It was dark when he woke up. Pitch black darkness. A familiar killer headache sat right behind his eyes. A sure sign he’d been in some pretty bad fighting, and judging his surrounding, he’d lost.
“Well damn. Saba, you up? What the hell hap…” He attempted to raise his hand to rub at his eye. Only to find his hands bound in hard metal cuffs behind his back. Shit.
It all came back to him in a flash. The base at route 66, unloading a truck with newly arrived ‘goods’. The rest had come back, too early. Rushing in on horses and motorcycles, shouting about their location being compromised. Blind panic followed. He barely recalled how he’d been put to work loading as many illegal weapons as he could back into the truck. Then, being brought up to the roof. He remembered smoke and screaming, silhouettes of aircrafts against the setting sun.
“Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap. Saba? Saba?!”
“I’m still here.”
He signed in relief, while at the same time becoming increasingly aware of the most unpleasant sensation of something very, very small moving around on, no IN his ear.
“Fucking… Saba what the hell!”
“I couldn’t let them find me!” His daemon whispered in her high, and now incredibly soft voice. In his ear. Inside his ear! “Remember what happened the last time.”
He grunted in affirmation, “where are we this time?”
Saba was silent for a moment, she also stopped moving. The young man became increasingly aware of the darkness and the silence around him.
“Deadlock lost.” His daemon whispered, voice unsteady. “I should have watched your back, I was so stupid. But instead they snuck up on you and knocked you out cold. Without you on the roof they were inside the base in seconds. All the defenders they left behind. They. I don’t know. I hid as soon as you went out. They shot a bunch, but also took a few. Snake-eyes, Sickle, Cannon. I don’t know where they are, but I do know they took us on their plane. We could be anywhere.”
“Shit, oh shit, fucking shit. Saba please, promise me you’ll keep on hiding.”
She twitched, sending the most unpleasant sensation trough his ear to mingle with his persistent headache. “Please tell me you ain’t some spider or something.”
“A termite. Stop complaining. I’m just trying not to be found.”
“You could have been trying not to be found in my hair or something. I’m even wearing my hat still. Go get in there. Oh and see my cigars are still…”
The lights turned on.
He yelped in shock and closed his eyes, almost in time to avoid the sharp sting of his headache intensifying. He groaned softly. He heard a door opening, something, or someone coming closer. He twitched, pulling his bonds pathetically. No use. He dumbly decided to keep his eyes closed and stay quiet. Maybe they wouldn’t notice him.
“You know, it’s very rude not to introduce yourself.”
A voice, deep, female, and dripping with a cruel kind of confidence. Fuck. He realized with a shock this wasn’t some back room for stashing prisoners. It was an interrogation. Fuck, well, no use in staying silent then. The cowboy opened his eyes and faced his opponent.
A doberman. A giant fucking doberman right up in his face. Bared fangs mere inches from his nose. The animal’s massive, muscled forepaws rested on the empty table as she grinned at him, hot breath blowing on his face. The blinding lamp behind her casting a strong silhouette around her, glinting in her eyes.
A daemon? He was being interrogated by a daemon? He quickly glanced around, no human in sight, but, as expected, a large mirror sat behind the blinding lamp, showing his small, curled up form right in front of the savage looking dog.
He was shaking, he was pretty sure he was visibly shaking, even. But somehow as he spoke, his voice came out calm and steady, though slightly slurred. “G’day ma’am.”
The dog snorted, leaning back somewhat. She regarded him with sharp eyes, looking him up and down. He felt ridiculously small in his too big battle armor, with his hat sagging past his ears.
“Hold your tongue, cowboy, I’m not addressing you.”
He swallows nervously. Saba. They were looking for Saba.
He knew damn well what would happen if they got their hands on his daemon during an interrogation. Whoever ‘they’ were. Deadlock had been bad, but here he wasn’t some low ranking grunt. Here he was the enemy, and they would do much more than just pull the two of them away from each other till they almost passed out from the pain.
“You must truly be a coward,” the dog spat, eyes still sweeping over his clothes. “Hiding behind your person like a little pest. What would you be, I wonder. A flea? A mangy rat? Sure would look the part with your scruffy human.” Her eyes darted up at his face again, lips parting in a fanged grin.
