often took the pain

more than a little while to catch on and follow suit. Doyle staggered into the

kitchen where he found and swallowed some asprin from his generously-stocked

emergency hoard. He then leaned back dizzily against the fridge, trying to think

things over.

Difficult, when his brain felt like it'd been mushed.

The urgency finally kicked in.

What he'd seen, that was tonight. Maybe minutes away. Maybe now. That woman

could be dying while he delayed over his headache. He had to get over to the

Bronze fast as he could.

Cursing, he hurried unsteadily back into the living room, picked up his demon-

fighting supplies, and staggered out of the door.

 

 

The rain was heavier than it had looked from inside. Only a few minutes after

leaving the shelter of his apartment he was soaked to the skin and feeling even

less happy with the world.

The Bronze was not too far from his apartment - he'd checked on its location

earlier as he'd meant to stop by there anyway on his evening patrol. But he was

still a stranger to Sunnydale and on the unfamiliar streets the journey seemed

to take forever.

When he finally reached his destination, everything was quiet. Well, quiet

disregarding the lurid strains of some student band who were obviously torturing

a cat on stage. The sounds floated on the air on the edge of hearing, muffled,

shut in behind the doors of the club. He couldn't hear anything else.

He looked around, seeing a number of small streets branching off from this one

which, in the rain and the darkness, all looked pretty much the same and very

much like the scene of his vision. He cursed.

As he stood there thinking, a couple of younger students from one of his classes

walked past, heading for the club. They directed stares of blank incomprehension

back at him, obviously baffled by his presence so close to their popular haunt.

Obviously he was encroaching on the students' territory. He heard them burst

into giggliing laughter behind him.

Hesitantly, Doyle turned down one of the alleys. He walked along searching for

anything recognisable from his vision.

He hadn't gone more than about thirty yards when he heard a scream from close

by.

It stopped him in his tracks, and for a few seconds he hesitated, something he'd

regret later when he had a chance to think about it. He forced his feet to move

and headed at a run in the direction where he thought the scream had come from.

Back where he'd just been. Damn it, he'd come the wrong way. Okay, so there'd

been more than a few streets to choose from but sometimes it seemed if he was

given a choice of only two he'd be guaranteed to pick the wrong one every time.

The screaming changed to a weak sobbing. He could hear the sounds of a struggle.

He rounded the corner into the alley which was, infuriatingly enough, right next

to where he'd been standing minutes earlier.

A monstrous figure, cloaked by shadows, was towering over a woman who crouched

on hands and knees on the ground with blood staining the front of her white

dress.

The other victims, Doyle recalled from the autopsy reports on the corpses, had

been ripped open while still alive. It looked as though the creature... whatever

it was... had started the job but hadn't finished yet. The gash in the woman's

stomach looked serious, but he thought she'd live if she got medical attention

quickly.

And if the demon didn't get chance to finish. It reached for her again, big

claws glinting at the end of a shadowy, misshapen limb in the faint light.

"Hey!" Doyle yelled, barely thinking about what he was doing, utterly sickened

by the creature. "Leave her alone, you lousy bastard!" He scrabbled inside the

bag for the knife, hands closing only on useless sharpened wood. Gave up on the

knife and instead picked up a solid length of plank from the junk strewn on the

floor of the shabby alley. He ran at the demon, makeshift weapon raised over his

head, and brought it down in as heavy a whack as he could deliver across the

demon's midsection as it turned.

He would have aimed for its head, if he could have reached it. The thing was

about two feet taller than he was.

It growled and batted at the plank with a careless slap of one of its big hands.

The plank wrenched from Doyle's grasp and flew several feet through the air to

crash loudly against a wall.

Great. He'd done nothing but irritate it. How the hell was he supposed to kill

it?

Behind the demon, he could see the woman struggling to her feet. He prayed

silently that she'd have the strength left to make it. 'Run!' He thought at her

urgently, not daring to speak aloud and risk drawing the demon's attention back

to her. With her arms hugged around her cut stomach, she took several unsteady

steps and collapsed against the wall, barely keeping her footing.

Unhelpful thoughts flitted through his mind. If he'd got here a bit earlier, it

wouldn't have had time to harm the woman. If he'd found the slayer or Angel as

he was meant to, he wouldn't have to face the creature himself. This vision had

been meant for them, the warrior types, to provide them the means to stop the

creature. Doyle... didn't think it was possible for him to do so himself. He

simply wasn't strong enough.

It was his own incompetence in failing to find the slayer that had brought him

here, that meant this poor woman was probably going to die, and probably he was

too.

The injured woman was moving again, slowly and painfully. It was agonising to

watch.

Doyle backed away from the demon, keeping its attention on him. "You're not much

of a one for pickin' fair fights, are you?" he asked it, hearing his own voice

raw with fear and anger. "Women, kids... Lousy coward."

It lurched towards him and he backed away again. It slapped at him with one of

its long arms, its movements awkward and ungainly but all the same the move

batted him aside as though he weighed nothing. He hit the wall face-first and

felt his demon form sweep over him. Felt a rare acceptance of that extra

strength and agility it granted; it was needed to save someone's life, and he

couldn't let his hatred for his demon half stand in the way of that.

"Now you're really annoying me," he snarled - aware of the woman falling again,

and pulling herself bloodily back onto hands and knees - and threw himself at

the thing.

His own demon strength was greater than a normal human's, but all the same it

was rather drab in comparison with the majority of other demons including,

apparently, this one.

He tried to fight it, he genuinely did, throwing everything he had into the

effort. But this was meant to have been the slayer's fight and Allen Francis

Doyle never really stood a chance.

Its height and extra reach were the killers. He couldn't head-butt it, rendering

the spikes that were his demon form's primary weapon useless. And he couldn't

get close enough to it to do any damage without coming within reach of one of

those long, misshapen arms. He lost count of the number of times in quick

succession he was sent flying across the floor of the alley, or crashing into a

wall, by one of its infuriatingly casual, sweeping blows.

Then there finally came one time too many, and his consciousness cascaded down

into oblivion.

 

 

After several minutes of sitting listening to the rain drumming on the roof of

her parked car with a growing depression, Cordelia made her decision. She

snatched up her handbag from the passenger seat beside her, swung open the car

door, and made a dash for the Bronze.

Tripping in her heeled shoes, splashing thorugh the pooled rain on the ground,

she almost didn't hear the sounds coming from the narrow back street as she

passed by it.

It was a scuffing sound, like somebody was moving around down there, in the

dark.

She hesitated. There had been a time when she'd have continued right on past

without a thought, but those days were behind her. And she hadn't been hanging

around Buffy and all her associated evil for all that time without developing

her own measure of instinct for when something was amiss.

She slowly stepped backwards, retracing her footsteps to the mouth of the

alleyway, horribly aware of the rain soaking into her expensive dress.

There was a sweet, cloying smell on the air and she recognised it immediately as

blood. She looked down and was horrified to see it staining the water that

swirled down the slope of the ground, drawing patterns of red in rivulets around

her feet.

Cordelia moved her three hundred dollar shoes elsewhere. Her breath was coming

faster. Where was Buffy when you actually needed her?

She wondered if the noise she'd heard was whoever the blood belonged to, still

alive but hurt and in need of help. Or if they were already beyond any help, and

she'd heard whatever had put them there.

She reached into her handbag and gripped the stake which she still kept in the

bottom of it, underneath the hairspray and the cosmetics.

Once you knew certain things, it was impossible to go back to exactly the way

you were. She'd had no intention of becoming vampire food just to spite Buffy.

Aware that it was dangerous and she was getting soaked, but also increasingly

pissed off that something was now out there trying to scare her on top of all

the rest of the crap the last few weeks had heaped upon her, Cordelia walked

determinedly onwards, following the trail of blood back to its source.

In the darkness and the rain, visibility was poor, and by the time she saw the

figure hunched over a shapeless bundle on the ground she was already no more

than ten feet away. She blinked, her eyes slow to pick out detail in the dim

light.

Nothing could have prepared her for what she saw. The shapeless bundle...

wasn't. It was... it had been... a young woman, not much older than herself.

Something had torn her open, violently and messily. She'd seen gross before, but

this... David Cronenberg would have barfed.

The guy - the killer - leaned over the body, his hands on the wound and painted

with blood up to his elbows.

She had been standing there a few seconds staring at the back of his head when

he seemed to become aware of her presence for the first time and looked up.

The sparse light fell across his face, to reveal the familiar features of Mr.

Doyle.

 

 

Consciousness returned slowly, as though it wasn't sure why it bothered.

It was discomfort that dragged him back to the world, as he became gradually

aware of how cold and wet he was, of how much he hurt from absorbing blows so

violent they'd have killed him in human form, of the rough, hard concrete

surface he lay upon. Of the fact he was still a demon.

He changed back to human automatically the instant he realised, even though his

brain had barely started to tick over again. The reaction was ingrained. It

wasn't until a few seconds later that everything flooded back to him, and he

remembered the fight with the demon, and the woman he'd been trying to save.

He was on his feet almost instantly, despite the violent ache in his head and

the protests from his battered body.

What was left of the woman, he found some distance away, nearly at the other end

of the street. She'd almost made it, must have come so close to getting away.

But he hadn't distracted the demon for quite long enough.

Recalling what he'd tried to do, and how futile his attempts had been, he

reflected that it was a wonder he was still alive.

A pity she hadn't been so lucky.

His heart heavy, he knelt down beside the dead woman and forced himself to

examine the wound carefully. It couldn't hurt her now, and it could help prevent

the next killing if he found out more about whatever the creature was. He hadn't

got a real good look at the thing in the dark, but he'd seen enough to be pretty

sure he'd never come across anything like it before. He felt sick, remembering

those huge clawed hands as he examined the tears they'd made in human flesh.

This could have been avoided, he thought, staring at the woman's dead face. If

only he hadn't delayed in LA. If only he'd found the slayer as he was supposed

to. If only he hadn't spent so much time sunk in his own depression and pining

for a drink instead of working at his mission. Or worrying about his petty

lesson plans and hang-ups about returning to teaching.

He'd as good as killed her himself.

It was on that thought he finally realised there was someone or something behind

him. He could hear breathing, underneath the sound of the rain. For an instant

an almost overwhelming fear flooded through him, that the demon had returned to

finish him off. He spun around, feeling his demon form surface unbidden in

response to his fear before he could hold it in check.

He found himself staring up into the appalled, terrified face of Cordelia Chase.

 

 

One moment it was Mr. Doyle there, then the next... a thing was glaring back at

her, all ugly pointy spikes and glowy red eyes.

Cordelia could do nothing but stand there with her mouth hanging open while her

brain absorbed the implications that Buffy, damn her, had been right.

She watched as the creature shook itself and its form melted back into that of

Mr. Doyle.

That was when her reactions kicked in. She screamed, threw the stake at him - it

bounced ineffectively off his shoulder - and turned and ran.

She heard him shout after her, but she didn't hear what he said. She kept

running, skidding on the damp pavement in her new shoes, feeling the stitches in

her side pulling more agonisingly with every single step.

 

 

As she fell through the library doors, exhausted, drenched and feeling

unfashionably bedraggled, the anger started to kick in. She was back here again,

after all she'd said, all her resolve, all her plans for rebuilding her life.

