Angel/Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Close to Home...So Far Away
By Gabrielle Lawson
Contributing Authors: Mike Donovan, Joe Smith Jr. and Charles Kline II
Disclaimer: Joss Whedon, aka the Evil One, and his minions at Mutant Enemy own Angel, the characters, and the backstory of this vignette. Not that they deserve them. I just borrowed them for my own uses. The story here is born of my own imagination and should be treated as such.
Note: Three other authors contributed to this story. Mike Donovan helped make my Buffy characters sound like Buffy Characters. I couldn't have done it without him. Joe Smith, Jr., helped with the fight scenes. Without him, I was a bad puppeteer. And Charles Kline, II helped to scarify the Nether and the bad guy there. Thanks, guys!
It was strange. Right from the beginning. Or was it the end? He wasn't really sure. He remembered it: kissing Cordelia and jumping over to the light. One look back over his shoulder. He'd smiled, feeling a sense of peace that what he was doing was right. It would be okay. He burned when he reached for the cables. His flesh melted away and he burned, and he felt every second of it. But he didn't scream, not until after he'd pulled the cabling apart. Not until after everyone was safe. Everyone but him. He hadn't minded then. Anything to take that pain away, even death. But it wasn't death, and it wasn't okay. That's about all he could figure out.
Everything was quiet when he'd opened his eyes again. Or at least he thought he'd opened his eyes. He was back at the harbor and Angel was driving away as Cordelia was staring back at the ship through the truck's window. He'd called out to them to wait, but they drove off anyway. He didn't understand it. Not them driving off. But him standing there watching them do it. I'm a ghost, he'd thought. They couldn't see me because I'm a ghost.
Not exactly the way he'd wanted things to go. He'd hoped for redemption, maybe a chance at the pearly gates. It was a long-shot, he'd figured, given the demon side of his family, but it was a hope he'd harbored anyway. So, having little else to do, and being a ghost, he'd started walking back into town to Angel's place.
He'd trudged along the empty streets for what seemed like forever. He got tired and paused to lean against a metal lamppost, but his hand had passed right through it. Frustrated, he'd tried to punch the offending post, but, again, his hand passed through without effect.
"Great!" he'd exclaimed, sitting down on the curb and shaking his head, "Just great! Can't touch anything, can't even lean on anything. God, I could use a drink."
As if in answer, the skies overhead had rumbled and a fine mist began to fall, growing heavier until he was caught in a rushing downpour. Like everything else, the rain passed through him as if he wasn't there. Like he didn't even exist. He could feel the droplets, but he didn't feel wet. The dampness in the air, though, had chilled him somewhat. Looking skyward, he'd turned up his mouth in a crooked smirk. "You know, this isn't the kind of drink I was talkin' about."
Hugging himself, he'd resumed walking toward Angel's.
After he had been traveling awhile, he smacked his lips experimentally and realized that he wasn't as thirsty as he had been. In fact, he wasn't thirsty at all. He smiled genuinely for the first time since he had realized the depth of his predicament. Somehow, through continuous contact with the rain, he had absorbed some of it. Had he been fully, and unarguably, alive, he would never have thought of LA rain as something to be ingested. But desperate times called for desperate measures, and he didn't exactly have a body to contaminate.
He'd seen the light in the window, and when he got close enough to the office, he could see his own image on the television. The commercial he'd recorded with Cordelia. They were watching it, sitting there in the window. But when he'd tried to go in with them, he found his foot went right through the first step. To him, it had looked solid enough, and he was pretty sure ghosts were able to walk up stairs, but he wasn't. He tried another one and the same thing happened, only now he was standing knee-deep in a staircase. Ghosts can walk through walls, he'd reasoned, so he'd tried the more direct approach. But that didn't work either. He went through the wall alright, but then he'd promptly fallen right through the floor, landing without so much as a thud on Angel's floor. And the crazy thing was, it had hurt.
From that night on, the night of his so-called death, he'd begun to doubt that he'd actually died. He wasn't sure what had happened to him, but he knew that dead people don't get hungry as he had. Well, vampires did, but that was different. He wasn't a vampire. Vampires don't fall through floors. Neither did demons last time he'd checked, so he wasn't sure that that was a factor either. Ghosts didn't need to eat or drink. They didn't get cold either, as far as he knew. So the obvious conclusion was that he was not dead. But he wasn't ready to call his current state of existence life either.
So, buffered by his discomfort and his inability to leave the ground (though still not sure why he didn't fall into the sewers every time he crossed the street), he'd tried to contact Angel. Who better than the undead to see that he wasn't dead either? He'd tried shouting at him while Angel dressed but Angel didn't hear him. He'd stood in the doorway when Angel went to leave, but Angel simply walked right through him (and what a grisly experience that was!). He'd tried closing the book Angel was reading, but his hand went right through it. The same thing happened with the keyboard on the computer. Nothing worked. He'd even tried Harry, who'd known him longer than anyone, but she didn't see him either.
And all that started to make him think that maybe he'd gotten his assumptions of ghosthood mixed up with the real thing and that maybe he really was dead after all. Months had gone by, with Angel and Cordelia coming and going, some goof named Wesley that nearly tripped on his own feet meddling, demons and bad guys getting taken out by Angel, and all the while he was getting hungrier and hungrier. He couldn't eat. He couldn't hold anything in his hands. And yet he hadn't starved. Not yet. He'd started to get thinner though, not that anyone would notice. He noticed, because he could see himself. His hands were growing gaunt, until he could see the bones of his fingers through the skin he wasn't sure he had. He could see his face in the reflection of the windows he watched Cordelia through or in the mirrors in her apartment. Dennis didn't seem to even mind that he was there, which bolstered his I'm-not-a-ghost theory. Of course, he couldn't see Dennis either, so maybe that was normal for unrelated ghosts. The mirror had shown him a pale face (his face, not his skull bereft off all its flesh), with the beginnings of sunken cheeks.
He was starving, slowly perhaps, but starving nonetheless. He thought about food anytime he wasn't thinking about Angel or Cordelia. He watched Cordelia eat, thankful that her apartment was on ground floor. He sat on the floor beside her at the table (he'd fallen through chairs enough to know not to bother trying) and watched each dip of the fork into the food and then up to her beautiful lips. He liked to watch her brush her teeth just to hear the water pour from the faucet. He was thirsty, too, and it didn't rain that often in California. The rain helped the thirst, but nothing helped the hunger. Cheeseburgers didn't exactly fall from clouds. And the same thing that had happened with Angel's books happened with Cordelia's french fries. He couldn't touch food (or anything else). He could smell it. He could practically taste it, but he couldn't touch it.
Angel watched her from his office. It was a slow day. She was watching the television again. Playing the commercial over. He wanted to tell her to turn it off, that it hurt to hear Doyle's voice again. But he figured she needed it. Everyone grieves in their own way. That was hers. She'd helped him clean out Doyle's apartment. Harry had only kept a photo from their wedding. The rest had gone to Good Will, not that he had much to begin with. But Cordelia had only wanted that tape. He was alive in the tape, she'd said. He had a voice.
Suddenly she dropped the remote and gripped her head. Angel raced into the room as she grimaced in pain and dropped her head to the desk. She cried out, and Angel grabbed her shoulders and held her until it had passed. “What did you see?” he asked quietly.
Doyle hated that. His visions. He'd given them to her. He'd hurt her. If he'd have known, he wouldn't have kissed her. He would have just jumped. He heard her cry out and came to the staircase. He could walk halfway up before he'd fall through the steps. He'd found that out the hard way. He figured then it must have something to do with the solidity of the steps. Halfway up, they stopped being solid, allowing a certain amount of storage space underneath. Still he had a few steps, and if he stood in the right place, he could almost see into Angel's office. And if the light was right, a reflection from the glass threw a distorted image of the outer office onto the windows. He'd stood there a lot the last few months. He'd had nothing better to do but waste away and wish for life or wish for death and bemoan the fact that he was stuck somehow in between. He wished it would just hurry now, the starvation. This was worse. He looked away and wished he could at least lean against the wall. He was so tired.
“What was it?”
“How should I know?! What do I look like, Giles?” Cordelia's voice rose in frustration. She was coming closer, probably wandering into the inner office. “Big horns, red eyes, your typical disgusting de--”
She had been about to say 'demon', Doyle knew, but something had made her go quiet.
Then Angel, “What is it? What's wrong?”
“I'm sorry.” She apologized softly, “I'm still not used to this. Doyle always made it look so easy.” She paused, drawing in and releasing a ragged sigh, “Sometimes . . . sometimes I can see him. In a reflection in a window or in my mirror, like he's still here.”
Doyle felt his strength return to him, and he climbed the last two steps. She had seen him! All those times he had danced around like a fool and screamed at her until he was gasping for breath, on some level it had gotten through to her!
“I wish he was here,” she sobbed. “I miss him so much.”
“That's natural, Cordelia,” Angel again. “I miss him, too. But we can't do anything about it. He's gone.”
“No, I'm not!” Doyle cried, waving his arms madly in the air. “I'm here! Look! On the stairs!”
But she didn't. She'd buried her face in Angel's big shoulder, and Angel didn't seem to notice him. He thought it was all in her head; she was only seeing what she wanted to see. But Doyle knew she was seeing him. She was seeing him. For real.
She sniffed and lifted her head. “I could draw it,” she finally said. “The demon. Won't be a masterpiece. . . .”
“But maybe we could recognize it in one of the books.”
Books. Downstairs. They'd be coming down. But there were no mirrors downstairs. No windows. No way to see him.
“All those books,” Cordelia muttered, “If Giles were here, he'd have a field day. That man definitely needs to get out once in a while”
Giles. Again, that name. He thought he had heard it once or twice before. But where? The elevator rose; they were coming down. He moved back into the room. Giles. Where the heck had he heard that name?
“Buffy didn't like the books either,” Angel quipped as the elevator lowered again. Buffy. Right. Giles was Buffy's watcher. Back in Sunnydale. How far was Sunnydale?
Doyle walked. He didn't have a choice. He couldn't sit in a car or hop on a train. He had to walk. The sun burned down on him, the wind threatened to blow him off the road, but he kept going. Maybe Giles, with all his books, could find the answer. Maybe Doyle could make him see him.