“Deadlock’s feared sharpshooter. Look at you, you’re barely even bigger than me.” She barked a laugh. “What a joke.”
He wisely kept his mouth shut as the massive beast laughed at him. It was weird, so very weird to be spoken to by a daemon instead of its person. Yet, where he was curled up, cringing away from her, she seemed utterly confident and in control. As if this whole interrogation was just a joke to her. A professional, dammit.
The dog stopped laughing, and growled softly. Her eyes glinting in the shadow.
“Unless you’re waiting for me to find you, little pest.” Her eyes narrows. “We know your leader has a rattlesnake. Would you have followed his example? Or maybe not entirely.” She reared up, claws clinking on the table, and sniffed him. Her nose almost touching the grimy fabric of his clothes. “A reptile I would have smelled, even through all the disgusting smoke and grime. A scorpion, perhaps? Yes, that seems like something deadlocks fines sharpshooter would do. Well let me tell you one thing, pest, I do not care.”
The dog jumped fully on the table now. Scraping claws and barrel chest, with fangs on full display. Saba twitched nervously and it took her human all he had not to flinch or shake his head.
“Venom or not, I’ll take you on. You have no power, here with medical professionals literally around the corner. And let me tell you one more thing.” She grinned, savagely, “Your venom may be fast, but my jaws are much, much faster. If you even think about trying to sting any daemon or human in here, I swear, I will tear your lanky, good for nothing human’s throat out myself!”
He gasped, shocked. “You wouldn’t!”
She grinned. “Oh yes, I would.”
“Maria, that’s enough.”
The dog daemon turned sharply, ears swiveling, before her tongue lolled out in a doggy grin. Tail wagging away as her human entered the room.
If the dog looked intimidating, this man did even more so. Tall, dark skinned and with muscles that would put some of deadlocks brutest members to shame. The man wasn’t dressed like a police officer. Clad in a nondescript black uniform, no logos, nothing, and a black beanie. He smiled friendly-like as he approached, petting the dog daemon rubbing up to his leg. Yet, his eyes were hard and cold.
He sat down heavily in the chair, studying the young man in front of him for a moment.
“What’s your name?”
Caught off guard, he could only stare in blind panic. A name, a name. Quickly!
“Jesse, sir, my name is Jesse…” Out of habit, he tried to tip his hat, but his hands only twitched feebly in their bonds. “Jesse McCree.”
The man stared at him, deadpan look on his face. His daemon, now only visible from the head up, mimicked her human with a deadpan look of her own. Surprisingly, it was her who responded.
“Jesse McCree. That is a terrible name for a cowboy.”
“Listen darling you gave me five seconds.”
The man’s first impacted on the table with a giant bang, he flinched back. Instantly regretting his brief moment of bravado.
“Listen carefully,” the man growled. No good cop bad cop then. “I’m not sure where this courage of yours is coming from, but let me assure you it’s unfounded. Your base was overrun, and all your buddies were caught. The rest of your sad excuse for a gang is all gone and they’re unlikely to come back for their goods, let alone their people. And while you were out, your friends, they talked.” He grinned, “we have everything we need. Deadlocks glory days are over. No one will be coming for you.”
He paused, dramatically, while the newly branded Jesse McCree could only stare in horror.
“You’re going to prison, and rest assured, I’m willing to be nice about it. If, and only if, you give me your name. Your real name. And if your cowardly daemon gets the fuck out here and shows itself.”
He fell silent, staring the young man dead in the eye. It took Jesse all his willpower not to buckle under his gaze.
“’S like I said, the name’s McCree.” He looked down, couldn’t hold the man’s gaze. “And I’m afraid dear Saba’s not feeling up for it today. She’s mighty shy, you know. And your dear doggo right there’s been looking at me like I’m lunch, sure doesn’t help her confidence.” Was he rambling? He was rambling. He closed his eyes, braced himself for impact as he heard the man growl under his breath. Obviously furious.
Yet, the hit he expected never came. Instead, there was footsteps, moving away from him. He looked up, confused.
The man was standing in the doorway. His dog already out of view, his expression dangerously closed off.
“All right, fine. We’ll have plenty of time to settle these things. I will see you tomorrow.”
And with that, he closed the door. The lamp turned off, leaving him bound in the dark.