And after she'd insisted oh-so vehemently that of course Mr. Doyle wasn't a

monster.

Giles, Buffy, Xander and Willow were all there, obviously. It wasn't humiliating

enough that she should have to admit she'd been wrong to just one or two of

them. No, the whole gang had to be present.

"He's a demon!" Cordelia snapped, getting it over and done with. It didn't come

out quite right because she was breathless from running all the way from the

Bronze, and she had to repeat it. "A demon! All right? A nasty, spikey, glowy-

eyed ugly demon! You were right. And... I need to sit down."

She slid bonelessly into a chair. Her hand pressed to the wound in her side,

which was hurting like anything for all she couldn't actually see any blood

soaking through her dress (and thank God for that, the stains were impossible to

get out and she'd ruined enough designer garments through blood and gore the

past few years). But she thought she'd felt a few stitches pull... again.

The others regarded her with concern and mild confusion. Willow was sitting at

the computer, the other three stood around her as though they'd been reading

over her shoulder. "You're referring to Mr. Doyle?" Giles asked. "What

happened?"

Cordelia shook her head and spent several minutes just trying to breathe

normally again. Xander handed her a glass of water and she drank it down without

comment. Then, she hesitantly explained what had happened.

"So as if finding him leaning over the corpse covered in her blood isn't enough

of a shock," she rounded off, "He then looks up at me and suddenly his face goes

all ‘bleh!' and he's this horrible, ugly thing! And I totally ruined my shoes

running all the way here. Look at them!" She regarded them herself, mournfully.

They looked very sad indeed in the electric lighting of the library. "They were

new!"

Nobody seemed especially sympathetic to her shoes' pain. Cordelia sighed. She

felt all torn up inside. Somehow it hurt that Mr. Doyle turned out to be evil,

and it wasn't just because she'd spoken up for him and he'd shown her up by

proving her wrong.

She couldn't explain it. Except... She looked around at the others. "He was,

like, the only person that was nice to me, today in school," she said quietly.

"The only one. Not because he felt obliged to be, but just because. And he's an

ugly, disgusting demon. What does that say about m...?" She realised she was

dangerously close to starting sobbing openly and dredged up her annoyance again.

"So what are you doing hiding in here anyway?" she snapped. "I thought you were

supposed to be out fighting the forces of evil. Maybe if you had been doing your

job that woman would still be alive!" She glared pointedly at Buffy.

"Um. I hardly think that's fair, Cordelia." Giles was annoyed. "We've dug up

some interesting information since you left. It's all valuable..."

"No, she's right," Buffy said, sounding strained, causing Cordelia a little stab

of guilt because she hadn't intended to be quite that harsh. "I should have been

there. I'm gonna go see if I can find this thing before it can kill anyone else.

What's this guy's address?"

Willow read her it off the computer; she must have the school records on there

or something.

Buffy wrote it down. "Right. I'll check that out if I can't track him from where

Cordy saw him." She quizzed Cordelia on the location again.

Then she left, taking with her a whole lot of weapons, and also Xander and

Willow tagging along in the rear like the useless baggage they mostly were.

'That was me, once,' Cordelia thought, watching them go. "So, Giles," she said,

in subdued tones. "What do we do?"

The Watcher cleared his throat uncomfortably. They'd never got along incredibly

well. There'd never been anything for them to connect over, they were so

different. But he was a decent guy. And unlike Buffy and Xander and Willow, he'd

never really done anything to seriously annoy her. "Well, you could help me find

out what it is we're dealing with," he said. "The demon you saw, that this Mr.

Doyle really is, must be listed in one of these books somewhere."

Book work. Cordelia sighed. "So what was it your research drug up that was so

fascinating?" she asked, in afterthought.

"A little matter about Mr. Doyle's teaching credentials."

"You mean they aren't real? Duh! Well, what do you expect - when did demons ever

go to teacher training college?"

Giles sighed. "They're real enough. If you happened to be in the third grade.

Which is what the real Allen Francis Doyle taught, up till about six years ago,

around which time he seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth."

"Gee," Cordelia said, softly. "I wonder what happened to him."

 

 

 

-------

Chapter 5

The rain had washed the blood from Doyle's hands, at least physically if not

metaphorically. But it had stopped now, leaving the air feeling still and heavy.

The night was oppressive around him.

He'd called the police about the corpse, after Cordelia Chase had stumbled

across him and run away, as soon as he'd recovered enough to stagger to a phone.

He'd kept the call anonymous this time. He could imagine what conclusions the

police might reach if he tried to tell them he'd innocently stumbled across two

dead bodies in as many days. He imagined they were already digging into his

background, sifting through the lies he'd told to gain employment at Sunnydale

High... he wasn't very optimistic of his chances he'd be keeping that job much

longer. Not that he particularly cared; it would be a relief to have done with

it.

Since making the call, he'd been walking aimlessly through the streets of

Sunnydale, sunk deep in depressed thoughts.

He wasn't really afraid of what Cordelia might do with the knowledge he was a

demon. Who could she tell, after all, that would believe it? The police might be

after him if she or anybody else simply placed him at the scene, but as far as

his demon side went... people didn't believe in things like that. And in

Sunnydale, where the supernatural was stronger than in most places, denial

permeated the air.

But he couldn't get the image of her frightened, heartbreakingly lovely face out

of his head. He'd scared her, and he felt awful about it. There was nothing he

could do to make it right, either. He couldn't apologise to her for being a

demon. She'd never be able to look at him again now with anything but fear.

He'd hoped, slim as his chances had been, for something different. Now, his

chances were worse than zero.

Despite his aches from his encounter with the creature, he felt too restless to

go home. So he just walked, not looking for anything any longer.

But he found it nonetheless, suddenly there in front of him.

The small rickety bar, hidden down the back of some crumbling housing in the bad

part of town, greeted him as he turned a corner. The smell hit him first; the

scent of the unhuman. Doyle stared at the patched up doorway and battered sign

in disbelief.

In every big city there tended to be some place, some sort of joint where the

demons gathered. And, okay, Sunnydale was no city but it was on the Hellmouth,

and he'd known there would be a place like this somewhere.

It was past time for him to have a bit of luck, he thought, approaching the

door. Here, he might just find the information he needed.

He pushed open the door onto a dimly lit little room. The bar didn't exactly

have a bustling clientele, just clumps of figures hanging around the darker

corners. He couldn't make out faces in the gloom but the shapes of their shadows

weren't entirely human. A slumped figure on a stool at the counter had two small

protuberances pointing up from the top of his head.

This was the place, all right.

Doyle approached the counter. A weasel-faced guy with shifty eyes stopped

washing glasses and turned to serve him. Unexpectedly, the guy was human.

"What'll it be?" There was surprise in his face as he studied Doyle in return.

"We don't get many humans..." He hesitated, comprehension dawning. Leaned

forward and said, his voice low, "You might want to think twice about hanging

around in here. Some of these guys, they can get a bit rough after a few

beverages. And, y'know, hybrids ain't exactly popular with all. No offence."

"Yeah, yeah, I know," Doyle said. He dug into a pocket and unrolled a small wad

of notes. Peeled a few off and placed them on the counter. "Give me a shot of

that scotch there and a few answers and I'm outta here, no trouble."

The guy looked nervous, although that could have just been his natural

expression, but he fetched the bottle from the back. "What do you want to know?"

he asked, pouring a rather generous shot due to a slight shaking of his hands.

"Angel," Doyle said, snatching up the glass and downing the contents gratefully.

"Vampire. You know of him?"

"Yeah." Hesitantly. "Hey, you don't want to mess with that crowd. He hangs with

a slayer, you know. Though not of late. Haven't seen him around so much these

last few weeks. Word is the girl shucked him off and he's lying low, keeping to

himself like. You wouldn't want to cross a depressed vampire."

Doyle pushed the glass back at the guy along with another handful of bills. The

guy poured again. And continued, with a sigh. "Last I heard, he was back at the

old place. Big grand mansion, decor like a crypt, over across town." He related

an address, which Doyle scribbled down after a brief search for a pen.

"Thanks, man," he said, downing the second scotch.

The weasel-faced guy gripped his arm as he turned to leave. "Wait," he said.

"You don't want to do this. I don't know what interest you've got in Angel, but

take my word for it, he's trouble. People have a tendency to drop like flies

around that crowd. And you, you're okay, man. Most people round here, they're

much less sociable about asking for information. I wouldn't want to see you come

to any harm."

Doyle managed a smile, despite the nerves the warning generated in him. "No

problem," he said. "I'm not lookin' for trouble. I've a message to deliver, is

all."

He turned to go, and that was when the doors burst open with a loud crack of

shattering wood. A slim, decidedly female figure stood, braced in the doorway in

silhouette. The reaction from the occupants of the bar was instantaneous and

extreme.

Doyle had never seen any place cleared so fast as in the mass exodus via the

back door which he now witnessed. He noticed some of those running for the hills

were no small fry in the demon world themselves, and wondered what fearsome

being could possibly strike such terror into creatures such as they.

And then he realised he was still standing rooted to the floor only feet away

from whatever that being was.

His eyes, adjusted to the dim light, managed to pick out blond hair, a few

facial details. It was enough. He knew who it was.

Buffy Summers.

His heart felt like it had stopped.

"Hell! Get out of here, man! It's the slayer!" the bar man yelled, ducking

behind the counter.

The slayer.

Buffy was the slayer. Not a demon. Not, after all, a demon.

'Thank God for that', Doyle thought. The tension drained from his body and left

him feeling weak with relief. Finally, he knew. He could do the job he'd been

sent to do.

He stepped forward and opened his mouth to speak, expecting to have to make a

few pretty comprehensive explanations.

He was totally unprepared for what happened next.

The vicious kick caught him in the chest and there was a hell of a strength

behind it. It sent him flying backwards, unable to catch his balance. His back

hit the counter with crushing force and he slid to the floor in a boneless

sprawl, trying desperately to catch a breath while his lungs refused to obey

him.

Incredulous, he stared up at Buffy, utterly confused, unable to fathom what he'd

done to provoke such a reaction.

As she took a few steps further inside the bar room, two others fell into step

at her side. One of them was the dark haired youth, something Harris, who'd been

sitting next to her in class earlier that day. The other was Willow Rosenberg.

'Well, that explains a few things.'

Buffy faced the barman accusingly, although Doyle noticed how her eyes flickered

constantly back to himself with a warrior's alertness. "Harbouring murderers

now, are we, Willy?" she asked, the threat in her voice unmistakeable.

Murderers... God, she'd come to the same wrong conclusion about him as he had

about her.

'Sure, nobody would believe Cordelia Chase,' he thought, reminding himself

bitterly of his earlier complacency, furious with himself for his carelessness

and stupidity. 'Unless, of course, she happened to know a slayer.'

Doyle rolled over onto hands and knees, trying to get up, to look her in the

eye, to explain. To somehow convince her that it was all a mistake. But he

couldn't get any words out. He hadn't the breath. And when she saw him move she

took two quick strides and stomped on his back, crushing him brutally to the

floor.

Which didn't help his attempts to breathe any.