It took days. By the end, he was dragging his feet and holding his stomach. His hands were little more than bones covered by a thin layer of skin. Not even that, he reminded himself. And that's why he kept going. Then he saw it. “Sunnydale”, in big, bold letters. They were all he could make out in the dark. One of the lights that lit the sign had burnt out. He sped up, or tried. He'd made it. Sunnydale. Now all he had to do was find this Giles person, whom he'd never seen. He read the rest of the sign. “Welcome to the University of California, Sunnydale.”
Doyle dropped to his knees. He'd seen a map, back at the Tourist Information Center. The college was on the outskirts of the city. He hadn't even made it yet. And he wasn't going to. He could hardly walk. He was so hungry, so tired. He wanted to sleep. He wanted to eat. He wanted to cry. He folded himself over onto the ground, the only thing he could touch besides himself.
“It's not fair!” he cried, maybe to the Powers That Be, maybe to no one. “I did the right thing this time! How can savin' people's lives be punished like this?!” He didn't really want to answer that because the answer was obvious. Only someone who really had it coming to him would have missed out on redemption after what he had done. But Doyle had always figured himself to be a pretty stand up guy, or at least not as bad as the type of customers he and Angel had tangled with in the past. True, he'd gotten his hands into some shady deals once in a while but never with the intent to hurt anyone. Maybe the Powers That Be were pickier than most people believed. Maybe they just had something against Brachen demons. Overcome with frustration, he cried out again, “Lemme live or lemme die! One or the other!”
The voice that answered was wry, but also light and familiar. “You keep lying on the road like that and pretty soon you're not going to have the choice.”
Doyle jerked up, which made him dizzy, but he spun around to face her anyway. “You can hear me?” he begged.
She looked at him as if he'd been smoking something funny. “And this surprises you how?”
Doyle pushed himself to his feet. “You can see me?”
“Yeah, I'm gifted with an uncanny ability to see that which is plainly obvious.” She cocked a wry eyebrow. “You are standing under a streetlight, you know, not exactly the best place to be if you were trying to be inconspicuous.”
As Doyle stared, stunned and relieved, she continued to look him over. “Don't I know you? You were in LA the last time I was there. You work with Angel. No offense, but you're not looking so good.”
“Now there's a newsflash.” He smirked and snorted to himself. “Buffy. You're the Slayer,” he sounded like an idiot, even to himself, but he couldn't help it. It was the first time he'd been heard since . . . well, since. “You have ta help me.” Forgetting himself in desperation, he reached for her arm. And caught it! “I need to find Giles.”
She didn't seem to have heard him. Her eyebrows were drooping to the center of her forehead.
“Buffy!” A man's voice. There were footsteps too. A tall, young man, with a slightly comical face, ran up and stopped beside her, out of breath. “Who were you talking to?” he asked.
She looked back at Doyle. “Xander meet . . . . What's your name again?”
“Doyle,” he answered, dropping her hand.
“Doyle,” she repeated, holding a hand out in his direction.
“But he can't see me.” He wanted the man, Xander, to go away. He needed Buffy.
“Have you been drinking?” Xander asked, looking down at her like a scolding mother. “Or are we playing games with the townie again?”
Buffy opened her mouth to answer, but didn't say anything. She turned back to Doyle. “You're a ghost,” she finally concluded.
Doyle shook his head. “No. I'm alive.”
“Let's see, insubstantial, transparent, night-time lurker?” she looked him over with a sidelong glance, “I'm going to have to stick with my original answer.”
“I wasn't lurking.” He answered sullenly, “I was just . . .restin'.”
“You're talking to a ghost?” Xander obviously didn't like the idea, looking around trying to see where the threat was, “I can't see him.”
“That don't mean I'm a ghost.”
“Then what are you?” Buffy raised her eyebrows in question.
“I don't know.” He shook his head sadly. “But I know I'm dying.”
Buffy pulled in her bottom lip, thinking, then stepped a little closer to him. “If I were going to venture a guess, I'd have to say that that train left the station a while ago.”
“No, I'm tellin' ya I'm alive!” Doyle insisted. “I'm too hungry to be dead. Dead people don't get hungry, do they?”
“I don't know.” Buffy shrugged slightly. “Maybe you starved or something. You do kinda have the waif thing going on. Maybe you just don't remember.”
“Who's Doyle?” Xander whispered.
“I remember,” Doyle pressed his hands to his face and backed away, right into the sign. Through the sign. Damn it. “I remember distinctly, every damn agonizing second of it. It felt like I was riding the sun like a buckin' bronco. That damn light burning through my flesh.”
“Light?” Xander echoed, scratching his head in confusion.
“A big half-breed killin' light,” Doyle answered, getting impatient. “Burns away every shred a human ya got 'til there ain't nothin' left. It's a long story. I'd rather just tell it once. To Giles.”
“Don't dead people go toward a bright light or something?” Xander offered. “That's what they say in all the movies anyway.”
“If Xander can't hear you,” Buffy reasoned, “then neither can Giles.”
“Buffy!” Doyle pleaded. “Come on, ya gotta believe me!”
“Look, you're invisible, you walk through signs,” Buffy sounded sincerely sorry. “As I believe I've already noted, those are classic signs of ghosthood.”
“Starvation isn't,” Doyle argued. “And I'm pretty sure ghosts can go upstairs or ride on trains if they feel like it. They can throw furniture around a room and write in blood on the walls. I can't do any of that. I can't even sit in a friggin' chair, fer cryin' out loud! I go through everything, not just walls or doors. Everything.” His voice was getting hoarse. It hadn't rained in a few days. He was thirsty again. “But I can touch you. How do ya explain that, little Miss Skeptic?”
“Okay, that is a little weird,” Buffy agreed.
She was hesitating; Doyle could see that. “I'm not a bad guy,” Doyle told her. “I saved everyone from the bad guys. I'm the Promised One, whatever the hell that means.”
“Surprised me, too,” Doyle admitted. “Will you help me?”
She bit her lip again and shuffled from one foot to the other. She couldn't decide. Doyle looked around for something, anything that could help him convince her. There was a building a dozen yards away. With windows. He grabbed her arm again and pulled her toward it. “Over here.” Thankfully, she didn't resist. He couldn't have held her if she had. “Bring him, too.”
“Xander,” she called and the young man dutifully followed. Doyle planted her in front of one of the windows so that her full reflection was right beside his translucent one, which he hardly recognized. She didn't look impressed. But Xander did.
“Oh hey!” he exclaimed, pointing at the window. “I can see him. Nice to meet you, by the way. You're not a bad dresser, but you don't look so good. Even for a ghost.”
“So I've been told,” Doyle returned. “And I'm not a ghost.”
“I saw his lips move.” Xander said. "What'd he say? Was it about me? 'Cause if it is, you can tell me. Unless it's bad, in which case you can keep it to yourself. Was it about me?"
Buffy looked at her friend and then the reflection again. “Look Xander, I need a favor. I'm already late for patrol or I'd do it myself. Take Doyle to see Giles. I'll come by later.”
Doyle's hopes sank again. “But he can't hear me.”
“But I can't see him.” Xander complained.
“I said I'd be by later. Use the windows,” she reassured him. She turned back to Xander, “You'll have to walk it. Just keep checking to make sure he's with you.”
She left, giving one last look over her shoulder. Xander waved his hand in the other direction. “So how do you know Buffy?” He started walking. “Oh, forget I asked.”
Doyle rolled his eyes, but started to follow through the main quad of the university and out to the city proper. But it was hard keeping up. Xander looked over his shoulder every once in a while, as they passed a window, and he did slow down a bit when he noticed Doyle's reflection was a few windows back. But it wasn't enough. Doyle's feet ached from days of walking from LA and he and Xander had already been walking for nearly an hour. He couldn't go on, and he knew that Xander couldn't help him. He was still alone. He took a few more steps, until he was in front of a large store window, and then collapsed down to the sidewalk. His gave up a sigh of relief to be free of his weight, imaginary or not. It took Xander a few minutes to realize that he wasn't back there, but to his credit, he did stop and backtrack.
“It's not that far now,” he said.
Doyle shook his head. “It's too far.”
Xander knelt down beside him. “At least turn around so I can see what you're saying.” He'd asked nicely enough, so Doyle obliged, turning until he could see his own gaunt reflection in front of the mannequin in the window. “Did. You. Come. From. LA?” Xander pronounced each word loud and distinctly as if talking to a simpleton.
“I'm not deaf, ya know,” Doyle scowled.
“What?!” Xander shouted.
Fed up, Doyle simply nodded.
“That's a long way. You must be wasted. You look totally beat. We can rest for a few minutes, but I don't think we should stay out here alone.” They sat quietly for little while, though Xander constantly tapped his hands on his knee. He was nervous, and Doyle wasn't sure whether it was because of the threat of vampires or because of him. “So you're a ghost, huh?” he asked the reflection.
Doyle rolled his eyes and shook his head. Then he got to his feet, ignoring their complaints and began to walk in the direction Xander had been leading him. “I don't get it,” he heard Xander mutter behind him.
Buffy watched them leave from around the corner. She reached inside her pocket and pulled a folded piece of paper out. She fingered the lettering and traced the lines of the drawing that didn't look much like an angel. His phone number was there, just below the drawing. She could call it, ask him about Doyle. Maybe Cordelia would answer, or maybe she was already home for the night. What if Angel answered? It still hurt, maybe it always would. He should know, though, that his friend was here, ghost or not. He'd want to know.
Or would he? Would it just stir up the hurt again? Especially if Doyle was really a ghost or Giles couldn't help him.
There was a rustling sound in the bushes off to her left. She pushed the business card back into her pocket and ran toward the sound. Vampires and demons didn't wait for emotional indecision. The sound moved away from her as she ran, so she chased it, finally cornering it in a grove of trees. She slowed down as she neared it, stake at the ready. She pushed aside a branch blocking her view, but it was just three commandos. She couldn't tell if one of them was Riley or not. Their faces were covered. She backed away quietly.
She hadn't gotten past the quad when she heard someone calling her. “Buffy! Is that you?”
Buffy spun around to see Riley running towards her. She glanced around but no one seemed to have noticed. “Riley? Hi,” she offered with a smile, letting him catch up to her. “What are you doing out so late? No homework to grade?”
He cocked his head at her, but then took a breath. He got it. “Um, no, not lately. It's been quiet. You? Homework to do, that is.”