“No no, this is good.” His daemon whispered. “We have time.”
As Jesse sat in the darkness, accessing his situation, he realized a few things. First off, his weapon. His weapon was no longer on him. He could feel the holster dragging down his belt, but not with the familiar weight of his trusty revolver. Must have been knocked away when they ambushed him. Left on the roof, or most likely taken as evidence by this unknown group.
However, his weapon seemed to be the only thing missing. He was still in his scruffy, sand and blood covered armor. His serape was still there. They’d even left his hat well alone. Although he wasn’t too sure about the items he’d stashed in the rim. He guessed they’d been scared to let their daemons or themselves near his body. Deadlock did have a reputation of being packed to the brim with snake and scorpion daemons.
He was thirsty. Terribly so. It was a familiar sensation for him, but coupled with the most likely impact-related headache, it was mighty uncomfortable. His bound arms were burning from the awkward position, the little muscle he had slowly acidifying. He shook his head, trying to jostle his hat to see if his cigars and lighter were still in there, but was greeted only with a more intense spike of headache and the uncomfortable sensation of dried blood pulling on his hair.
Saba, bless her, had climbed out of his ear. Her small form slowly making its way across his neck, settling under the brim of his head where she shifted, under the cover of darkness, to a slightly bigger form. He felt her weight, comforting now instead of aggravating. Light fur, probably a mouse of sorts.
“I’m not seeing cameras.” She whispered. “But there’s still two people behind the mirror.”
Jesse was going to ask how she was seeing anything at all. But figured he’d better not give these bastards more information than they already had. He settled for letting his head lull down, feigning sleep. He briefly felt soft wings smacking the back of his neck as his daemon resettled. A bat then, smart. He settled down, ready to play the waiting game.
It felt like hours, sitting in the dark with burning arms and a pounding head, before Saba spoke up again.
And at last his daemon finally moves. Turning into a proper mouse now and slipping under his hat.
“Are my cigars still there?”
“Yes, and the pins too, thank goodness.”
He feels her weight moving around, struggling in the enclosed darkness of his hat, before emerging and daftly climbing down his bound arms.
“I’ve only done this twice before.”
“Still our best shot.”
She hums in agreement and shifts again. He feels small hands clamping around his sleeves. More weight than he is used to. A lemur, he guesses. Something with agile hands. He eyes the window warily, knowing how nervous it makes her to turn into anything bigger than a rat.
“Better get ready for another round of waiting.”
It’s a miracle in itself than an untrained daemon, who even only has hands on the best of days, managed to pick the metal handcuffs using nothing more than a set of bobby pins. And yes, it takes a lot of time. Enough Jesse’s sure his arms will be ready to fall off along with the cuffs. But even though it doesn’t feel like it right now, Jesse knows he and Saba have one more skill on their name besides their deadly sharpshooting, and that is being stupidly lucky under pressure. And thus, after what feels like another couple of hours of soft cursing, the handcuffs unlock and Jesse can finally stand up to his not very impressive full height, rubbing his wrists.
Saba chitters happily and jumps on his shoulder, shrinking into a tiny meerkat that wraps around his neck. “So, what’s the plan?”
“Think they left the door open?”
“No, but it’s worth a shot.”
The man did not, in fact, leave the door open. And, unfortunately, Jesse finds that this door also does not have a standard lock but rather some odd touchpad kinda thing that glows bright red as soon as he touches it. It worries him a lot. Deadlock never used stuff this high tech on a whim. Where the hell did they end up?
He could shatter the mirror, but the thing is huge, it’ll be a lot of noise. Not to mention it might be rigged with sensors. “Let’s hope that dark man and his lovely dog aren’t the first to come by.”
His daemon shivers. “Please no.”
“They gotta bring us water at some point I recon.”
“Let’s hope so.”
And thus they settled down for the second round of waiting.
This was the worst, Jesse reckoned as he sat on the cold ground, trying to ignore his pounding head, his sore throat and the hunger pains he felt slowly coming up. In a way, it might have even be easier to just keep sitting in that damn chair and sucking it up. Sure, it was gonna be torture tomorrow and prison soon after, but heck, he already got the threat of torture for not cooperating! Who’d know where active resistance would get him. But still, if there was even a small chance he could break out, and grab his freedom he should take it. He was a cowboy! Meant to ride across the endless deserts, sun above him, wind in his hair. Cooped up in prison was not the place for him. He’d rather face death.