"Jeeze, Buffy, lay off!" the bar guy, Willy, protested. "You let worse scoot out

the back. He's just some kind of halfbreed... Murder?" Doyle couldn't see them

from his uncomfortable position - his face was full of floor and Buffy's foot

planted solidly between his shoulders wouldn't allow him to turn his head - but

he could sense the guy's sudden nervousness, his doubt. It hung on the air. "You

mean all those mutilations? Damn... I would never have thought..."

"It wasn't me!" Doyle managed to choke out. It sounded appallingly lame, to his

ears; the automatic protest of all the guilty. "This is a mistake!" He managed

to get one arm wedged between him and the floor and used the leverage to try to

get up again, or at least try turn around to face them so he wasn't talking to

the beer-stained, smelly floorboards. The pressure on his back lifted for a

moment... before slamming down again. Doyle yelled in pain, and felt his form

change automatically.

Buffy fell back in surprise at the transformation, which allowed him to roll

aside out of her way. He staggered unsteadily to his feet, clinging to the

counter for balance. He looked at Buffy. She looked back at him. She hadn't

encountered a Brachen demon before, evidently. A pity, because though they

looked fearsome enough, Brachen's weren't really much so far as demons went. And

right now, she only had the looks to go on.

Rosenberg and Harris, behind her, seemed equally apprehensive.

"Spiky demon," Buffy said, her tone flat. But her composure had returned almost

instantly. "That's new."

Then she shrugged, and smiled, and plucked a knife out of her shoulder bag.

 

 

"No, no, no!" Cordelia sighed in frustration and threw another book aside onto

the growing reject pile, earning herself a disapproving glower from Giles. "It

wasn't like any of these you keep showing me! It was... shorter! And less yucky,

at least so far as demons go. No slime!"

She started picking up books at random and flicking through them, ignoring the

pages Giles had marked for her attention with little scraps of neatly torn

paper. Giles was obviously a good deal less than happy as she started whisking

through the pages and throwing the books aside. But she was fuelled by her

feelings of anger and betrayal, which all twisted up inside her in a knot she

didn't entirely understand, and she ignored the watcher.

And it wasn't long before a picture caught her eye. "Hey! I knew those ones you

marked were no good. See?" She leaned across the table and thrust the book under

his nose. "That one. That's it!"

"Cordelia..." The librarian had that weary, impatient air about him which she

knew meant he wasn't taking her seriously. He regarded the picture stonily and

opened his mouth to say something probably not too complimentary. Then he

hesitated, his irritation dispersing. "Are you sure?"

"Yes! Blue spikes, greeny skin, glowy red eyes - boy, yes! That's exactly it!"

But Giles didn't look happy at having put a name to their demon, though. In

fact, he looked positively disturbed. "Cordelia, that's just a Brachen. As

demons go, they're relatively harmless, fairly benign. They certainly don't kill

people to steal their internal organs. And furthermore, their species cannot as

a rule take human form." He frowned at the picture, his forehead creasing with

worry.

"Well, newsflash! This one can!"

Giles apparently didn't consider that merited an answer. He was preoccupied,

muttering under his breath, thinking almost-aloud in that annoying way he had.

"I suppose he could be some sort of hybrid," he said finally. "It's been known.

I seem to recall Brachens are particularly known for it... But that still

wouldn't explain the other business, the killing..." He stood up, closing the

book with a decisive thud. "Something's not right here. This is not the demon

that could have killed those people. We have to find Buffy, and tell her, before

anything happens we'd regret..."

Cordelia stared at him, convinced he'd gone nuts. They were talking demons here,

after all. "Huh? Like what? Buffy slays the wrong demon? So big deal! They're

all demons, right? And demons are bad! She's supposed to slay them! She's a

slayer!"

"Not all demons are necessarily evil. As I said, Brachens are really quite

benign. Curious to find one around here. I shouldn't think they'd venture

anywhere near a Hellmouth, normally, which would be why we haven't seen any

before despite the fact they're quite numerous. The Hellmouth draws far too many

stronger demonic forces..."

Cordelia barely heard anything beyond the first sentence, which her brain was

having trouble processing. "There are good demons?" she asked, in disbelief.

Giles squinted at her. She returned the look challengingly, then continued, a

fraction less certain, "...'Cause, you know, I kind of thought the definition of

demon was..."

Giles sighed. "Do stop being tiresome, Cordelia."

"I am not being tiresome!" she snapped. "Demons are evil! We've never been led

to believe any different, in nearly three years of general demon-related

ickiness. Wouldn't it have been a good idea to mention something like this

before?"

He blinked at her, then looked away. Uneasily, he fumbled for words. "Well,

being on the Hellmouth, which the, um, less unpleasant breeds would be likely to

avoid, it has never been an issue... Anyway," he said, suddenly testily. "As I

was trying to say, the issue is academic. Didn't you hear what I said? He could

be some sort of hybrid." At her blank look he explained, "That means he could be

half human, Cordelia."

"Half human? You mean a human and a demon, they... Euww! Yuck!" She thought

about it and felt a chill as she realised the implications. Human... She

remembered how Doyle had been nice to her, and looked at her in a way that had

made her feel good about herself again, even if only for a moment.

She stared at Giles in horror, and asked, in a small voice, "You mean I sicced

Buffy onto him and he might not be evil?"

 

 

They made it to the scene of the latest killing in record time - and on foot,

because it was quicker than taking Giles' car - only to find it alive with

flashing emergency lights and noisy people. There was no way they were going to

find Buffy or Mr. Doyle anywhere around there.

Cordelia's heart was racing and she felt sick. Had she made a mistake? Was the

only guy who'd been nice to her for weeks, demon or no, getting pounded into

little soggy pieces by Buffy because she'd jumped to conclusions?

Not that there hadn't been pretty big neon arrows pointing to said conclusions

in the form of his being a demon, and kneeling all covered in blood next to a

corpse but...

She'd never got anyone killed before. Well, not people, anyway. Things, sure.

She wondered how human you had to be to qualify as people.

They found her car where she'd left it outside the Bronze, and she drove them

slowly around the streets of Sunnydale, looking for any sign of Buffy, Doyle, or

the trouble which generally seemed to follow either.

They'd almost done a circuit of the area of the bad part of town which stretched

for the few streets immediately around the Bronze when they saw a figure

hurrying along, hesitating every so often to glance behind him in a way that was

definitely shifty.

Even if the shadowy figure hadn't had two distinct little horny points sticking

out of the top of his head.

"Demon!" Cordelia said. "A kind of scrawny one, though."

"It's one of Willy's regulars," Giles said. "I've seen him around. Stop the

car."

Cordelia pulled over next to the walking demon, who turned around, saw them, and

made as if to run for it. But Giles rolled down the window and snagged his arm.

"Buffy," he said, managing to dredge up a fair imitation of ‘threatening' from

somewhere within his librarian persona. Cordelia was impressed. "Where is she?"

"The slayer crashed Willy's. Again. Shouldn't you know, watcher?" The demon

pulled away and ran off before Giles could do anything to stop him. But he

didn't need to. They knew enough.

Cordelia rammed her foot down hard on the accelerator and kept it there

throughout several short streets and sharp corners, ignoring Giles' gibbering

pleas for mercy.

 

 

Buffy flicked the knife. It spun in the air and she caught it again by the

handle. "Well?" she said, challengingly, expectantly. "Don't you want to play?"

Doyle couldn't imagine anything less appealing. With some effort, he returned to

his human form, feeling the additional strength of the demon ebb away as he

shook off the spikes. It was no matter. He couldn't match a slayer as a demon

any more than he could as a human. His only chance of survival was to reason

with her. And it would be easier to reason with her if she wasn't seeing him as

a monster.

"You've got this all wrong," he said. "I'm no killer. I was just tryin' to save

that woman..."

"Yeah, right." Buffy looked unimpressed. "And you're gonna try tell me you're

not a demon, now, I suppose."

"Well, no, so my parentage may just be a little murky, I can't deny..." He

backed up a step too far and tripped over a loose floorboard. Flailed for a grip

on the counter in an attempt to maintain his balance, but his hands slipped in

somebody's spilled drink and he crashed to the floor, knocking over a chair.

Buffy was on him in a second, moving like lightning, setting the knife to his

throat. He felt the point draw blood unintentionally as he gulped in a

shuddering breath.

'Oh, this is even better than just plain gettin' myself killed - gettin' myself

killed by the gal I was sent here to help!' Doyle thought giddily, convinced he

was about to die. He closed his eyes. He didn't want to watch her as she killed

him.

But the knife didn't go in any further. In fact, it drew back a hair.

"All right," he heard Buffy's voice say slowly, sounding a little annoyed, a

little disturbed. "This one's not playing fair! They're supposed to fight back.

Ideas? - Wil, Xand?"

"Well, they don't usually try to explain themselves." That was Willow

Rosenberg's distinctive soft voice. "I think perhaps we should listen? That is,

if it's not a trick and he's not suddenly going to go all ‘grr-rr' and spiky on

us again. Which is possible..."

"And there's the vote from the society against cruelty to the forces of

darkness," quipped the irreverent, nervous voice of the Harris kid. "But for us

humans here - kill it! You remember, Buffy? Demons, bad!"

Doyle opened his eyes to glare at the youth. Possibly not the wisest of moves.

He felt Buffy's tension increase through the sharp metal edge she held against

his skin.

Buffy sighed and restrained her reflexes, studying Doyle's face intently while

she spoke to the boy. "You never liked Angel either," she said. "And he..."

Whatever she saw caused the knife to retreat a few inches. "I almost killed him,

too, when I first found out..."

"And that would have been a mistake?" Harris sniped, at the same instant the

door burst back on its abused hinges for a second time.

Cordelia Chase flew in like a small localised hurricane, pausing only the

briefest instant on the threshold to take in the situation. Doyle watched her

eyes widen at the sight of Buffy with the knife and to his astonishment she

flung herself between him and the slayer with a cry of alarm.

"It's a mistake!" she shrieked piercingly, facing off against an astonished

Buffy. "You can't kill him! He's not evil!"

It would have been impressively dramatic if she hadn't then added, in a very

small voice, "...I think."

 

 

 

 

-------

Chapter 6

Doyle sat nervously in the back of Cordelia's car, sandwiched between the

hostile Harris youth and a worryingly introspective slayer who had retained a

vice-like grip on his arm throughout the journey thus far.

After Cordelia's entrance - which was closely followed by that of an older guy,

evidently Buffy's watcher, who'd explained their reasons for not slaughtering

Doyle in more coherent detail - the group had made a rapid decision to relocate

somewhere more private. Turned out that Willy 'the snitch' was rather well known

in these parts for collecting and imparting information.

Although Doyle considered his situation vastly improved, there was no mistaking

that these people didn't trust him in the slightest. And he was pretty much

their prisoner, at least until he could convince them he was (quite literally)

on the side of the angels.

He couldn't deny the anger and embarrassment he felt at being treated like...

well, like a demon.

He was intensely aware of Cordelia Chase's nearness in the close confines of the

overloaded car. He could smell her hair. She'd washed it not long since, and the

clean, cosmetic scent flooded his not-quite-human senses.