Buffy shook her head. “It's Friday. No class tomorrow anyway.” No work for him, no slayage for her. She hadn't seen a vampire, except Spike, in the last four days. “I haven't had any homework to speak of since Monday,” Buffy said, hoping to find out if it had been the same with him. “I'm beginning to think I'm missing an assignment or something.”
He shook his head, still smiling. “It could happen.”
“Seems odd,” she commented, but there it was. Nothing for four days. She'd discussed this with Giles. There were no vamps. No vampire holidays that he knew of either. “Well, I guess I'll just go back to my dorm and relax then. Catch up on some reading. Read ahead. Whatever.”
He laughed. He did have a beautiful smile. “I'll walk you back then.”
She held up a hand. She wasn't really going to the dorm. She had to get to Giles' and see about this Doyle character. “I can make it, really. You don't have to.”
“I'd like to.”
Well, maybe a walk back with Riley wouldn't hurt. And Willow could help shed some light on the Doyle situation. “Okay, I give in.”
Cordelia yawned, and her head nodded forward. She did that a lot lately. She couldn't really help it. She'd already told Angel about the nightmares.
“Why don't you put your head down for a little while?” Angel told her. “Wesley and I can keep working here.” He looked to Wesley for confirmation.
“Certainly,” Wesley agreed.
“I'm afraid to,” she admitted. “It's awful. And it's always the same thing.”
“What is it?” Wesley asked.
“Doyle dying?” Angel asked quietly, his eyes down. It still hurt just to even say it.
“Mostly,” she replied, and Angel noted that Wesley immediately pretended to bury his nose in his book. She'd told Angel about the nightmares, but she hadn't told him everything. “They start that way.”
“And then?” he prompted, sensing she needed to talk about it.
A while back, he wouldn't have even asked. But he'd taken more time with her since. . . . They were family now. “Then, I don't know. It gets worse.”
“Worse?” Angel was looking up now, watching her from under his eyebrows. Wesley, too, though he tried not to be too obvious about it.
“Do you think he got to go to heaven?” she asked, letting out her fear. “I mean, he saved us. So he's half-demon! He did a good thing. He atoned. Didn't he?”
Angel was quiet for awhile. “I don't know if there is such a place. If there is, he's there.” He has to be, he added silently. If Doyle's selfless sacrifice couldn't make up for his meager shady dealings, then what hope did Angel have for redemption?
“It's strange really,” Cordelia continued, visibly glad for the conversation. They didn't talk about him a lot, and Angel knew it bothered her. But it was easier for her. It was still hard for him, which didn't make sense considering what he was, what he'd done. Death wasn't a stranger to him. “Sometimes it's the nightmare and sometimes it's me. I'm somewhere looking back at me sleeping. Or I'm down here wandering around.”
“I dream about him, too, sometimes,” Angel admitted. “The dying sometimes. And sometimes it's just him, coming into work. It's probably natural.”
Wesley, forehead creased in sympathy, nodded his agreement. He never spoke when they spoke about Doyle. Angel appreciated that, though he felt it a little unfair to Wesley.
“It was so short a time.” Cordelia said. Her eyes got moist. “How did we get so attached in so short a time?”
Angel smiled. “I don't know.”
Cordelia wiped away the tear that had escaped her eye and closed the book. “Well, it's not in this one.”
Thankfully, Giles lived on the ground floor. Actually, he lived in a condominium that was below ground level, but the few steps that led down to it were solid. All of which was good news to Doyle. The wind was cool, and he didn't want to have to wait outside or in a basement. Xander knocked on the door and a very British-looking man with light hair and glasses answered it. “Hey, Giles. Can we come in?”
Giles leaned out to look behind Xander. “We who?”
“Me and the guy nobody can see,” Xander answered. “Buffy said she'd meet us here later and explain everything.”
Fortunately, Giles seemed to trust Xander enough. He opened the door. Doyle had already entered though. He was tired and didn't feel he could wait out there. Giles apartment was small but neat. And there were books everywhere. Books about demons and vampires. Just what he'd hoped. Now he just needed Buffy, so she could speak for him.
“He was here just a while ago,” Xander was saying.
“How do you know if he can't be seen?” Giles asked and Doyle noticed he wasn't mocking. He was used to the unusual, it seemed. Of course, he had to be if he was the Slayer's watcher.
“Reflections,” Xander answered. “Doyle? You think you could stand in front of a mirror for us?”
Doyle really only wanted to sit and wait for Buffy to return. Maybe even sleep. No, not sleep. Sleeping meant dreaming and he didn't like the dreams he'd had since. . . . He'd stay awake until she returned. He'd managed the last four days without so much as a nap. He could last another hour. He hoped it wouldn't be longer than that. He looked around the living room, which was divided in two by a couch. Behind the couch was a small table with folding leaves. He spotted a mirror beside the door.
“There's one beside the door,” Giles called. He himself stood in front of the mirror and didn't appear too shocked when Doyle stepped in behind him.
“I need your help,” Doyle said slowly, trying to make the words as distinct as possible.
“I see,” Giles said, and Doyle wasn't sure if that meant he'd understood or not. He stepped back out into the room. “Xander go get another mirror. Something we can put in the living room.”
“My mom's got a full-length one in the hallway upstairs,” Xander offered. “But I'll need to borrow your car.” Giles threw him the keys and he darted out the door.
“I can't hear you,” Giles said, moving to the little table, “so I don't know how to help you. I'm assuming that Buffy could since she told Xander to bring you here. So we'll just have to wait until she comes.” He pulled out a chair. “Please sit down.”
Doyle didn't bother trying. Giles wouldn't know it anyway. Instead he went to the books, taking a seat on the floor in front of the largest group. They were very old, with frayed leather covers and broken bindings. He could read a few of the titles, but many were in foreign languages. One was even Irish and he could hear his grandmother's lilting voice when he read it. Vampires though. Not demons. Wouldn't help.
“Bye,” Buffy said, leaning her hand on her own doorknob. Riley had walked her to her door. He was sweet that way, but it could get in the way.
He smiled and kissed her gently on the cheek. “Tell Willow I said hello. See you soon.”
“Yep, homework in hand.”
“I hope not,” he replied, grinning. He turned and left and Buffy pushed open the door. “Will, get your shoes.”
“What's going on?” Willow asked, sitting up in her bed. “Is evil afoot?”
“Always,” Buffy said, pulling out her box of weapons. “But I'm thinking this one isn't so evil. Bring your spell stuff. We may need it.”
That got her attention. Her eyes lit up and she started pulling on her shoes. “What kind of spell?”
“The kind of spell where you make an invisible person visible,” Buffy answered going through her own things. She wasn't sure what she needed though. She wasn't going to slay anyone. Then she thought of it and closed the box again. She went to her dresser and pulled out her makeup kit and the large hand-mirror inside it.
“You'll see when we get there,” Buffy said, hand on the door again.
“Where? And how can I see when I can't see?” Willow had thrown some things into her backpack.
“I'll explain later,” Buffy said. She opened the door. “When we get to Giles' place.”
Willow was skeptical. “Giles is invisible?”
Xander arrived back before Buffy. Doyle looked up when the door opened. Spike was with him. Doyle didn't get that. The vampire wasn't even trying to bite anyone. He didn't get up though. He was too tired. Giles directed Xander to put the mirror in one corner of the living room. “So where's the ghost?” Spike asked. “And don't point that thing at me.”
“I'm not a ghost,” Doyle argued, knowing not even Spike would hear him.
Xander tried moving the mirror, but Doyle still didn't feel like moving. What good would it do anyway? He needed Buffy to talk to them. He watched them move the mirror around the living room, turning it this way and that to try and see him. The door opened.
“Where could he have gone?” Giles asked.
“He's sitting right there,” Buffy said, pointing right at him. “He looks bored. Someone could have at least left the TV on for him.”
“Buffy!” Doyle exclaimed, standing up. “Thank God you're here! Are they aware that there's a vampire in the dining room?” She had someone with her, another young woman, with shoulder-length, reddish-brown hair.
“It's just Spike,” she assured him. “He's harmless. Why don't you come into the dining room and have a seat . . . or stand . . . or something.”
Doyle followed her through the living room proper, but didn't sit. “Harmless?” he said. “He tortured Angel trying to get at the Ring of Amara. He would've killed us all.”
“I heard that!” Spike said, and Doyle wondered if in fact he had. But he seemed to pay no mind to anyone but Buffy. “I get my bite back and I'll show you harmless!”
“And how do you plan on undoing whatever was done to you?” Giles asked calmly. “Just sit down.” Spike scowled but obliged. “You didn't have to come anyway.”
“I was bored!” Doyle was standing now in front of the mirror and Spike chanced a look in that direction. “Oh, it's the mick!” he said, sounding smug.
“He wants you to help him,” Buffy told Giles, cutting off the argument and ignoring Spike's comment.
“I'll need to know more,” Giles answered, sitting down on the couch. “Who is he and why is he invisible exactly?” Xander and the other girl sat down as well.
“He swears he's not a ghost,” Buffy put in for him. “And he's got some questionable symptoms so I'm inclined to believe him.”
“I died,” Doyle said, hoping she'd repeat it, “or at least I thought I did. I was trying to save everyone. I don't know what happened but I know I ain't dead.”
“I don't hear him,” Giles said. “But you do. Interesting. You see him, too. Because you're the Slayer.”
Buffy turned her attention back to Giles. “I guess so. He's Doyle, a friend of Angel's. He said he died trying to save everyone,” Buffy relayed, taking a seat herself, “or he thought he did. He doesn't know what's happened.”
“Maybe he should start at the beginning,” Giles suggested. “Willow, perhaps you could take some notes.”
“Sure,” Willow, the red-haired girl answered, taking up paper and pen.
“Um, Buffy?” Doyle asked, whispering as if he was afraid of being heard, “Who are these people?”
“Oh,” Buffy seemed startled. “I'm sorry. That was rude. Doyle, this is Willow, my roommate and best friend.” She indicated the red head who waved politely in the general direction that Buffy was facing, “Xander Harris. You apparently know Spike already. And you know Giles. Everyone, this is Doyle.”
“The beginning then, huh?” Doyle sat down, on the floor. He didn't like looking up at everyone, but he was still too tired to stand. “The Scourge. That was the beginning.”