Besides, if someone did come in to bring him food or drinks, and he could overpower them, it’d be childs’ play, right? Sure, he had no weapon, but if he could just stay in the shadows, slip past unseen and get outside. They wouldn’t give chase to one lone grunt of a burned out gang, right? What could he even do.
What would he even do?
He was so lost in thought, head spinning with insane options and stupid plans, he almost straight up missed the moment he’d been waiting for.
In fact, he only realized the door had been opened once he heard the bowl of water clatter against the ground, as the person now standing in front of him realized he wasn’t sitting in his chair anymore.
He froze as the tall man in front of him reached for his waist. Eyes still on the chair, unaware of the prisoner slumped against the ground behind him. Thankfully, he did not pull out a weapon, but rather a kind of field communicator. He must have thought Jesse had already gotten out of the room instead of slumbering behind the door. He wouldn’t get a chance like this again. Jesse wasted no time.
He waited a split second, till the man’s eyes were on the screen of his communicator. With no item suited for a clean knock on the head, he settled for grabbing the man by the shoulders and twisting him sideways, headfirst into the wall.
The element of surprise was the only thing he got going for him. The man was taller and much, much stronger than he was, but he managed. With a clatter, the man fell, and Jesse jumped back as he got to his feet. The impact of the wall not enough to knock him out, as he fixed his gaze on his unexpected opponent.
Something snarled to his right. The man’s demon, some dog-sized cat thing with ridiculous fur and hardly a tail to speak off. It snarled as it scanned the room, looking for a daemon to attack.
Saba came at her from behind, having flown off in bat form. She shifted mid air, and caught the stubby cat in the back of the head with the giant golden paw of a slender mountain lion. The combined strain proved to be sufficient, as both the man and his daemon slumped down. Out cold.
Jesse had already lost his gun, his trusty Peacekeeper, to this stupid gang or police-corps or whatever. He didn’t have many possessions and absolutely didn’t want to leave anything else behind. But alas, he did realize that even if their base had only a few rooms, he wouldn’t make it through in his regular outfit.
The man he knocked out was much taller than him, his clothes wouldn’t fit. Not on his regular frame at least. But, if he kept his light armor on, and put the man’s clothes over it, it looked sort of normal. Ignoring how the sleeves fell past his hands at least.
Damn, of all his possessions, he was least attached to the armor.
He actually stood still for a few second after he put the hat on the knocked out man’s head. A painful twinge in his chest he stubbornly ignored, as well as the burning behind his eyes. He could collapse and panic later, when he was free. He’d chained the other man to the chair in his place so, hopefully, at first glance, it would look like it was still him in that chair. Until the man woke up screaming at least. He wouldn’t have much time.
The man was much taller than him, older too, with pale skin and shiny black hair. A small mustache adorned his face. Jesse would have a lot of trouble passing for him, but it was his best chance at getting through their hideout unseen.
“The fuck is this thing even? Some kind of cat?” Saba was kneeling behind the table in meerkat form. Swiftly darting around the unconscious cat-daemon.
“Don’t know don’t care. Can you mimic it?”
Saba looked ridiculous as an overly fluffy, tailless cat. But then again, so did the tall man’s daemon, so it was fine. He snatched his communicator, just in case. “Let’s go.”
He left through the open door and ran into a pleasant surprise almost right away. The door led to a very tiny backroom, from which he could see the room he just escaped from. It had only a small table, two chairs and a couple of dossier drawers. And, on the table, a gun. A very, very familiar gun.
God, was he glad to have the gun back in his hands. He realized right away, grabbing her, that she’d been meddled with. Cleaner than usual, it seemed someone had taken her apart and gave her a good look over. Also, he noticed the chamber was empty. No bullets.
He quickly scanned the small backroom. No bullets.
Shit. But still. It was a great relieve to have his gun back. And even without the bullets, it could be mighty useful. He tucked her back inside the holster.
Now for the hard part.
“You ready Saba?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” grumbled the highly uncomfortable stubby cat thing by his side.
Jesse took a deep breath, steeled himself, and opened the door.