She was driving, but she kept snatching glances at him in the mirror, her lips a

thin, worried line and her expression indefinable. After she had leaped in the

way of Buffy's knife (an act which had impressed him despite knowing the slayer

had at that point already made up her mind not to kill him) she'd turned around

and asked, in a small voice, "Are you all right?" Then the watcher had staggered

in and everyone had started talking before he had chance to tell her yeah, he'd

survive.

He couldn't figure her out. She'd seen him as a demon - not that she'd been too

fond of him even before that - and it must have been she who'd set the slayer

after him in the first place. So why had she then interrupted to save him with

such desperate drama? And why this concern?

When the watcher had told Buffy and the others about their research and how

Brachens were not generally dangerous demons, Buffy's response had been a

resounding "Huh?"

Doyle figured they didn't encounter much in the way of non-hostile demons living

on top of a hellmouth, and that made Cordelia's reaction all the more confusing.

His head ached furiously. In the past few days, he reflected, he'd been beat up

by a vampire, a demon and a slayer. Was this some sort of traditional Sunnydale

welcome? He'd had enough. This was a really lousy job. How did a guy go about

delivering a resignation to the Powers That Be?

Cordelia glanced back at him again and their eyes met in the mirror for an

instant before she dragged her gaze away back to the road.

Okay... so maybe there was the odd bright point.

The car pulled up outside the school. Oh, yeah, that was something else. The

English watcher guy, he was the school librarian. It was just typical of his

actions just lately, Doyle considered sourly, that he'd done thorough checks on

all the teachers at Sunnydale High but managed to overlook the non-teaching

staff. Looked like this little slayer group used the school library as their

base of operations, too. Doyle hadn't even got around to visiting the library

yet.

They piled out of the car, Buffy tugging Doyle along by her unyielding grip his

arm. "Come on, Mr. Demon." It was not spoken unkindly - more of a weary sigh -

but all the same the name cut.

"Half," he snapped, irritably. "I'm not a bloody demon. It's half demon, okay?

Half demon, yeah, but half human too."

She frowned, and opened her mouth to say something, then subsided upon receiving

a severe glance from her watcher. "Whatever," she muttered.

 

 

Cordelia could have done without the embarrassment of having flung herself

between Doyle and a Buffy who it turned out had already decided to talk before

she slayed. Let alone doing so in front of an audience of the entire gang.

She hadn't meant to be quite so dramatic, but she'd been so afraid of being too

late, and upon apparently arriving at the crucial moment, well...

Now, as they walked through the darkened corridors of the school to the library,

she found her eyes endlessly drawn back to the man... demon... whatever... who

she'd been so desperate to save. Her thoughts were in a confused jumble.

She couldn't account for her reactions back in the alley outside the Bronze or

in Willy the Snitch's bar. She didn't understand what had happened to her. She'd

been trying so hard to be the old Cordelia again; the person who didn't give a

damn. The world had seemed so much easier to live in back then. Selflessness

sucked, and only resulted in hideous, yucky puncture wounds that left ugly scars

and chafed when you tried to wear jeans.

So why had she gone down a dark, smelly alley, following a trail of blood, to

save a person who she'd known was probably dead already? And why had she faced

off Buffy to save a demon?

This was all Xander's fault. And Buffy's, too. Cordelia wasn't sure precisely

how, but she was certain that it was.

They reached the library and Giles fumbled at the side of the door for the light

switch. After a few seconds he flooded the room with bright artificial lighting.

"Nice place," Doyle commented with a hint of tired sarcasm. "So this is the

batcave itself. Slayer HQ."

Cordelia turned to him, poised to deliver a biting comment about Buffy and her

gang of losers, and stopped, with a sharp, appalled gasp.

She saw him clearly now for the first time that night, away from dingy bars and

dark streets, and the glaring lighting in the library mercilessly picked out

every bruise and scrape on his pale skin. A particularly nasty bruise darkened

the left side of his forehead, and there was blood in his hair above it and

blood on his neck from Buffy's knife.

God, this was her responsibility! She'd been the one to send Buffy after him.

She felt so small, knowing what she'd caused. She so much wanted to apologise.

But in the event she couldn't, not in front of all the others, and when she

opened her mouth all she could get out was the caustic observation, "Do you know

you've got a footprint on the back of your jacket?"

He cast a sour glance at Buffy, who wouldn't meet his eyes, and grumbled, "I

should imagine I've got a footprint on my back."

"Oh!" Cordelia exclaimed, upset. She wrung her hands and couldn't think of

anything to say.

Giles coughed pointedly, drawing their attention to him. "What's happened

already can't be helped," he said authoritatively. "We have more pressing

matters to deal with. We can't be sure yet that our suspicions aren't

justified." He frowned towards Doyle. "He is, after all, a demon..."

"Half-demon," Doyle insisted.

"...And even if he is one of the generally less hostile breeds and couldn't have

carried out the killings himself that doesn't mean he isn't in league with the

killer. We know he was connected with at least two of the murders, and it seems

a little unlikely he'd have stumbled on both by accident."

"As a point of fact, the first time was accidental," Doyle interrupted. "Are you

gonna give me a chance to talk here, or jus' decide whether or not I'm slayable

material without lettin' me get in a word of explanation?"

"What he said," Cordelia backed up, since she definitely owed him one. "Only

without the fakey accent."

"Hey..." Doyle started to protest, then evidently thought better of it.

"I think we should listen," Willow said nervously after a moment's uncomfortable

silence. "Since he should know whether he's evil or not, really..."

Slayer and watcher exchanged glances. Giles shrugged and inclined his head

amenably and Buffy said, "Go ahead." She finally relinquished her grip on

Doyle's arm, a little awkwardly, and stepped back a few paces, although she

continued to watch him like a hawk.

"Right." Doyle rubbed his arm and sauntered the few steps to the nearest table,

which he perched on the edge of with a ragged sigh. "Don't suppose you've got

anythin' to drink in this joint? I talk better after... never mind." He seemed

more than a little uncomfortable at being the object of all their attention. He

looked around them all, as though to examine them each individually. He

displayed no reaction in his expression, but all the same Cordelia had the

feeling he saw deeper into people than most.

"To begin with, I ain't any evil demon," he said finally. "So get that right

outta your skulls. I'm half human an' don't you forget it. In fact, I was sent

here to help you people. By the Powers That Be."

They stared at him blankly. He sighed and continued. "The higher powers;

whatever you want to call them, it doesn't matter in this instance. Only that

they're there, and they're runnin' the show." Cordelia listened with growing

incredulity as his explanation unfolded. So this guy was, like, some kind of

cosmic messenger...? She'd have expected taller, personally. "Anyway, I get

these visions - of people in danger, of trouble that's gonna happen. And, prior

warnin' of danger bein' a pretty useful thing for a slayer to have, I was...

instructed, if you like, to come here and lend a hand. Also, and in fact

primarily, to help this elusive Angel guy, who rumour has it you're fairly

friendly with?" He addressed this last part to Buffy alone.

"Willy said you'd been asking questions about Angel," she said, harshly.

Cordelia winced. She could have told Doyle not to bring up that subject with

Buffy. Angel was a major sore spot at the moment. "What's your business with

him?"

"Well, the Powers, they've got plans for him, too," Doyle said, sounding

surprised. "There's big things to come, an' all that. Your boy Angel could be a

pretty powerful force for good in this world if things go right, y'know?"

Xander made a snide comment under his breath, and Cordelia shot him a black

look. She knew Xander didn't like Angel, but at the moment she was much more

amenable towards Mr Cuddly Vampire than to Idiot Boy Harris, whether he had a

major killing spree in his recent past or not. Plus she wanted to hear what

Doyle had to say.

"'Course," Doyle continued, "I was hardly expectin' to have all this trouble

over the demonic killings complicatin' my task all the more. That dead woman,

the other night, I happened across by pure chance. Then this evenin' I got hit

with a vision of the next victim. Went out because I thought I might try to stop

it from happenin' - big mistake." He absently put a hand to his bruised and cut

forehead, exploring the wound with his fingers, and winced.

Cordelia was somewhat relieved at the implication that not all the damage was

her fault.

"I reckon the only reason I'm still alive right now is because I'm not human

enough for this creature to cannibalise." You could tell that really stung him,

too, Cordelia was surprised to note - even though it had saved his life.

"Okay," Buffy said. She sounded sceptical and concerned all at once. And

concerned she should be, facing the possibility that she'd beat the crap out of

one of the good guys, Cordelia thought tritely. "All this stuff about Powers

That Be aside for the moment, why didn't you just come to us? Why all the

skulking around?"

Doyle shifted uncomfortably. "Well, these visions I get, as well as hurtin' like

the very devil, they ain't too specific. An' I'm supposed to be findin' Angel

really - I know what he looks like, an' a few things about his recent activities

which give a guy pause for thought. But I haven't seen him around any, for all

I've been lookin'. Guess that's maybe somethin' to do with the business between

the two of you. When a vampire wants to hide I suppose he really knows how." He

shrugged and managed half a smile. "I didn't have any names or faces, other than

his. I looked... I thought I'd found. I was pretty sure you were the slayer. But

then, with the killings... well I... I had to consider another possibility. I

have to admit, for a while I wasn't certain you weren't the demon yourself."

Buffy gawped and Cordelia found herself grinning at the turnabout.

"Well, your permanent record makes pretty demonic reading," Doyle added. "And

you were at the crime scene too, that night."

"I... M-me... demon...? Giles!" Buffy spluttered, clearly aggrieved.

But Giles was nodding slowly. "A slayer is hardly a normal human, Buffy, really.

He probably sensed that. I've heard Brachen demons do have an instinct for the

magical and supernatural...?" He glanced at Doyle, academic interest alive in

his eyes, and received a reluctant nod in confirmation. "It isn't an

unreasonable assumption, all things considered."

"Hunh!" Buffy whined. And changed the subject. "So, Doyle, these Powers That Be

you claim sent you - why didn't they give us any warning you were coming? I mean

how hard is it to just drop us a note - 'Hi, guys, demonic messenger on the way,

don't kill him' would do." Doyle let out a short bark of laughter at that. "And

why make your visions so vague in the first place? Its almost as if they wanted

us to half kill each other!"

"Yeah, and why do they feel we need more demons here anyway?" Xander added.

Doyle ignored him. "Maybe they did want things to happen this way. Maybe they

wanted to make a point. Who knows? Man, they're the higher powers! I'm just a

messenger, I don't claim to understand how they tick." He paused and looked

around at them all, rather confrontationally. "Now have you decided whether you

wanna believe me or stake me, 'cause if you're not gonna kill me I'm after goin'

to find somethin' to drink. Not to mention some aspirin. So make up your minds."

He rubbed his head pointedly.

"Nobody's killing anyone," Cordelia snapped, glowering around the group

fiercely. But they all seemed to have reached the same conclusion themselves

without her needing to bust any eardrums over it.

"You got that right," Buffy said shakily. "No slayage." She cast Doyle a

somewhat besieged look but didn't say anything, although it looked for a moment

as though she intended to. Cordelia thought she was probably still having

trouble absorbing the concept of nice friendly demons. It had to screw with your

head a bit when you'd been intent on the slaying of all demons as evil for the

last few years. What if there had been a couple in there that weren't evil? In

the middle of a fight you didn't exactly listen to explanations from monsters.