“The Scourge?” Buffy asked.
“Bloody hell!” Spike exclaimed, “That's no beginning. All those fanatic freaks know is endings.”
“I see you've heard of 'em,” Doyle commented. “Not the prettiest buncha fellas, but they are dedicated. They won't give up until every demon that's even got a little human in him is dead.”
“They're a demon army out to get anything that's not fully demon,” Buffy relayed what Doyle was telling her. “Mighty Nazi of them, if you ask me.”
“They came looking for a group of half-Lister demons,” Doyle continued and Buffy repeated. “I got a vision and we did our best to get them out of LA before it was too late. But the Scourge caught up to us. They had a weapon called the Beacon. Sort of like a big bug zapper except it only affects human parts. Not a real treat for half-breeds like m--the Listers. Angel was ready to jump over and pull the plug. But I figured the world needed him more than it needed me.”
Buffy paused for a moment but then repeated what he was saying to her so the others could hear. “So he did it. He stopped it.”
Xander nodded. “Sort of jumped on the grenade to save his whole platoon.”
“Something like that,” Buffy agreed. “Then he was standing on the docks watching Cordelia and Angel drive away. He's been hanging around for the last few months, but no one but me can hear or see him. And he's hungry. He says he's starving.”
“What's the stuff about the Promised One?” Buffy asked Doyle.
“Lister demon prophecy,” Doyle told her. “The promised one would come and save them from the Scourge. We kind of thought it was Angel. Turns out, it was me, I guess.”
Buffy repeated the answer for the others. “Lister Demon prophecy. They thought it was pointing to Angel but it's Doyle.”
“Lister,” Giles repeated. “I think I have something on that.” He stood up and went into the bookshelf behind the couch, returning with one of the large books.
“Maybe Anya should be in on this,” Xander suggested. “You know, demon's side of things.”
“Former demon,” Buffy corrected quickly. She nodded to Xander. “Maybe she's heard of the Scourge. What do you know about them, Spike?”
“Just what you've said,” the vampire answered. “Full-blood demons trying to kill anyone who's not like them. The only way to deal with 'em is to give 'em lots of room and wait until they pass.”
“Great,” Buffy sighed, “Just when I thought Sunnydale had the market cornered on unstoppable evil.”
“So why the invisible stuff?” Willow asked. “And what made him decide to come here? It's been a few months. Why now? For that matter, why is he still here at all?”
“Cordelia saw me,” Doyle answered, still feeling a sense of relief and wonder. “She thought she was imagining it, but she saw me in a window. Then I knew I was real. But they couldn't help me.”
“But you didn't know that I could see you,” Buffy interjected after relaying his answer to Willow. “How was Giles going to help you?”
“I don't know,” Doyle answered honestly. “I didn't think that far ahead. I was desperate. I still am.”
“He didn't think that far ahead.”
“So if the light didn't kill him,” Xander offered, returning to his seat, “what did it do? Maybe he's having an out-of-body experience.”
“He'd have to have a body left for that, you ninny!” Spike rolled his eyes, “Sounds to me like his is spread all over LA harbor.”
“You can always count on Spike to be encouragin', huh?” Doyle noted.
“He has a gift,” Buffy agreed.
“'At the end of that age,'” Giles said, reading from the book, “'the Promised One will come and save them from the Scourge.' That's it. The last page of the book. Not exactly a lot to go on. Is there anything else you can tell us?”
“I don't know,” Doyle sighed and placed his head in his hands. It was useless. What could they do? If the books didn't say anything to help then how could they help?
“It's just one book,” Buffy offered. “Giles has a lot more, right Giles?”
“Well, uh, yes, but. . . .”
Doyle let his gaze fall to the floor. “I shouldn't have come. I could have stayed and wasted away with Cordelia and Angel. I've put you out for no reason.”
“Stop it,” Buffy said, and Doyle was surprised by the forcefulness of it. She got out of her chair and sat down on the floor beside him. She lowered her voice so that only he would hear. “You saved Angel. If I can help you, I'm going to help you. And I'll decide when I'm being put out or not.”
Doyle didn't know what to answer. His stomach ached badly, he couldn't stop shaking and here was the Slayer saying she'd help him. He could see what Angel saw in her.
“What were the demons, the full-bloods?”
“Different kinds,” Doyle replied, and Buffy echoed. “But most of them looked like, well, I don't know how to describe them.”
Buffy looked at him. “Could you draw it?”
“With what?” he asked, holding up a hand.
She took it. “With me.” She stood and took a pad and pencil from Willow, then sat back down again. “Right or left?”
“Right,” he said. She turned her back to him and put the pad on her lap. He reached around her and put his own hand on her hand.
“My hands shake,” he told her.
“Mine don't,” she said. “Just try it.”
Doyle did as she said. It wasn't easy. He'd never been much of an artist before when he could use his own hands. But he managed, and drew a rough sketch of what the leader of the Scourge had looked like, with his bald, split skull and deranged features. “It's the best I can do,” he told Buffy. She nodded and got up to walk the pad over to Giles.
“Well, we'll look into it,” Giles said. “Perhaps you should just get some rest. We'll be at this for awhile.”
Doyle shook his head before he even knew he was answering. “I can't.”
“You don't sleep,” Buffy said, looking back at him. She hadn't asked.
But he did. “I have . . .,” he hesitated, not out of embarrassment, but more out of a lingering sense of fear, “. . . nightmares.” It was why he hadn't slept since-
“When was the last time you slept?”
“Four nights ago,” he answered, feeling the weight of the words like lead on his eyelids.
“And you walked here from LA?” Buffy scolded. “You need to rest. They'll be at the books all night. You're safe here. Sleep.”
It did sound good. Sleep. But on the other hand, his dreams hadn't changed once since he'd . . . well, since. He'd never been as terrified in his life, not by the Scourge, not by anything he'd faced with Angel or even before.
Buffy must have sensed his hesitation. “You're wasting away, Doyle,” she whispered to him, “you're probably not making it any slower by pushing yourself so hard. Nightmares are just dreams.”
Doyle let her help him up. Maybe it would be different now. Now that someone saw him. Now that he had a reason to hope. He'd concentrate on Cordelia, the way she smiled or the way her eyes gleamed when she was mad. Maybe he'd dream about her. Buffy led him into a space just under the stairway. “No one will step on you here.”
Doyle nodded, thankful that she'd thought of that. He laid down on the floor and closed his eyes, visualizing Cordelia's long brown hair and her soft lips, as hushed voices continued in the living room.
Then all the ordinary sounds drifted away. And so did Cordelia. She was on the catwalk with Angel as he turned to them one last time. He turned back to the Beacon. The light was already blinding but he could just make out the cables by their silhouette. The light burned through him, and he again felt the fire melting away his skin. But he pulled against the cables, forcing his fingers to stay locked around them. He pulled with every last bit of energy he had and they came apart. The light flashed once brightly before winking out, and all he had left was the pain. The scream tore out from his throat and then he was gone. There was darkness and misery, pushing its way through every part of him like a parasitic cancer, feeding on his energy, his life. It began to take shape, forming into a cloud of death that hovered over him and held him down with great force. He tried to turn away but no longer possessed the strength to do so; its influence was much too strong. He could only stare back at it, helpless as he was, and then it had him in its grasp.
The invading mist was like a million pins and needles at first, pricking the surface of his flesh. Then the pins and needles became knives that cut in deep, tearing apart his soul.
Help me! his mind cried out. Wake up. . . . Wake up or you'll die.
He screamed, but he could hardly hear his own voice above that of the cloud, the mist, as it whirled over him, cursing him and berating him, even as it burned away his flesh. He tried to get away, to pull against the chains that bound him, but he'd run out of strength long ago. He could barely move, barely even breathe.
As the black nemesis continued inflicting its terrible torture upon Doyle, shapes and shadows began to materialize around him. These phantoms would become solid for only a few seconds--long enough to show their demonic faces--before dissolving back into the mist.
The excruciating pain made him want to die, but something inside of him was not going to let go. His limbs were frozen and he screamed in terror and agony as piercing, red eyes glared down at his own.
Doyle choked and when he wasn't choking, he screamed. The cloud hung above him howling in anger. Its red eyes glowed as it devoured him slowly. The skin of his face and hands was gone now in places, leaving only a few places unexposed. The shirt he wore was now red with his blood that seeped out onto the floor already sticky with the blood of countless others. Their bones rattled beneath him.
Then there was no physical pain; it was gone, like an illusion or waking dream. What remained was worse: visions of ghosts, demons, and horrors unknown. And yet there she was, watching the destruction of the one she loved by some phantasmal entity or entities. . . .
Cordelia cried out and sat up in her bed with a violent jolt, flinging the covers off of her sweating body. Her stomach turned and she tried to force the already-fading images from her eyes, but faint echoes of the nightmare remained. She still felt the shadow of it, creeping up on her like a cinematic vampire about to strike its intended victim. She always did. She felt the bile rise up in her throat and ran for the toilet in the bathroom. Dennis, always present and actually quite considerate, handed her a wet cloth. She wiped her mouth and, sitting back against the wall, started to cry.
Buffy stretched her arms behind her head and yawned. Six books already she'd been through and no pictures to match what Doyle had drawn. They'd set out the table, opening the leaves to give them more room. “We're not getting anywhere,” she said, looking back over her shoulder to where Doyle was laying. But he wasn't. Or at least he wasn't like she'd left him. She stood up swiftly, nearly knocking over the chair and waking up at least two people at the table.
“Buffy?” Giles asked.
“He's fading,” she said, taking a step toward the wall to where the now-ghostly figure of Doyle lay. He was still sleeping, still breathing. He even seemed peaceful. But she saw the wall and the carpet through him. “Doyle?” she said, hoping to wake him, despite her earlier efforts to make him sleep. Maybe she'd been wrong. Maybe he would just fade away. She knelt down to touch his shoulder but her hand went right though until it rested on the floor.
Someone sniffed the air beside her. She turned to see Spike, in full vampire-face. Her first instinct was to grab a stake, but she fought it knowing he couldn't bite. And he didn't seem interested in her anyway. “I smell fear,” he said. “And blood. It's not human though. Doesn't smell right.” He held out a hand placing it near hers, just off the floor. “His heart is racing.” He withdrew his hand quickly and pulled in a shaky breath. “I need a drink.” With that he stood and went to the kitchen, leaving Buffy to stare after him.