Yeah, Buffy was probably feeling pretty unsteady right now. And there had to

still be at least a spark of distrust there, too.

Giles nodded slowly. "I believe you're sincere. Although the idea that you were

actually sent by... other forces is, admittedly, a little hard to take in. It

makes me suspect I'm lucky to only have to answer to the Watchers' Council."

"Man, you are so right." Doyle rolled his eyes.

"There should be some aspirin around here somewhere," Cordelia said, eager to

try make amends. She looked around for the emergency box.

Giles cleared his throat awkwardly and volunteered, much to everyone's

astonishment, "I have some scotch. I'll get it. And, um, Doyle, you had better

tell us about this creature... you say you actually encountered it?"

Doyle nodded. He hopped off his perch on the table to join the watcher as he

produced a bottle from a desk drawer. He clapped a grateful hand to Giles'

shoulder and mumbled a muted, "Thanks, man," as he took the bottle, pulled off

the lid and tossed back a good quarter of the contents in one go.

"That's good stuff," he said, looking at Giles with a new respect. "Anyway, this

creature..."

Giles kicked into gear with his librarian-man act and started spouting off demon

lore or whatever. Doyle, at least, seemed to have no trouble following it,

although everyone else was left way behind.

Everyone else was still digesting the news Giles had alcohol on the premises.

Willow and Buffy looked stunned. Cordelia kept her mouth firmly shut, determined

not to look as though she was catching flies, and concentrated on rooting

through the first aid kit for the aspirin.

Giles caught sight of the expressions and sighed and scowled and generally

looked as though he was wishing he'd never shared the information.

"Aspirin!" Cordelia said brightly, snatching up the container. Mission

successful! She fished a couple of tablets from it and handed them to Doyle, who

washed them down with another gulp of the scotch.

Feeling pleasantly as though she'd made up for her earlier mistakes by now, she

smiled around at everyone brightly, challengingly.

She'd been right, damn it. Doyle wasn't evil. She should have trusted her first

impression and not let herself be affected by their doubt.

It was only then that she realised what she'd let them do to her yet again. So

much for her intentions to cut clear of their stupid monster club operation.

Here she was, back in with the group. Xander. Willow. Buffy. Whom she hated.

She decided, determinedly, that she was going to walk out of the door now, and

not come back. But her feet wouldn't move, seeming glued firmly to the floor.

She stared around the group, her gaze settling finally on Doyle.

Why couldn't she leave?

 

 

Doyle was relieved that the situation seemed to have improved. Okay, so the

slayer and her people were still tip-toeing around him as though he was about to

sprout horns - spikes? - and start breathing fire, and they kept casting

distrustful, guilty glances in his direction... but at least they'd stopped

discussing the option of putting an end to his sorry life.

Cordelia's efforts to back him up seemed a definite plus; she'd made it

bewilderingly clear that she was on his side ever since she'd burst through the

door of the bar. He appreciated it, even though he wasn't at all sure what was

going on there. And the Watcher, Rupert Giles, seemed a decent sort. Certainly

he kept a decent whisky, which in Doyle's book was much the same thing.

The rest of them... well, he felt a little lost in the midst of all that youth

and energy. He had to remind himself he wasn't all that old; he just sometimes

felt it.

The set-up here mystified him. Buffy was the slayer and okay, tough deal for a

girl so young, but Slayers were built for tough... the others, Willow and

Xander, and Cordelia too, they were little more than kids. Kids fighting evil

forces that would send him running any day of the week. He felt all the more

ashamed of his past cowardice in the face of that.

Buffy was a spry little thing, that was for sure. He winced at the memory of the

strength behind that kick. He was glad they weren't going to be enemies - but he

wasn't sure yet if, after what had happened and almost happened, they could ever

be friends.

Not that he blamed her; they'd each been blinded by their suspicions of the

other. Their roles could have been reversed - okay, only in some other reality

where he was built like Arnold Schwartznegger, but in theory anyway. And she

wasn't a senseless killer. He hadn't failed to notice she'd stopped before

Cordelia's dramatic entrance, though she'd had precious little to go on in

taking him on trust.

He pulled his attention back to Giles as he became aware the guy had asked him

something a couple of times. "Huh? Sorry, man. Bit distracted." Perhaps he

shouldn't have drunk down quite so much of the scotch quite so quickly after

all.

"This one?" Giles held a book open at an illustration drawn in a brownish-red

substance which looked like some form of demon blood. Doyle had been describing

the creature he'd seen to the watcher in as much detail as he could, given that

his recollections were mainly of big teeth and unreasonably large claws and a

general impression of immense size. But he must have described it better than

he'd thought, or else Giles was very good at his job, or both, because now he

was looking at the creature again.

Doyle swallowed, remembering the encounter, and shuddered slightly,

involuntarily, as he said, "Yeah, that's it. That's it exactly."

"What?" Buffy demanded, all aggressive excitement. "What is it?"

Giles squinted at small, over-dramatic handwriting in some language Doyle didn't

recognise. "Greltock demon," he said.

"Gee, that explains everything."

The watcher coughed and continued. "Although technically it isn't actually a

demon. It's a product of malign magic, a creation of some particularly dark

spellcasting."

Well, that would explain why Doyle hadn't had a clue what it was. He was

unfortunately quite familiar - firsthand, no less - with the majority of common

demon types that populated the underbelly of the human world. This thing was

something entirely different...

"So someone created this?" Buffy asked. She paused, and re-thought, and re-

phrased. "A person... a human created this."

Giles fumbled for a moment, then nodded wordlessly.

"But why?" Cordelia demanded, piping up suddenly from the sullen quiet she'd

fallen into for much of the last half hour. "Aren't there enough one-hundred-

percent naturally grown demons in Sunnydale? Why the necessity to make your

own?!"

"Designer demons?" Xander suggested.

"Hmm, actually not an inaccurate assessment." Giles frowned at Xander. He

seemed, Doyle had noticed, to have a special disapproving expression he reserved

almost exclusively for the youth. "Though, as always, you mask your insight in

ridiculously flippant terminology. These creatures are often created with

particular purposes and tasks to perform. Usually unpleasant. And they are under

the total control of whomsoever created them."

"So someone's having this not-demon collect body parts?" Willow asked, appalled.

"Or, um, body organs rather? Someone human? Yuck! Why would someone do that?

What's the point? And again, yuck!"

"More to the point, who are they, where are they, and how do we deal with them?"

Buffy said. "Especially if they're human. I can't kill a human!"

"I'm sensin' some double standards here," Doyle pointed out, a mite irritably.

"No, she's right, she can't," Giles said, equally irritably.

Doyle had barely begun to reply when the vision hit him and drove all thoughts

about anything else running screaming from his brain.

 

 

 

 

-------

Chapter 7

When Doyle suddenly keeled over clutching his head, Cordelia's initial impulse

was panic, thinking it some sort of life-threatening delayed reaction. His head

injury certainly looked yucky enough.

But, watching him grind the heel of his hand into his forehead in what looked

like terrible agony and twitching and shuddering as though he were having some

sort of fit, she remembered those visions he'd mentioned.

Hurt like the very devil, he'd said.

Huh. No kidding.

It only lasted for a few seconds, but she could tell even that was more than too

much. She wondered what he'd done to deserve this, and it occurred to her that

in all his lengthy explanations about the Powers That Be and his own role

working for them, he'd never once mentioned why.

When he straightened, cautiously lowering his hands and raising his head to face

them all, he looked pale, shaky and ill. He'd started the cut on his head

bleeding again and red was painted over his hands.

So that's a vision, Cordelia thought. Didn't look like much fun for Doyle. Boy,

was she glad the Powers That Be hadn't chosen to bestow that particular gift

upon her. As gifts went, she'd rather have a new pair of shoes, thanks.

"Are you okay?" she blurted, without thinking. She heard the concern ring out in

her voice and uneasily registered the curious glances she received from the

others. She added quickly, "'Cause, you know, you look like hell."

She regretted it instantly when she saw the puzzled, hurt look enter his eyes at

her sharpness. God, she was really getting good at hurting this guy.

He blinked at her, obviously able to think of no reply. By the time she'd

scraped together the courage to voice an apology in spite of all those present,

he'd turned to Giles.

"Bottle?" he rasped, almost a plea. Giles handed it over wordlessly. Awkardly,

his hands shaking, Doyle poured a good deal more of the contents down his

throat.

He sure could absorb the booze, she observed critically. Like he'd had a whole

lot of practice.

"That was one of those vision things, right?" Buffy asked. "So... spill. What

did you see?"

Doyle lowered the bottle, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand... then

changed his mind and took another long draw before he answered. "It's gonna kill

again, people. I just got it fed direct to my brain in glorious Technicolor and

state of the art surround sound." He looked sickened. He glanced around the

others. "In front of the school, not far from the main entrance. We gotta go...

there's a girl, just a kid..."

"Right." Buffy was already on her way to the weapons' cabinet. "Giles, does it

say anything about the best way to kill these Greltock things?"

The watcher coughed uncomfortably, and ventured, in flustered tones, "I believe

your usual term is 'slice and dice', but I doubt it's going to be so simple or

easy as that makes it sound. From what I've read, these creatures can be

extremely large and vicious."

"You can believe that," Doyle said heavily. "Might take more than even you got,

slayer."

"Okay. Back-up, then." Buffy was unfazed. "Doyle? You've fought this thing

before..." she looked to him expectantly.

Doyle spluttered and choked on another mouthful of whisky and, after a brief

furtive look around the group, belatedly discovered a backbone and nodded

slowly. Cordelia didn't miss his quick glance in her direction, presumably to

see if she'd noticed his hesitation. She pretended to be engrossed in the

pattern of tiles on the floor, faintly disturbed by the idea of Doyle being

dragged off to face the creature again.

"Guys," Buffy began, turning to the rest of them.

"Sure," Xander chirped up instantly, before she could finish, eager to play Mr

White Knight Protector as usual. Cordelia glared daggers at him.

Buffy looked dubious, then reluctantly acceptant, "Okay, Xand, you're with me

and, um, Doyle here. The rest of you... I guess you better start looking for

some magical solution to this thing, if it's as mean as all that, just in case.

We'll go do what we can to stop it picking up another order from the Sunnydale

High menu."

Giles nodded. "We'll join you as soon as we find anything to help. Willow, we'll

need..." He started rattling off titles as Willow went to a shelf and started

pulling down the big old smelly volumes.

Buffy was handing out weapons to Xander and Doyle, the three of them engrossed

in a debate about who'd best wield what. Doyle shot her a nervous, rather

besieged smile over his shoulder.

He might not want to go, but at least he'd been asked. Well... okay, Buffy-

bludgeoned into it was really more accurate. But still... he had a place, a

purpose. Cordelia felt herself being ignored again, and her irritation arose

anew.

"Hey," she snapped. "Have I suddenly become all invisible-girl around here?

Don't I even get asked?"

"Why?" Xander sniped back at her, hefting an axe and nearly cutting off his own

ear. "Are you feeling sudden urges to come hunt some monsters? 'Cause unless you

plan on screaming them to death, I'm not seeing any part of that plan that makes

sense."