“Very unusual,” Giles commented under his breath.
“Giles,” Buffy demanded, “what's going on? He's alive and he isn't. How can he be both?”
“Maybe he's stuck between dimensions,” Xander offered through a yawn, “you know like on all those sci-fi shows.”
“Don't be ridiculous,” Anya argued. She'd arrived just after Doyle had gone to sleep. “You're either in one or the other. You can't be in both.”
Through it all, Doyle never moved.
Buffy rubbed her nose and yawned as she picked her head up from the table. The TV was on in the living room and the morning news was on. The sun was shining through the curtains in the windows. It was morning, and Buffy was glad it was Saturday. Giles was still awake, though he'd taken off his glasses to rub his eyes. Xander was asleep. Anya and Willow were still reading. “Morning, Buffy,” Giles said. “Any change?”
Buffy didn't know what he was asking at first. She needed caffeine and her neck was sore from the position she'd been sleeping in. There were marks on her arm from the hard book cover. Then she remembered. They were trying to find something to explain Doyle. She turned and looked back over her shoulder. He was still sleeping, still translucent, and still in exactly the same position as he was when he'd laid down. She shook her head. “Any luck?”
“Not really,” Giles answered, putting his glasses back on, “but we did find the demons of the Scourge.” He shuffled a few books around and then held one of them up to show her. There was a picture and it looked a lot like the one Doyle had drawn, though with more detail.
“Now there's a Revlon face,” Buffy commented. “Be back in a minute. Need coffee.” She made her way into the kitchen and found a pot already brewing. The stuff of all-nighters. She didn't realize Giles had followed her in there.
“Buffy,” he said, keeping his voice low. “I think we should call Angel. He knows Doyle and might know more of what happened to him. We're not getting anywhere, and I'm not sure he has much time left.”
“Then he isn't dead?”
“I'm not sure about that either.” Giles leaned back against the kitchen counter. “I haven't read about anything like him. He doesn't meet the requirements of a ghost, exactly, and yet he's obviously not altogether alive.”
“I'll call,” Buffy whispered back. “If nothing else, he might want to see him again.”
Giles left her alone and returned to the other room. She knew he'd be listening in though. He was sometimes a little overprotective. She liked to think he didn't need to be, but she was glad he cared. Still, Buffy had Riley now. She had distance from Angel. She took a steadying breath. Distance, she reminded herself. She picked up the phone and dialed the number on the folded card still in her pocket.
“Angel Investigations,” Cordelia answered brightly. “We help the helpless.”
“Cordelia,” Buffy said, “I need to speak to Angel.”
“Oh, Buffy,” Cordelia said, sounding put out. “Um, hold.” The click came immediately and Buffy sighed as she waited for Angel to pick up.
Buffy took a deep breath. This was easier when it was just Cordelia. Her heart still raced just hearing his voice.
He'd hang up if she didn't answer. "Angel," she finally managed.
"Are you alright? Has something happened?"
This was going to be hard. She'd known that. Hard for him; hard for her. "There's something you need to know. I've been seeing a friend of yours," she said.
“Oh.” Came his surprised response. There was a quiet pause and then, “I . . .I've kind of been expecting this. As long as he makes you happy, I guess I can't really--”
“Makes me happy?” she cut him off, wrinkling her nose and frowning in confusion, “What are you talking about? I meant seeing in the ocular sense, not the romantic sense. It's Doyle. He needs help.”
“Doyle?” Angel nearly choked on the name. There was a moment of stony silence from the other end of the phone before he continued. “Doyle's dead.”
She could hear the regret and loss in his voice and her heart constricted with sympathy. But now was not the time to rehash old pain. "That's what I thought at first," Buffy admitted. "But he's got quite an argument to the contrary. Being able to give an argument in the first place being the big part of that. I see him, Angel. I've talked to him. He came here looking for Giles. He asked for my help."
She heard a click, but it wasn't the sound like being hung up on. Angel had set the phone down. She waited. Finally, he picked up again. "He's a ghost?" he asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
"He doesn't think so," Buffy told him. "And he doesn't fit the pattern. Spike could sense his pulse and he sleeps and has nightmares. He's starving. He walked all the way here because he heard you and Cordelia talk about Giles."
Still a whisper, "You're sure it's him? You only met him for--"
He must not have caught the Spike part. "Dark hair, blue eyes, thin--much too thin--, Irish accent," Buffy said, deciding to leave out the translucent-while-sleeping description just now. "He told us what happened, how he died, or thought he died. It's really him, Angel."
"How is that possible?" He'd found his voice again, but it hurt to hear it. "I saw him die. He was burned up. There was nothing left."
"We don't understand it either," Buffy admitted, looking over at Doyle's barely-there form. "Giles is trying to find something. But I don't think he has a lot of time. Angel, I think he's dying."
Angel hung up the phone and walked out to the reception area. Cordelia looked up from whatever she'd been reading. She beamed. "I've got an audition!" she exclaimed. "It's just a local play, but still--"
"You're going to miss it," Angel said, cutting her off.
Her smile disappeared and she stood. "Now look here, Brooding Boy," she said, pointing a finger, "just because your life stops when little Miss Buffy calls doesn't mean that mine does. Wesley can mind the store for an afternoon. I haven't had an audition since--"
"Doyle's in Sunnydale."
Cordelia dropped back into her chair without another word. Her brow creased and she looked at him as if she couldn't decide if he was being delusional or purposely cruel.
"I don't understand it either," Angel told her. "Maybe he's a ghost, but he needs our help. Either way, I'm going up there. I thought you might want to go with me."
Cordelia just nodded.
"Call Harry," Angel continued. “It can't hurt to have a demonologist along. Tell her to bring anything that's relevant."
"To ghosts?" she finally spoke.
"To demons," Angel turned back toward his office. "Brachen, Lister, the Scourge, anything." He was already thinking about his own library, what he might have that would help.
“He'll be here by nightfall,” Buffy reported to Giles.
“Who will?” Spike asked from the couch, loud enough to wake Xander.
“Angel,” Buffy said, trying not to be loud enough for Spike.
“Dead-boy,” Xander mumbled before plopping himself down on the couch.
Buffy was about to answer that, but her gaze had passed the wall beneath the staircase. And he wasn't there. “He's gone,” she breathed, stepping further into the living room. “We're too late?”
Buffy was startled and spun around to hit what had sneaked up on her. She gasped when she realized it was Doyle and that she'd just knocked him through the wall.
She ran back around to the kitchen and helped him up off the floor. He was holding his hand to his face. “I'm so sorry,” she said.
“A bit jumpy this morning, aren't we?” he said, somewhat muffled by his hand. “Ow.”
“Slayer reflexes,” Buffy answered, shrugging. “Maybe we should put some ice on that.”
Doyle dropped his head to look at her through his eyebrows. “And how would we manage that?”
Buffy shrugged again. She didn't even know if he could be bruised.
"Too late for what?" Doyle asked, finishing his original question.
Buffy didn't want to answer; it would have been discouraging. "Cartoons," she lied. "Saturday morning cartoons. All the best ones are over."
He regarded her for a moment and, she was sure he knew she was lying. "Feel any better?" she asked, not giving him time to call her on it. "I mean besides where I hit you."
"Not as tired," he replied. "How'd we do?"
"Do?" Buffy didn't understand.
"With the books," he said.
"Oh!" She turned to Giles and the two girls at the table. "Any luck?"
Willow offered an apologetic smile. Anya ignored her altogether. "Nothing concrete," Giles answered, “but there could be something to your nightmares. Can you tell us about them?"
Doyle froze and his eyed seemed to lose their focus. "It's just a dream," he breathed. Buffy remembered what Spike had said last night. He'd smelled fear from someone he couldn't even see.
"I have dreams," Buffy said, trying to give him something to reciprocate to. Professor Walsh had discussed communication last semester. "Sometimes they're prophetic. I see things and they happen."
"I used to do that," he told her. "Only mine weren't dreams. And they hurt like hell."
"You don't anymore?" she asked.
"In a minute, Giles." She was still watching Doyle, waiting for him to answer.
He shook his head and lowered his eyes. "I apparently passed that gift off to Cordelia."
"But you do have nightmares," Buffy continued, steering the conversation back on track. He didn't like it apparently, and he stood and walked a few steps away.
Buffy stood, too. "Doyle, something happened when you slept last night." He stopped, but didn't turn around. "You faded."
"I've already faded," he said, but he was listening.
"Not to me," Buffy held. "You're like flesh and blood." She touched his shoulder to prove her point. "But last night I could see through you, and when I tried to wake you, my hand went through your shoulder to the floor." He didn't turn or speak. The dreams must have been particularly disturbing. "Your dreams may hold some clue about what's going on with you."
"They're just dreams," he repeated, pleading.
"Maybe," Buffy granted, not removing her hand, "and maybe they're an extension of the visions you used to have."
"Visions?" Giles asked behind them.
Buffy shot him a look that sent him back to his book. Willow started ushering Anya out into the living room. Buffy returned her attention to Doyle. "Tell me about them."
He didn't face her, but he did start to talk. "It's always the same," he whispered. “It starts with me dyin'. Then I'm in a dark place, with . . . blood all around me and this . . . mist,” he decided, apparently for lack of a better word. “A black mist has a hold of me. It's digging into me, and. . . it's pulling the life out of me.”
He shook as he told her and Buffy got the feeling this was more than just a dream. He pulled away from her, leaving her to fill Giles in on the details. He never faced the table as she did.
"And the visions?"
"He said he used to get them," Buffy replied, "but now Cordelia gets them."
"Visions of danger," Giles said, mulling that over. "Yes, Angel mentioned him when he was here. So he's a seer. That could have a bearing on the nature of his dreams. They seem to be quite vivid. Always the same dream?"
"There could be something to it," Giles decided. "Recurring dreams, psychic visions, and demonic prophecy. It's too much to be merely coincidence. What if Xander was right?"
The television in the other room suddenly switched off. "I was right?" Xander asked, peeking back into the dining room. "Right about what?"
"Being stuck in two dimensions," Giles replied. "What if the man you're seeing, Buffy, is a manifestation of a man somewhere else?"