"And like Snack-Fetching-Boy is going to be a whole lot of use? No, wait, I've

thought up a good plan where you're plenty useful! Hey, guys, we can hack the

monster to pieces while it's distracted snacking on Xander's head!"

"Cordy, he's right. It's dangerous. Besides, do you really want demon slime on

that dress?"

She stared at Buffy's exasperated, mildly amused face for a long moment, trying

to figure out at exactly what point she'd made any reference to actually wanting

to go with them. She knew she hadn't... but they'd interpreted her objections

that way. And they didn't want her.

Well, she'd be damned if she was going to back down now.

"Dangerous? More dangerous for me than him?" She pointed at Xander. "Or him?"

The bemused Doyle. "Who, by the way, looks totally cruddy." She winced as she

realised she'd done it again, but continued anyway. "How useless do you think I

am?"

Buffy hesitated a moment before not answering that one. Cordelia's fists

clenched, nails digging into her palms. "I just don't think it's a good idea..."

the slayer began.

She had to agree on that one, angry with herself and the world in general. The

last thing she wanted was more carnage and mayhem to round off the evening. But

she'd said too much to back down now, and... well, Doyle was going, and he

looked as though he'd had a truck fall on him...

"Back off, Little Miss Slayer. After everything that's happened tonight, I am so

not in the mood to argue. I'm coming with. Pass me that crossbow, Xander."

Xander picked up the weapon from the shelf but hesitated, trapped between her

and Buffy's glares.

"Guys," Doyle interrupted, stepping between them. "This is not a good time for

debate! Big nasty monster, remember? Helpless victim, not getting any safer?"

Cordelia smiled broadly at him. She snatched the crossbow out of Xander's hands

and directed a withering glare at Buffy.

 

 

The last thing Doyle had expected to be doing that evening was walking through

the corridors of Sunnydale High clutching in one trembling hand a bloody great

knife about a hair's breadth short of a sword.

And particularly not alongside Cordelia Chase, who was slipping and cursing in

her ruined shoes, and carrying a crossbow in her own hands.

Cordelia kept glaring daggers at Buffy and Xander, who walked ahead of them. The

kid was nervous, the Slayer relaxed and businesslike - which was unsettling. A

girl of just seventeen, dealing with these kinds of horrors... Doyle could

imagine how having a friend like her would leave a guy eternally feeling like he

had something to prove. Had to be difficult to impress a girl when the lady in

question was the closest thing to a superhero.

Cordelia, on the other hand... he wasn't sure what she was doing there at all.

It was obvious her presence also confused the hell out of the other two.

He felt rather guilty knowing it was down to him that she was there and in the

line of fire, though he suspected she'd probably have won the argument

inevitably anyway if he hadn't intervened. She seemed the persistent type, to

put it mildly. He determined to watch out for her; he didn't want the guilt of

another death on his hands.

Heck, not that he wouldn't have watched out for her anyway. Fact, the problem

was trying to drag his eyes away from her when she was wearing that dress.

He didn't want to be there, and the very thought of attempting to take on that

creature again, even with a slayer at his side, made him shudder. But Buffy had

been right to ask him to come. Though he might not be as strong as a slayer, or

even a vampire, he had more chance of making a difference against this thing

than most, with the demon strength he seldom utilised.

He'd held it off for a couple of minutes, before, after all.

And, as she'd said, he had the advantage, if it could be called that, of being

the only one of them who had tackled the creature before.

He desperately hoped Giles and Willow came up with the goods quick.

They had not gone far beyond the main entrance of the school before he began to

feel extremely uneasy, seeing things around him he recognised from his vision.

And there was something else.

He stopped them with a edgy whisper of, "It's here."

"I don't see anything," Buffy said.

"I can smell something." He hesitated for a moment, then reminded himself

severely of the girl he'd seen, whose life was at stake. "'Scuse me," he

muttered and, uncomfortably aware of his audience, he shifted into demon form

and sniffed the air...

Shifted back again almost instantly, even as the sound of a gasp and a quick

movement from Cordelia cut deep. "That way." He pointed.

The demon itself, constructed from magic, didn't smell of anything beyond the

slight but distinct tang of sorcery. Its last victim's blood was stronger,

though, still lingering despite the earlier rain. Thankfully, it smelled neither

fresh enough nor strong enough to belong to a more recent victim.

Cordelia, having backed away from him when he'd transformed, determinedly

returned to his side. He felt her fingers brush his arm in a silent, awkward

apology, then retreat back to the crossbow she held in readiness.

Even her slight touch turned his legs weak and banished the pain he'd felt when

she flinched away. But in the face of the upcoming fight, he told himself

sternly to ignore it, and that dress she wore, and set his brain back onto more

practical tracks. Like the very immediate danger of them both being torn to

shreds by the Greltock demon.

"Wow," Xander was saying, sounding both unnerved and reluctantly impressed. "So

you've got, like, super demon senses?"

"I can smell stuff," Doyle allowed grudgingly.

"Say, Buffy's been branching into that too..."

Buffy growled something under her breath that sounded none too pleasant, and led

the way cautiously in the direction Doyle had pointed out, sword held ready in

her hand.

The school grounds were ominous in the dark. Low walls, steps, lawns and bushes

all developed threatening shadows in a variety of demonic shapes. Doyle wished

he could switch his imagination off, startled at the sight of a darker patch on

the grass which upon second glance looked distinctly and embarrassingly shrub-

shaped.

An instant later, while he was still collecting his balance from the scare and

the subsequent embarrassment, a shadow burst out from a bush and ran across the

grass, emanating a shrill noise.

Laughter, he realised as his heart started to beat again. The shadow was

laughing, a delighted, ringing sound echoing oddly in the night air.

It was a girl of maybe twelve or thirteen, out too late and courting her

parent's anger.

He'd seen her somewhere before.

He'd heard before, too, that child's cheerful laughter... in his vision. And

he'd heard, and expected, the barking dog that followed after her a moment

later. It circled the girl, leaping madly while she teased it with an empty

raised hand.

He knew what was going to happen next...

"Look out!" he yelled. He was already running out over the grass towards her,

aware of Buffy following close behind, when a much larger shape exploded from

the bushes across the yard, sending displaced leaves scattering into the air in

clumps; he felt them raining down onto his back as he tried to move faster.

Oblivious to their presence, the creature was headed straight for the girl.

"You fought that? Alone?" Buffy demanded breathlessly, glancing back as she

overtook him.

Stronger and faster than he was, she intercepted the creature with her sword

raised high, targeting its featureless wall of a face.

Doyle left her to it and lunged for the girl. He gripped her shoulders and

hustled her away from the fight and out of harm's reach, ignoring her terrified

screams and struggles.

The creature, seeing its intended prey about to escape, swung away from Buffy.

Doyle placed himself between the girl and the creature, pushed her onwards in

the direction of houses and safety and snapped, "Run! Run home now!"

Even as he spoke he was staggered as something hit his shoulder from behind. He

heard and felt the arm of his jacket rip as he fell forward, landing on hands

and knees. The girl, her eyes widely staring beyond him, shrieked, stumbled,

picked herself up - and finally fled, the dog going noisily insane dashing

around her feet.

She disappeared into the dark.

Still reeling from the glancing blow, Doyle pushed off from the ground and spun

around.

He found himself practically nose to nose with the creature. It loomed over him,

claws poised. His mind seemed to freeze... but his hand, the forgotten knife

still clutched in it, moved forward apparently without instruction from his

brain and buried the length of steel up to the hilt in the creature's body.

It shrieked and hit him. The damage those clubs it had for limbs could do hadn't

lessened since their last encounter.

The next he knew, he was lying dazedly on the ground several metres away,

spitting out new-mown grass.

 

 

One moment they were just walking through the dark. The next moment the quiet of

the night had exploded and everything seemed to be happening in the same

instant.

Buffy and Doyle were suddenly several feet away and engaged in some kind of

twisted race against a thing which... well, Cordelia had seen a lot, but even so

this creature was well within the top ten on the yuck list.

She couldn't tear her eyes away or make herself move to help as she saw them

split off - seeming as though they'd been working together for much longer than

an hour or so - Buffy to the monster and Doyle to the girl.

Xander, likewise, had hesitated, but he predictably shook himself into action

when the creature thwacked Buffy across the face.

Cordelia's hands tightened on the crossbow, flinching now automatically from his

touch as he gripped her shoulder. But he only said, urgently, indicating the

weapon she held, "Come on, Cordy, you wanted to be here - cover us!"

With that he dashed into the action, axe raised, to fight at Buffy's side.

Combat Xander, Cordelia thought with sour sarcasm, lifting the crossbow. But she

was afraid for him all the same, despite everything.

Habit, she supposed.

Buffy, ignoring the mess daubed across her forehead, save for the necessity of

dragging an occasional distracted hand across it to keep the blood from her

eyes, appeared to be trying to keep the creature occupied while Doyle got the

little girl away.

But the creature seemed to have figured out the plan. It was trying to get

around her, to reach Doyle and the frightened girl.

Cordelia lifted the crossbow, aimed and fired at the creature's head. Dead on

target, but then it was difficult to miss when the target was about the size of

a juggernaut. The bolt sank into its skull.

The demon didn't even flinch.

Irritably, she struggled to reload, and fired again. She might as well be

throwing pebbles at it for all the reaction that got.

She was aware with a small relief of the child, screaming and crying as she ran

off into the relative safety of the night. She'd recognised the girl as the

janitor's daughter, and she lived close by. She should be safe enough.

Cordelia watched helplessly as the monster knocked Xander sprawling, flattened

Buffy with a sweep of its arm, and turned on Doyle.

Then it's bulk blocked her line of sight, and she couldn't see what was

happening.

The crossbow was useless. If she wanted to help Doyle and the others, she'd have

to intervene more directly.

'Oh, great. I am gonna get so killed. All covered in blood and with messy hair,

too...'

But before she'd gone more than a couple of steps, Buffy was back on her feet

and back in the action.

Cordelia breathed a sigh of relief and raised the crossbow again, a little

annoyed with herself for the concern she felt because Xander hadn't gotten up

yet.

And neither had Doyle.

 

 

Somehow, the knife was still in his hand. Somehow, he'd managed not to skewer

himself with it on his involuntary flight.

However, it was covered in a sludgy demonic blood substance which ran down the

hilt to coat his palm. Where it burned. He threw the knife aside and wiped his

hand frantically on the grass.

Buffy was hacking at the creature with her sword, a dark line across her

forehead indication that she hadn't escaped unscathed. He couldn't see Xander.

Cordelia was standing a safe distance away trying to reload the crossbow. A

couple of bolts already sticking out of the back of the demon's head detailed

the success that weapon was having.

Doyle looked at the length of the knife lying on the grass, coated with goo. It

had sank into the creature, all the way to the handle, and that hadn't slowed

the Greltock demon down in the slightest either.

'We are so screwed.'

Buffy hacked with the sword. It sounded like somebody chopping wood. His brain

kicked back into gear.

"Watch out for its blood!" he half-yelled, half-groaned, trying to get his feet

under him. His hand stung.

"Thanks," Buffy grunted, and backed off a step to hack from a safer splatter-

distance.

Doyle dizzily regained his feet and almost fell over again. The knife lying on

the grass was the only weapon he had, but the skin on his palm had already begun

to peel and bleed. He flexed his fingers experimentally and leaned down,

reaching again for the coated handle. Hesitated almost touching it.

Another crossbow bolt zinged through the air to embed itself in the creature's

back where, by rights, a spine ought to be.

"This is useless!" Cordelia snapped, throwing down the crossbow. "Oh my God!

Buffy!"

He looked up in time to see the slayer hit the wall of the school with a deadly-

looking impact, and fall several metres to the ground below. Her huddled shape

lay unmoving where it landed.

'Oh, shit.' He looked around for that Xander kid, for Giles and Willow running

to the rescue with their spells. For anyone else. But there was nobody except

himself, and Cordelia, and the creature.

His hand closed around the knife, and he winced as the burning started up again

instantly.

He spotted Xander now. The boy was sprawled motionless almost at the creature's

feet and the demon had bent over him. It held its claws poised to cut.

"Get off him, you ugly, creepy, disgusting thing!" Cordelia screamed, with a

fury and fear for the boy's life which was rather surprising, given the abrasive

nature of their relationship. An object which looked a lot like a shoe bounced

off the creature's head, effectively drawing its attention away from Xander. And

drawing Doyle's astonished attention, too, to where Cordelia was hopping up and

down on one leg, trying to pull off her other shoe.

She was way too close to the demon for Doyle's liking, taunting it, trying to

lure it away from Xander.

"Oh, shit," Doyle groaned.

No choices left, for the second time that day he shifted into his demon form and

ran at the creature. The knife ate steadily into his hand, Brachen demon skin

making no difference at all to the corrosive effect.

He managed to duck the first swipe of its clawed hand and embed the knife into

what passed for its elbow joint. But it caught there, wedged between bone when

the creature bent the limb, and he was forced to let go of it. At least he'd

weakened that arm. It dragged visibly now, hanging virtually useless.

Whatever help that would be when this thing was stronger even than a slayer and

had wiped the floor with him once already that night.

Out of the corner of his eye, Doyle thought he saw Xander stir slightly. He

backed off, trying to bring the creature after him away from the youth... give

Xander room to get up and get his butt - not to mention that bloody great axe -

over to lend a hand before Doyle ended up dead.

Cordelia had the second shoe in her hand and seemed to be wondering what to do

with it, apparently torn between helping him and going to see what had happened

to Buffy.

Doyle prayed she'd stay well clear. If he couldn't stop the creature, and the

slayer herself couldn't, no normal teenage girl would stand a chance, especially

one still recovering from an injury which had near killed her.

He risked a glance back at Xander and found that, to his dismay, the youth was

once again motionless, and not in any position to offer assistance.

The creature's arm fell without warning while his attention was distracted,

slamming him to the ground before he could even attempt to defend himself. He

saw the other shoe bounce off its head, heard Cordelia shouting again, trying to

repeat her earlier distraction, but it didn't work. The creature was oblivious

to her, its attention focused upon him...

'Must remember me from earlier,' Doyle thought.

"Cordelia!" he choked out. "Get the hell out of here! Get back to Giles! Go!"

She didn't go. She'd started edging around the creature, towards where Xander

lay. Doyle felt sick with fear for her.

Not to mention the fear he felt for his own life.

The creature towered above him raised its arm to strike down a killing blow.

Behind it, he could see Cordelia picking up the axe Xander had dropped.

The youth groaned and stirred. Blood caked one side of his face but he managed

to choke out, "Cordy - no...!"

Cordelia favoured him with a distasteful glare. Unsteady in her bare feet, she

hefted the axe, swung it around in an impressive arc, and embedded it in the

creature's back just as the claws descended and Doyle thought he was dead for

sure.

As the axe left her hands, the creature spun and knocked her aside.

The demon bucked, trying to dislodge the blade from its back. Doyle narrowly

avoided a couple of random sweeps of its limbs and ducked under its reach to

crawl to Cordelia's side.

She had a hand pressed over the old injury in her stomach and her face was

rather white, but she shook her head in response to the question in his eyes.

She was okay.

A shadow fell across them. Doyle looked up.

The creature, looking pissed as anything, loomed over them both. It was

obviously damaged bad, but it still had more than enough strength to finish

them... and he had nothing left to fight it with.

"Hey, didn't anyone ever tell you to play nice with the other kids?" a chirpy

voice quipped.

The relief was overwhelming. Doyle followed the direction of the voice, knowing

what he'd see.

Buffy stood there, in a fighting stance, the sword in her hands.

 

 

They picked themselves up while Buffy finished off the Greltock demon.

Doyle had wrapped his right hand in a strip torn from his nasty shirt (the T-

shirt he wore underneath managed, unbelievably, to be even nastier), but

Cordelia could see no other indication of serious injury. The cut on Xander's

head looked awful, though, and she wouldn't be surprised if he was concussed.

She watched as Buffy, her arms carefully wrapped in the rest of Doyle's torn

shirt, finished cutting the creature up into bite-sized demon nuggets. Doyle was

looking rather ill at the sight, and she remembered he had almost been on the

wrong side of Buffy's slayage only a few hours earlier.

The thought made her shudder. An entirely more normal reaction, she supposed,

than indifference to the sight of any creature being sliced and diced.

She'd seen way too much, the past few years.

She sighed, and winced at the twinge from her stomach. Her attention was drawn

to a movement on the edge of her vision. She turned and saw Giles and Willow

hurrying over, Giles holding an enormous, ancient-looking book in his arms.

"I see you managed to kill it without our input," the watcher said, eyeing the

carnage of the battle scene. He rested a hand on Buffy's shoulder, a gesture of

restrained affection and obvious relief. "Well done. From what I've read, these

things are hideously difficult to take down."

"You can say that again," Buffy sighed. "But... the help was indispensable." She

cast a grateful glance to encompass the others and stuck the sword into the

ground in a final decisive motion. Then with a soft, exhausted sigh she allowed

the tension to leave the set of her shoulders. Xander rested a worried hand on

her arm, and she patted it affectionately before shrugging it off.

"We've still got spells to say over this thing, though," Willow put in with her

own weird brand of enthusiasm for all things magic and yuck. "Otherwise it'll

just regenerate itself into an all-new nasty murdering demon. Plus there's the

spell to find out who's been controlling it," she added. "Yep, spells-r-us."

Cordelia wished she wouldn't sound so cheerful.

Her stomach injury ached with an increasing fury. She pressed her arm to it,

suppressing a groan, promising it she'd go home and take some painkillers very

soon.

The others seemed busy with the spells, so she looked around for her shoes. She

spotted one fairly close by and retrieved it, then hopped around the grass

looking for the other. Only to find it in a pile of demon-gick, half eaten up by

the corrosive stuff.

With a sigh, she left it where it was and took off the other one again, tossing

it resignedly over to join its fellow. She'd just have to get some more. It was

only money, after all, and there was always more money.

She glanced at the little cluster centered around Giles and Willow. Only Doyle

stood aside, looking as out of place as she felt. She hesitantly approached him.

"You okay?" she asked.

"Yeah. You?"

"Only my poor shoes damaged beyond repair... ow!" The pain, rising in a swift

crescendo, slammed through her suddenly, taking all the strength from her legs.

She was only vaguely aware of Doyle's hands catching her and preventing her from

falling.

Doyle swore. "Oh, hell!"

The arm she'd been holding over her stomach had fallen limply aside, and she

could dimly see now the blood coating the front of her dress. And evidently so

could he.

She realised Xander had appeared from somewhere and was helping to support her

weight, but she didn't have the strength to pull away, and her attempt to

protest just came out as a muffled squeak.

"Giles! Giles, man! We've got to get to the hospital right now!" Doyle yelled,

sounding oddly far away, though the panic was still loud in his voice.

"Yes, we do. Principal Snyder's not going to like this... oh." she heard Giles

begin, also sounding a long way off, and sounding too like he was in the wrong

conversation. "Oh, good grief, yes. Willow, will you..."

The rest blurred into darkness.

 

 

 

 

------

Chapter 8

Doyle stood in the waiting area of Sunnydale's hospital, trying to ignore the

exhaustion and pain which seemed to have settled deep in his bones. It had been

a very long night. Well... technically it was day, now. He was supposed to be

starting classes in just over an hour. 'Not that that's gonna happen, not today

nor any other day again. The PTB can just think up a new plan.'

Nearby, Xander leaned against a vending machine, looking pale, a bandage around

his head. Doyle had expected he'd be leaving once Buffy returned, but it

appeared he too was determined to wait it out until they knew what was happening

with Cordelia. Buffy herself was slumped against the wall. She'd only been back

a few minutes, and she hadn't said much. Doyle grasped that the matter was dealt

with, and she didn't want to talk about it.

Willow had reluctantly stayed behind to lock up the library, and as for Giles...

he had gone in search of a doctor to corner to find out if there was any news

yet.

'And what I ought to be doing,' Doyle thought, 'Is going to see Angel. It's not

like it hasn't taken me long enough to find him.' But he couldn't leave, not

until he knew.

"What is it with the teachers at our school anyway?" Xander grouched, breaking

the silence, with a pointed glower in Doyle's direction. "If they're not demons

or psychos or giant bugs, they're at the top of the menu for..." Before Doyle

could interrupt to say he at least wasn't planning on staying around at

Hellmouth High any longer, even if he didn't get sacked anyway, the youth's eyes

fixed on something and his expression grew abruptly grim, "Okay, shutting up

now."

Wondering why he'd halted, Doyle followed his gaze down the corridor.

Giles was returning.

He nervously tracked the Watcher's progress towards them; wasn't sure now that

he wanted to hear what the guy had found out, despite the anxiety of the hours

spent waiting for news.

If Cordelia was hurt badly... he'd been the one responsible for her being there

with them.

It would be his fault.

Although, without her, they'd probably all be dead now. They'd needed everyone

who'd been there, in the end, to defeat the Greltok demon.

Giles halted a few feet away, cleared his throat apologetically, and answered

the question hanging over them, "The doctors say she'll be all right. She's

pulled the stitches and re-opened the injury. She's done it before, apparently,

but this time was worse. Anyway, they've sewn it up again, and the anaesthetic

should wear off before long. They're moving her to a private ward and, since her

parents appear to be terminally unavailable, you'll be able to see her in a

short while."

Doyle let out the breath he seemed to have been holding for about an hour.

Giles turned to Buffy, his manner grave as if he didn't want to know the answers

either.

"Don't worry, I didn't kill him. He's still alive," Buffy said, before the

watcher could even ask what had happened. She hesitated, looking disturbed.

"Not... not for long, though. He's over two hundred years old... and without the

creature to gather the spell components - human parts - to extend his life..."

She shrugged.

After a moment's uncomfortable silence, she continued, "I didn't need to do

anything but tell him the creature was dead. He practically had a heart attack

right there in front of me. He's not going to last long. Who'd have thought it?

Mr Matthews was like a whole Sunnydale High tradition in himself. He's been

teaching at school for, like, forever."