Buffy was surprised to find Doyle right beside her. "What are you saying?" he asked.
Buffy had a question of her own. "But you see him, too, in reflections. And how could he interact with us? He hears what we say, sees what we do. If he's really stuck in his dream, he's in no condition to do either of those things."
"I admit I haven't worked out all the details," Giles said, holding up a hand. "And it is just a theory. But it could explain his starvation."
"A manifestation of having his life sucked out?"
"No!" Doyle exclaimed. "You're saying this isn't real. I'm not real. But she can see me!" He pointed to Buffy. "She can hear me. She can even hit me! I only see the other place when I'm asleep. That's the dream. This is real! I'm real!”
Buffy grabbed his shoulder and pulled him gently away from the table. "It's just a theory," she told him, taking his hand in hers. "Why don't we take a walk? Just you and me and beautiful, suburban Sunnydale."
She didn't give him time to say no. The air was cool outside and the sky gray. There were birds chirping and squirrels chasing each other around the trees. He could hear the sound of lawn mowers a few houses down and smell the fresh cut grass. It was a beautiful Saturday morning in the land of the living. How could the hell of his nightmare be more real? Hadn't he atoned enough to be spared that?
Buffy's hand was soft in his, and, sensing his uneasiness, she squeezed it lightly. "Real or not," she said, "we're going to try and help you."
"You'd say that if you were only a dream," he replied, staring at her hand in his. "It's what I want to hear."
Buffy didn't deny it, and Doyle worried that he was right. She was a dream. The birds, the squirrels, even the trees and the smell of fresh-cut grass. All part of a dream his dying self was dreaming as an attempt at escape from his torture in the dark place.
"Well, I know I'm not your dream," Buffy said. "And I know I'd say that if I was, but think about it. If this were only a dream wouldn't you be dreaming it different? Like maybe being visible so you could still talk to your friends. Or cheeseburgers? Don't starving people dream about food?"
"I'd still be dying," he reminded her.
"Yeah, but you wouldn't have to be so miserable doing it," she argued.
She had a point. A person could have a certain amount of control over what they dreamed. "Give it a try.," Buffy suggested. "Dream yourself something pleasant and let's see if anything changes."
Doyle decided it was worth a try. He could tell Cordelia he was sorry about leaving her with the visions. He squeezed Buffy's hand, closed his eyes, and tried to imagine it was Cordelia's. Then he realized he'd never had a chance to hold her hand. But with his eyes closed, he didn't see the grate in the sidewalk. He felt it though, as it passed through his foot up to his knee.
Buffy's grip was strong, though, and she hauled him back up to firmer ground. "Okay, that wasn't pleasant."
"And you're not Cordelia," Doyle returned, catching his breath. He was sitting on the sidewalk, dangling one leg into the grate, which caused a peculiar tickling sensation all through his knee.
"Cordelia?" Buffy asked helping him to his feet. "Pleasant? You're kidding me, right?"
At that, Doyle smiled. "She has her moments."
"Well, I don't feel like a dream, and I'm certainly not Cordelia," Buffy said. "Giles did say manifestation, anyway. That doesn't necessarily mean dream."
"But it doesn't mean real either," Doyle argued. A drop of water fell through his right arm and then another through his shoulder. In a matter of seconds, it began to rain in earnest, and Doyle could feel his thirst decrease.
"We should head back," Buffy said, ducking her head to try and avoid the worst of it.
"I think I'll stay," Doyle replied, standing and letting go of her hand. "I can't get wet, and I'd kind of like to be alone with my thoughts, you know. You go on. I'll find my way back."
She looked up at him, her blond hair sticking to her face. "You will come back?"
"I've come too far to give up now," he told her though he didn't feel that optimistic anymore.
She frowned--she had a very cute frown--but she nodded and turned back toward Giles' place.
Doyle watched her go and then carried on in the direction they'd been wandering. The birds were quiet now, the squirrels were hiding, and the lawn mowers were being put hastily away. The rain drowned out most other sounds, except the occasional car. Soon, the cars were more frequent and the houses and residential buildings were replaced by small shops. Despite having a hellmouth, Sunnydale was a quaint college town from the look of things, and Doyle felt he'd stick out like a sore thumb if he'd been visible.
He wouldn't have minded sticking out just now. He wouldn't even have minded the visions. He minded more the nightmares and the thought that they were real. One of the shop windows caught his attention. A bakery. There were samples in the window. Rolls, baguettes, and pastries. His mouth watered in spite of the rain. He could smell the bread baking, and he took a breath, filling his lungs--such as they were--with the aroma. His stomach ached stronger, growling. Manifestation? he thought. That would be quite a trick. He was hungrier now than he'd ever been in his life.
Buffy was drenched by the time she reached Giles' house and opened the door. "Towel," was all she managed to blurt out.
"I think I've found something," Giles said. "Is he with you?"
Xander handed her a towel and Buffy tried to soak up the worst of it before making a puddle in Giles' carpet. "He stayed out. Where's Will?"
Xander answered, "She wanted to change and get her computer."
Buffy nodded and then joined Giles at the table. "I've found a Brachen legend of a darkness that takes life from people, children to be precise. They banished it to a place known only as the Nether in 1023."
"The Nether?" Buffy asked as she sat down. Giles frowned at her wet clothes. "Where's that? Something tells me it's more than a hop, skip and a jump from here."
"It doesn't say," Giles went on, "though one could assume it's an alternate dimension of sorts."
"Who are the Brachen?"
"Demons," Giles replied, holding up a book to show her an old drawing of a spike-faced demon. "They've been fairly quiet in recent centuries. They've also been known to crossbreed."
"Just the sort of thing the Scourge would frown on," Xander commented, taking a seat himself.
"So this darkness was something even the demons didn't like?" Buffy asked.
"Well, not the Brachen at any rate," Giles replied. "It apparently did have some followers, 'for they carry on its work.'"
"What was its work?" Someone had made sandwiches and Buffy picked up one. She'd forgotten that she hadn't eaten yet.
"To destroy all traces of humanity on Earth," Anya answered for Giles. “Particularly the humanity that's in mixed-breeds.”
Spike emerged from the kitchen with a mug of what looked like lumpy blood. "That certainly sounds like our boys."
Buffy made the mistake of looking at the mug and returned her sandwich to the plate. "So what did they do to Doyle?"
"I've no idea," Giles admitted. "I can't find any mention of a beacon, or light for that matter. Probably because this beacon, as Doyle described it, would have been modern technology."
"So it's not in ancient prophecy," Buffy concluded, giving in to her hunger and retrieving the sandwich. Spike held up his mug in mock toast. Buffy ignored him and took a bite anyway.
"You should change," Giles suggested. "You can call Willow and have her bring something. In the meantime, I've some sweats and a T-shirt upstairs."
Buffy smiled. There were times that she appreciated a little over-protectiveness.
It was dark by the time the rain had stopped. Doyle felt better now, stronger and a little less tired. He had kept walking after leaving the bakery window. He'd stopped looking in windows for fear of insatiable temptation. He lost track of time, too, wondering farther and farther through the city. He knew he should turn back, that Giles and Buffy were back there trying to help him.
But he didn't turn back, and he kept wondering if it was doing any good. He'd hoped that Giles would have had an answer for his present state. But all he'd had thus far were unpleasant theories.
He found himself at the harbor, and he could just hear the waves beneath the pier. He didn't dare step out onto the docks. He didn't care to see if he could still drown or not. Then again, drowning might have been easier than starving.
He took a few steps forward, still trying to make up his mind. Two more steps and the thick cement would turn to wooden dock.
He took another step and then froze. Beyond the lapping of the water against the dock's supports he heard a familiar sound. Footsteps. Dozens of footsteps all ringing together. They grew louder and louder until Doyle could no longer hear the water. The Scourge.
Angel/Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Close to Home...So Far Away
By Gabrielle Lawson
Contributing Authors: Mike Donovan, Joe Smith Jr. and Charles Kline II
Angel knocked on the door with the toe of his shoe since his arms were otherwise occupied. Fortunately someone answered quickly as the books were beginning to slip. He lost his grip when he saw who had answered, and one of the books fell.
"Buffy," was all he could manage to say.
She seemed equally taken aback as she stood silently in the door just staring up at him.
"I thought these might help," Angel finally said, nodding toward the books he was still about to drop.
"Oh, right." She took a few books off the top and stepped out of the way.
Angel followed, and Buffy tried to shut the door behind him. Angel was about to stop her when a sandaled foot poked itself into the doorway. "Angel couldn't have driven himself in the daylight," Cordelia stated, pushing the door open. "So I'd appreciate not having the door slammed in my face."
Angel suspected Cordelia's abrasiveness would soften once they got down to the business at hand. Cordy may not have liked Buffy much, but she usually got her priorities right when it counted. "Harry's right behind me," she added.
"Harry?" Buffy asked.
"I also brought a friend," Angel explained, just as the door opened again.
Buffy's cheeks turned pink and a few of the others--Giles and Xander were in front--came out to see who had come in.
"Is he here?" Harry asked, setting her books on the coffee table and brushing a few stray curls from her eyes.
"Harry?" Buffy managed to stammer.
"Yes," Harry replied and offered her hand. "You must be Buffy. I've heard a lot about you."
Buffy smiled and took the hand offered, but she shot Angel an angry look. "Harry's an ethno-demonologist," Angel explained. "And she's Doyle's ex-wife."
Buffy's features softened and she answered Harry's question. "He's not here."
"Is this some kind of joke?!" Cordy accused. She hesitated, obviously wanting to say more.
It took a lot to make Cordelia speechless, and Angel felt rather the same way. "I hope not.” he frowned, "If it is, it’s not funny."
"He is here!" Buffy was quick to reply. "Just not right now. He went for a walk. But he should have been back awhile ago. I was just about to see if I can find him."
"I'll go with you," Angel volunteered.
"Won't do any good," Xander commented. "Buffy's the only one that can see him."
"Except in reflections," Giles amended. "Why don't we finish the introductions and get down to business?"
"Reflections?" Cordelia asked, her voice so quiet, Angel wouldn't have thought anyone had heard. But, since everyone else had frozen in silence, he assumed they had. Cordelia raised a hand to her mouth just as her knees buckled.
Angel moved quickly to catch her. She grabbed his shoulder as he did and held him close. "Do you know what this means?" she sobbed in a whisper. "I saw him. Over and over. The window, my mirror. He was there!"
Angel didn't say anything. He had suspected Doyle had stayed nearby since Buffy had said he'd heard them talking about Giles, but that was still an abstraction. This was more concrete. And Angel felt guilty for it. He felt like he'd let Doyle down.
Buffy ushered the others, and Harry, to seats at the table where she quietly introduced Harry to everyone else. Cordelia and Doyle must have been close, considering her reaction and the way he'd talked of her.
Harry seemed subdued as well, which wasn't all that surprising. Buffy hated to admit, even to herself, the flash of jealousy she'd felt when Harry had come in. She was beautiful, and older which probably would have suited Angel. It hurt to think that Angel could move on, even though she had herself. Now, knowing that he and Harry weren't involved, she felt guilty for moving on, knowing that he hadn't--or couldn't, considering the curse.
Still, they weren't here to reminisce or cause each other pain. Angel and Cordelia joined the others at the table, and, after explaining Spike (during which time Giles and Xander both threatened gagging him), Buffy filled them in on how she had found Doyle at the edge of campus. Then she left them to Giles and set out to find the man of honor.
Doyle had followed them, out of breath and thirsty again, toward the outskirts of town. He couldn't keep their pace, however, and arrived after most had moved on. Only two remained. They had found a long-abandoned rail station and vampires, if one could judge by the one that remained struggling against the two demons. They were laughing, tormenting him as he staggered and flailed ineffectually at them. They took turns cutting him, causing him to scream and drop to his knees.
"You reek of humanity half-breed," one taunted as he backhanded the doomed vampire.
"Calling this vermin a half-breed is an insult to half-breeds," commented the other. "Finish him or we'll be late."
"Fine," returned the other. "This way, parasite," he called to the vampire, who, contrary to good sense, did just that. He lunged full out at the demon. But the latter easily sidestepped the attack, grabbing the vampire's head with both hands as he did so. And in one swift movement, he brought his elbows in close and twisted. The momentum of the lunge caused the vampire to spin, but the demon was faster and his movement more forceful. The vampire yowled as the demon ripped his head from his shoulders. He had just enough time to hold it up for his partner to see before it burst into a bright display of fine dust along with the rest of the vampire's body.
Doyle didn't exactly feel pity for the vampire, but he didn't like the fact that the Scourge was in town. If all they killed were soulless vampires, it wouldn’t be as bad. But what if there were half-demons in the area?
They were leaving now, apparently satisfied that all the vampires were dead. Doyle remembered that one of them had mentioned being late. He decided to follow them, knowing they couldn't see or hurt him.
There were more than a hundred of them gathered when he reached their hideout, more than Doyle remembered from Los Angeles. Three demons stood on a stage while the rest stood at parade rest in even ranks on the ground. The leader, shorter than the other two and stocky, was shouting slogans at the others who howled their ascent from time to time. At first, it was the standard racial diatribe which might have enraged Doyle if he hadn't exhausted himself in coming this far. But then the speech became apocalyptic and Doyle perked up.
"For centuries we have worked toward a goal!" the leader shouted. "We have killed the mongrel and striven to purify our race. We have worked to bring about a time when the world would be free of humanity in all its forms. That time is at hand!
"We are led by the Higher Power!" he continued. "He has led us from afar since his banishment nearly a thousand years hence. In two days, he will lead us in person, and he will cleanse the Earth of its impurity!"
The crowd broke ranks to cheer that one.
"A doorway will open but there will be resistance," the speaker went on, silencing the crowd. "There are those who would stop us, those who would obstruct our Leader’s emergence."
The crowd murmured its displeasure with angry voices and raised fists.
"Sunnydale may boast a hellmouth, but it also houses a Slayer!"
The crowd howled in incoherent anger, so loud that Doyle could barely hear the next part.
"We cannot allow this interference!"
Now the crowd was with him, breaking ranks again, shouting and thrusting their fists into the air.
"The Higher Power will emerge!"
"Yes!" the crowd screamed in a frenzy.
“The Cleansing will come!"
Doyle backed away as the crowd erupted again. He had to warn Buffy.
"It's been months then," Harry commented. "He was there with us and we didn't even know."
"There's really no way you could have known," Giles reminded her. "You couldn't have seen or heard him except in reflections, and even then he does appear rather. . . ."
"Ghostly, " Xander finished for him.
"That's probably what we would have thought of him," Angel concluded. It didn't help though. He still felt guilty. And angry. If Doyle was truly alive, the Oracles had lied to him.
"We should concentrate on the present," Giles suggested. "He's here, and for whatever reason, he appears to still be alive. I think if we can find the reason, we'll be in a much better position to help him."
"Could it have something to do with the Brachen side of his family?" Harry posed.
Angel wasn't surprised by the reaction that got. Giles, Xander, Spike, and Willow all spoke in unison. "What?" Anya, though, didn’t seem impressed.
"Doyle is half-demon," he told them, prepared to explain if necessary.
"That doesn't make him a bad person!" Cordelia blurted.
"He's not exactly proud of it," Harry added. "Will you still help him?"
Giles looked to Angel, and Angel knew what he wanted. Despite what had happened between him and Angelus, Giles was willing to trust Angel's judgment. Angel just nodded.
Giles accepted that. "We're going to try," he told Harry. "Tell us about his demon side."
"He was raised human," she said. "We didn't have any idea. One day he sneezed and spikes came out of his face. He was terrified; we both were, but he took it harder. I wanted him to learn more about his father's side of the family, maybe even meet his father, but Francis didn't want that side of himself. At first, he just hoped it would go away. When it didn't, he got angry. I left after that."
"He can change form," Angel added, picking up the tale. "He's stronger in demon form, though he doesn't like to use it. I don't know the extent of his abilities, because I rarely saw him that way."
"He'd be good in a long jump," Cordelia said, looking down at the table. Angel knew what she was saying. Doyle had managed a magnificent leap to the beacon.
"He appears to us in human form, so I think we can rule out the option that his human side was destroyed leaving only demon." Giles took off his glasses and set them on the table. "When he allegedly died," he asked quietly, "what did you see?"
Cordelia didn't speak, so Angel answered. "The light burned him. His back was to us so we couldn't see everything." It wasn't easy talking about this, even now that he knew Doyle hadn't died. It still seemed as if he had, and it had to have been an agonizing death. Still, Angel forced himself to recount it, just as he had when he'd told Harry. "But just at the end, when he'd pulled the cables, the light flared. He screamed and then he was gone."
"Gone how?" Giles probed further.
“Burned up,” Angel managed, “or so I’d thought. He just disappeared.”
“Perhaps he didn’t,” Giles suggested. “What if he was transported to another place, another dimension?”
“Then how is he here?” Cordelia asked.
“I haven’t figured that out yet,” Giles replied. “It’s just a theory anyway. I’m open to other ideas. What have you brought with you?”
Buffy kept her eyes open but she ran through town, wearing again Giles’ sweats. If anyone noticed, they’d think she was doing it for exercise. There was a pouch in the front of Giles’ sweatshirt for tucking one’s hands in from the cold. She didn’t have her hands in it, though. She had Mr. Pointy.
She went in the same direction she had gone with Doyle earlier in the day. Past the bakery. She caught site of a someone running and stopped. He seemed to be breathing hard and his stride was unsteady. The face wasn’t right. She stepped behind the corner of a building and took another look. His face was dark in color and . . . spiky. Except for the way he was dressed, he looked a lot like the Brachen demon in the picture Giles had showed her. She took out the stake and waited for him to run by.
At the last moment, she stepped out and caught him by surprise. “You’re not what I came out here for,” she quipped, stake at the ready. Not giving him a chance to fight back, she staked him, hard, knocking him to the ground. “But you’ll do.” Too much momentum though. She fell down, too, her hand still on the stake, the tip of which scraped against the sidewalk.
“Buffy,” the demon said, still breathing hard and she thought the voice, though hoarse, sounded familiar. “It’s me.” She propped herself up on one arm and looked at him. He was dressed familiar, too. Then he shook his head and the spikes and dark coloring went away. His red eyes changed to blue and she was looking at Doyle. “Will you please . . . remove that?”
Buffy backed away, but left the stake. “I don’t know that I should.” The stake though, fell over, disappearing beneath, or within, his body.
He sighed and then slid over until the stake had, to her eyes, pulled itself through his shoulder and lay beside him. She retrieved it quickly and waited for an explanation. “I’m stronger . . . that way,” he said slowly, taking deep breaths between the words. He hadn’t bothered to even lift himself up.
“You’re a demon,” Buffy said, not giving in to sympathy anymore.
“Half-demon,” he corrected. “Like the one’s . . . the Scourge . . . was after.”
“You lied to me.” She was angry, but conflicted. This was still Angel’s friend, someone he trusted.
“No,” he held. “It hadn’t . . . come up. I wouldn’t have lied . . . or kept it from you.”
He nodded. “He was always . . . after me . . . to change in a fight . . . but I prefer to be . . . human. Cordy, too. She only slapped me . . . when she found out. God, I wish it would rain again.”
Buffy decided on neutrality. She’d make up her mind when Angel saw Doyle again, when she could gauge his reaction. “We were worried.”
“You should be,” he replied, rolling over. He tried to get up on his elbows but fell back down. “I was coming back to . . . warn you.” He rolled back over.
“Warn me why?”
“The Scourge,” he said. “They’re here. And they’re after you.”
“They’re here? In Sunnydale?” That was bad, if what Doyle had said of them was true. She could deal with demons, even multiple demons, but an army of demons was a bit much. “Why me?” He tried again to get up, and this time she helped him.
“They said something about a cleansing,” he told her, “and I got a feeling they weren’t talking about givin’ each other bubble baths. They said their leader would come through a doorway.” He took a breath. “And that you would try to stop them.”
Buffy thought about the Brachen demon story of the darkness and his followers. It was sounding more like the truth. “That is my job.” She looked around her, trying to see into the shadows. Were they out there?
“I think,” he said, still gasping for air, “they’re done for the night. They got some vampires . . . before their big meeting.”
“Let’s get back.” She took him by the arm, but he could barely stand, even with her help. She remembered him talking about the rain and how he’d wanted to stay out in it earlier. “We’ll find you some water,” she said.