"Yeah, literally," Xander snickered.

Though Buffy was obviously disturbed, Doyle couldn't say he felt any pity for

the guy. The memory of the young woman he'd failed to save, torn open by the

creature while she was still alive, was far too raw and vivid. Matthews had got

what he deserved, and he for one was glad the bastard had been stopped.

But he was also glad Buffy hadn't had to kill him. Asking a seventeen-year-old

girl to fight demons was one thing. This... was something else. And evidently he

wasn't the only one who thought so.

"Well," Giles said, his relief clear. "Now I know that's done, I'd better

attempt once again to get in touch with Cordelia's parents to let them know

she's in hospital."

Xander frowned at the watcher's retreating tweed-wrapped back. "Huh. Go for lost

causes much? Good luck with that one," he muttered. "I'll guess I'll go find out

what the doctors have done with Cordy."

As they trailed after the youth, Buffy fell into step beside Doyle. Her

expression was nervous and intense, as though there was some heavy thinking

going on behind it. After a moment, she ventured, "I wanted to apologise, for,

uh, almost slaying you." She laughed uncomfortably. "Boy, that sounds stupid,

huh? - 'Gee, I'm sorry I nearly killed you. My bad, won't do it again....'"

"No harm done," Doyle said, uneasily trying to make light of it. His mind still

flinched from the thought of what had almost happened, but it hadn't been her

fault.

"It nearly didn't go that way." Their steps had slowed to the point where they

barely progressed at all. Xander forged on ahead, oblivious, down the long white

corridor. "Anyway, all that aside, I might have died there tonight if you hadn't

been there - though I have this worrying feeling I could say the same about

Cordelia - so if you're going to be staying around, doing your messenger thing,

maybe we could forget the embarrassing stuff and start afresh." She extended a

hand and a slightly guilty, impish grin. "Buffy Summers. Slayer of *bad*

demons."

He took her hand and repeated his own introduction, but he couldn't share her

determined cheer. He wasn't sure he deserved her apologies, with the mess he'd

made of things. The slayer carried enough responsibility for her young years,

without taking on the weight of his mistakes. She seemed so ordinary in so many

ways, and yet he had trouble imagining all that lay on her shoulders.

"You know," he admitted awkwardly, wanting to reach her somehow, to make her

understand she hadn't been at fault. "I can't say I was vastly pleased myself

when I found out I was half a demon. So I can understand it coming as somethin'

of a shock..."

She silently took that in.

Maybe he'd said too much, trusted too much. But, damn it, in spite of

everything, he liked her. "Hey, lets catch up with him, huh?" Doyle suggested,

changing the subject with a nervous laugh.

Ahead of them, Xander had conversed briefly with a white-coated doctor before

disappearing through a door and closing it behind him.

She nodded, and they started to walk again. "I can't wrap my brain around what

Mr Matthews did," she admitted. "I mean, we always knew he was a bad tempered

old buzzard, but... He told me everything, when he was asking me... begging

me... to help him, so scared of finally dying. It goes back a hundred and fifty

years. Murders across seven different states, which was why Willow didn't pull

it up on the computer. He hadn't been in Sunnydale much more than twenty years.

Hadn't needed to call on his demon familiar to renew the spell in that time.

Imagine, all those stolen lives..."

"Yeah, well. Some of the demons are human."

"Yeah," she said softly, her clear eyes contemplative. "I'm getting that."

They halted outside the door Xander had walked through. "Well," Buffy said, "I

should make myself scarce. I'm not exactly Cordelia's favourite person, and you

can bet this one's going to be my fault too as far as she's concerned." She

hesitated, as though weighing carefully whether or not to voice a thought. "She

doesn't like Xander either," she said finally. "She... could use someone else

there for her when she wakes up."

 

 

He watched Buffy walk away down the corridor. Then, after a moment's hesitation,

pushed the door open slowly.

Within the hospital room, Xander was sitting by Cordelia's bedside, holding her

unconscious hand with a nervous, sad tenderness. As he watched, the boy's

fingers trailed down her wrist in a curiously mournful, caressing gesture.

He remembered what Buffy had said, recalled Cordelia had made some reference to

an ex - and it hit him then, taking his breath away.

As yet, Xander was clearly unaware of his presence. He backed out of the room

and shut the door quietly... then opened it again with deliberate noise. Walked

in to see Xander standing a guilty few feet back from the bed.

"Hey, Doyle," the youth said, fake-casual.

"Xander."

"She's... sleeping," he added, lamely.

Doyle hauled an uncomfortable-looking plastic chair over to the bedside and sat

down. At the other side of the bed, Xander also sat down again.

Cordelia looked pale and fragile, and a long way from the girl with the

deliberately sharpened tongue who had first humiliated him, then almost gotten

him killed, and then later saved his life. Twice.

"I guess I should thank you for saving her," Xander said. "Which is nicely

ironic, considering a few hours ago I was trying to persuade Buffy to slay you."

There was a pause, in which Doyle realised no apology was likely to be

forthcoming from that direction.

"But don't think for one minute that means I'm okay with the demon thing," the

kid added belligerently. "And if you show any sign of turning evil and going

major serial killer on us like certain other allegedly 'good' demons I could

mention, don't think I'd hesitate to stake you on the spot."

Doyle stared at him. "I ain't a vampire."

"Whatever."

At that point, Cordelia shifted slightly and moaned softly, drawing both their

attention.

 

 

Cordelia returned to consciousness slowly, aware of a keen agony centred around

her stomach. 'Xander. Xander, with Willow...'

But no, that had been before. That had been weeks ago, now. And Xander wasn't

with Willow. But he wasn't with her any more either.

Still, this was all way too familiar; the sheets of the hospital bed tucked

tight around her body, the unreasonable bright white sterility of the hospital

room. The sleepy, heavy feeling of the anaesthetic that was wearing off. The

presence of people, close by.

People. Huh.

"Xander...?" she asked. Her voice came out as a soft croak.

"Cordy!" she felt hands clutch at hers, heard the pathetic eagerness in his

voice, and wrenched her hands away.

She put all her effort into shaping the words, clear and strong: "Go. Away."

Again...

There was a silence. She struggled to focus her eyes, hearing whispered voices

and knowing someone else was in the room. She lifted herself up on her elbows

with some effort and some pain, just in time to see Doyle talking a reluctant

Xander out of the room.

She felt bad about the kicked-puppy-dog expression on her ex's face - for about

half a second.

The events of the night rushed back into her brain entire and she cursed herself

for being drawn once more into anything involving risk of personal harm or of

blood stains or disgusting demonic goop on clothes or accessories. "I liked

those shoes," she muttered disgustedly, remembering their horrible and

undeserved demise with a shudder.

"Hunh?" Doyle turned from the door. "What was that?"

"Doyle," she said, with false sugary brightness, or at least as much as she

could muster. "What are you doing here?" Okay, she hadn't expected her parents.

Giles, perhaps, or even Buffy.

"Giles is tryin' to contact your parents. I... I... are you sure you should be

sittin' up?"

"I've been here before," she reminded him pointedly. "Stitches again, right?"

He nodded, and hesitantly rearranged the pillows to support her more

comfortably.

Cordelia sighed as she let herself relax back against the pillows. 'Buffy had so

better be aware I totally saved her butt,' she thought, finding a degree of

satisfaction there despite the familiar ache in her punctured side. 'Who's

useless now, huh?' She'd bill Slay-girl for the shoes and the dress tomorrow.

Doyle sat down in an ugly plastic chair at her bedside. His hands fidgeted,

until he forcibly stilled them, resting them on his knees. The right one was

crudely bandaged - he clearly hadn't dared risk professional medical attention

with that demon heritage thing.

He studied her... all big pale eyes whose colour she couldn't be sure of; they

seemed to change with the light. "You saved my life," he said quietly. Awkward

as it was, his voice still managed to make her shiver pleasantly. She remembered

her caustic remarks to Willow that day in school... a lot seemed to have

happened since then.

"As if I ever wanted to be the kind of jerk who'd run into a fight with a demon

instead of away from it?" she replied with weary frustration. "That bunch of

losers have ruined my life. Before I got involved with them, I had everything I

wanted. I didn't need to know about monsters and vampires. I certainly didn't

need to fight the forces of evil as my top extra-curricular activity. It's not

as if you can even put that on your resume... And, like, how many times have I

been involved in saving the world from destruction anyhow? Uncredited, might I

add!" She sighed irritably. "I just want to go back to shallow. I liked shallow.

Shallow was good. Shallow didn't get me skewered!"

The besieged expression on his face quieted her rant, but before she could say

anything else he hesitantly ventured, "Maybe they didn't change you. Maybe ...

maybe it was always there in you. I mean, can you even be sure the other you

wasn't the lie? The one you made to match your... your world..." His voice

drained away to nothing.

She stared at him. Her eyes played tricks on her for an instant, placing a

fleeting image of his spiky, demonic visage over pale skin and dark bruises. She

shook the image off and reached out to take up his undamaged hand in hers. His

skin felt smooth and human. She couldn't feel any trace of spikes under the

surface.

"You saved me, too," she said softly. "And Xander." She added it automatically,

before remembering she wasn't supposed to care anymore. "And maybe Buffy - not

that that's a huge issue to me. And I'm not actually sure whether the demon

would consider slayers appropriate for its organ foraging. But anyway, Xander

and me being one-hundred percent human, it'd have killed us for people-parts in

a shot if you hadn't fought it and given Buffy chance to recover." She frowned,

thought about it, and shrugged. "Call it a team effort if you like... what's

wrong?"

He'd pulled his hand loose from hers and stepped back, knocking the chair aside.

She stared up at him in dismay. He was leaving...?

"You said it," he replied, tired and haunted. "I'm not human."

"If you'd been human, you'd be dead," she said.

He just looked at her, on the verge of walking away, carefully not reacting.

"If you'd been human, I'd be dead," she added.

Silence.

"So, anyway - right now, kind of glad you are what you are. See - not about to

complain, here."

He stared at her for a moment, as though he just couldn't figure her out. "Well.

Yeah. Okay. Now that I know you're gonna be all right, I'll be headin' out,

then. There's a guy I gotta go see."

He started another step away from her and she reached out, snagged the edge of

his nasty jacket, and tugged him back, wincing at the strain the movement put on

her stitches. He stopped trying to pull away instantly.

'Ha. Got you. You're not walking away from Cordelia Chase.'

"Don't. You'll hurt yourself..."

"Then sit." She pointed to the chair. "I am not having one more potential date

turn his back on me this week, no matter how ugly he looks as a demon. Or how

badly he dresses. And believe me when I say, the demon part is the easier of the

two to take in."

Doyle sighed, set the chair back in place, and did as requested. She watched his

brain ticking over, as he assimilated what she'd just said. "Potential date,

huh?"

She grinned, feeling a little embarrassed now it was said. She looked at him

expectantly. "Well - I'm waiting," she said, as the seconds passed.

"Huh?"

Men! Did she have to do all the work in this relationship? "Go ahead and ask me

out already."

He managed to look astonished, and nervous, and insanely happy, all at once.

"Cordelia..." he began hesitantly. "Would you...?"

 

 

End