He nodded. “I don’t know how, but it helps. Not like food, but it helps.”
There was a fountain a block away. Buffy had to practically drag him to it, as he could hardly hold his own weight. She thought of lifting him over the side, but remembered she wouldn’t have to. “You won’t drown, will you?” she asked as she pulled him through the concrete rim of the fountain’s pool.
“Don’t know,” he replied. “I was about to find out when I heard them.”
That was the Doyle she’d known since she met him on campus. That wasn’t the personality of a demon. Or of an evil half-demon. They generally wanted to live. She held the back of his collar so that his head wouldn’t go under as the fountain poured water down on top of him, soaking her sleeve (but not his collar). His breathing eased though and after a few minutes, he sat up on his own. “Better?” she asked.
He nodded and she hauled him to his feet. He was able to stand and walk along with her now, though not at too fast a pace.
"So, if these followers are the Scourge," Angel asked, after being filled in on the Brachen legend, "and they've been going around killing half-demons for nearly a millennium. Why aren't there others like Doyle around?"
"Precisely," Giles agreed. "Except that it does appear that he is wasting away."
"But that's taking months," Willow broke in. "There would still be strange faces in people's mirrors and windows from the more recent victims."
"So we're still left with whatever makes Doyle different from the others," Giles concluded. He left the book he was scanning through and stood to pace around the table. "Let's start with the obvious and see if we can come up with anything. He's half-demon."
"Most of their victims are," Cordelia stated, eliminating it.
"Half-Brachen," Giles tried. "Could he possibly have been the first?"
Angel shook his head. "There was a clan in Oregon. The survivors came to Doyle for help. He turned them away. They were killed. That's when he got his first vision."
"Alright, the visions."
Cordelia fielded that one. "I'm thinking he didn't have them when he died--or didn't. Anyway, he'd given them to me."
"How'd he do that?" Willow asked.
"He kissed me just before he jumped."
"The Beacon then." Giles stopped his pacing just across from Angel. "It was a new weapon, I take it."
Angel nodded. "The way they talked about it. But Doyle wasn't the first. They used it on the ship's first mate as a demonstration. He was different though. The Beacon wasn't fully charged, and the first mate didn't just disappear. There was dust, like when you stake a vampire. But he was human."
"It's still a possibility then," Giles took his seat again.
"Though it would seem unlikely they'd design a weapon that would leave their victims alive-even in non-corporeal state--for so many months," Harry challenged. "There must still be something different about Francis."
"His name, for one thing," Xander said.
Cordelia rolled her eyes at him. "It's his middle name, Xander," she said, emphasizing his own unique name, “How would you like to go around being called by your middle name? La--”
“Okay, okay!” Xander raised his hands in surrender, “I get the point.”
Angel barely noticed the exchange. He was thinking. About what the Oracles had said. They had either not known--which shouldn't have been likely--or they lied. They had said Doyle was dead. To turn back time would have negated his noble death and left his atonement unfulfilled. But he wasn't dead. At least that was the conclusion everyone had reached.
Or maybe the Oracles had known all along. Maybe they knew more than they let on and just didn't want their warrior interfering. That seemed more like them. But it wasn't much like Angel.
Doyle worked for them. He had something to atone for. That's what was different. Maybe Doyle's atonement went beyond his selflessness in the cargo hold. And maybe a Promised One was meant to do more than save one clan of Lister demons from a Scourge that still existed to kill others.
"There's something bigger going on here," he said to himself.
"Like what?" Cordelia asked, and Angel realized he'd said it out loud.
Angel wasn't sure, and he didn't know how to explain without causing more confusion. He didn't have time anyway because the door opened and Buffy returned, closing the door behind her. Angel, Cordelia, and Harry all started to get up, but Giles motioned for them to stay. Willow got up to reposition the mirror. Angel usually avoided them but he looked now, and as Buffy entered the room, he could see that she was holding someone's arm.
Doyle entered first, only catching half the door as Buffy opened it. Everyone, it seemed, was sitting around the table. Willow was up, moving the mirror, and it was the first thing he noticed. The angle didn't show him his own reflection, but Cordelia's. Doyle couldn't move. She covered her mouth, but her eyes said so many things. She was astonished, concerned, happy, and sad all at once. Beside her was an empty chair. He looked and Angel was there.
"They're here to help," Buffy whispered, still holding his arm.
Angel stood up and looked first to Buffy and then right at Doyle. His eyebrows were drawn down and his face showed very near the same emotion he'd had that night in the cargo hold. "Doyle?" was all he managed to say.
Buffy smiled and nodded, but Doyle didn't know what to say. He'd hoped to speak to Angel again, to take Cordelia to the dinner he never got to finish asking her to, but not like this. He hoped he'd be alive again, fully, somehow, but that was looking, and feeling, less and less likely even with Buffy's help. If he was going to die. . . . He'd already said good-bye, and they'd already done their grieving. This would only start it over again.
Cordelia came and stood beside Angel, taking his arm for support. But Doyle was surprised by the voice. "It's good to see you, Francis."
Doyle stepped to the side, so that he could see past everyone else. Harry smiled at him from the far end of the table. "Hi," he breathed, unable to think of anything more eloquent.
"He says 'hi'," Buffy relayed. She kept a hand on his arm, and he guessed it was partly to support him and partly to let them know where he was.
No one spoke for a few minutes and Doyle still didn't know what to say. Finally Buffy broke the silence. "Did you find anything?"
"I need to sit down," Doyle told her. She let go so he could sit on the floor.
Giles answered, "Nothing concrete." Then he addressed Doyle directly. "We were trying to determine how you are different from all the others the Scourge has killed. Why you’re still here and no one else appears to be."
"So you do think I'm here?" Doyle asked him.
Buffy repeated even his tone when she asked him the same thing.
"I think I wasn't clear before," Giles pushed his chair back so he could more easily face them though his gaze was too high for Doyle, "and I'm sorry if it upset you. You are definitely here. As Buffy mentioned earlier, you interact with us, especially her. You're here, just in a non-corporeal sense. Which leaves me to wonder what may have happened, or what may be happening, to you in a corporeal sense."
Buffy didn't give him time to respond to that. "They're here," she blurted, as if she'd forgotten and was just now remembering.
"Who's here?" Angel asked.
"The Scourge," she replied, stepping closer to the table. "Doyle said he saw them."
Spike poked his head up from the couch. "Here? In Sunnydale?"
"Are you still here?" Giles asked. "It's almost dawn."
"If the Scourge is here," Spike challenged, "I want in on it. I can't exactly run off and hide from them."
"What makes you think we're going to fight them?" Giles shot back.
"We could let them have you," Xander suggested. "Then maybe they'd leave Sunnydale in peace."
“Xander!” Willow scolded.
"Nice thought," Doyle commented, "but you don't know the Scourge."
"Not likely," Buffy paraphrased.
Angel held up a hand to get everyone's attention. "Where did you see them?"
"At the harbor," Doyle replied, letting Buffy repeat his answers to everyone else.
"He followed them to the abandoned rail station where they killed some vampires. There were maybe a hundred of them."
"Maybe more," Doyle added.
"They said something about a Cleansing," Buffy told them what he had said earlier. "They think I'll interfere."
"They talked of a Cleansing before," Angel said. "They didn't have another beacon, did they?"
"Not that I saw," Doyle replied. "The ones I saw mainly used their hands, swords and knives and the like."
"Against vampires?" Spike asked, incredulous, after Buffy had repeated Doyle's answer.
"They ripped the one's head off," Doyle said.
Buffy just said, "They were out-numbered, and you don't necessarily need a stake to kill a vampire."
"Ask Angel if they spoke of a leader last time, a 'higher power'."
Buffy nodded and asked.
"They said they killed the half-breed because the Higher Power demanded it."
"They said something about a doorway," Doyle went on.
Buffy repeated what he told her. "Their leader is going to emerge the day after tomorrow and cleanse the Earth of all humanity, in all its forms."
"Is that the same guy in the Brachen legend?" Willow asked.
"It's possible," Giles replied. "Especially as Doyle is half-Brachen, the same race as those that banished it."
"What Brachen legend?" Doyle asked.
"You knew he was half-demon?" Buffy asked.
Giles and the others nodded.
"He just came out and told you?" Cordelia asked, and Doyle heard the annoyance in her voice.
"After I'd staked him," Buffy answered quietly.
Buffy looked up at Angel. "I didn't recognize him. It’s okay, though, it went right through him like everything else."
"Where'd he go?" Harry asked, indicating the mirror.
Everyone stopped and looked, except Buffy. "He's tired," she said. "He's sitting on the floor."
"He can have my chair," Angel offered.
"No, I can't," Doyle said, "but thank him for me anyway."
"He'd fall through it," Buffy explained. "Non-corporeal. But he said thanks."
Angel didn't take his chair back though. He crossed his legs and sat on the floor. Cordelia joined him.
Giles moved some of the books to the floor and started closing up the table. "We can all sit on the floor." He motioned toward the area in front of the couch.
Xander was already getting up. "Let's move the couch back," he told Spike.
"Move it yourself," Spike shot back. "Just because he can't sit in a chair doesn't mean I can’t."
Giles rubbed his nose between his forefinger and thumb. "Angel, there's a mug in the refrigerator if you're--"
Spike didn't let him finish. "Alright. I'll help move the bloody couch. Is that all you people know: blackmail?"
Willow was gathering books. "It's not like we can appeal to you sense of decency."
"Brachen legend," Doyle repeated as he let Buffy help him up.
The couch was moved back and everyone started finding places on the floor. Buffy sat on the couch though. "Oh, Little Miss Slayer gets to sit on furniture," Spike muttered.
"You can have a chair," Giles sighed. "Xander, get the rope."
"Now hold on," Spike protested.
"And a gag."
"I'll bet he's fun at parties," Doyle said of the vampire.
"Park it, Promised One," Buffy replied. She tapped the front of her knees. "You look like a guy who could use a good lean."
Doyle wasn't sure what to say. He was surprised by her thoughtfulness, not that he'd thought her incapable of it. But she'd constantly offered him little things he'd had to do without for so long. Important little things, like a voice to speak for him or a hand to touch him.
She took his hand now and pulled him down in front of her. "Go ahead," she said, and pulled back gently on his shoulders until they rested on her knees. Cordelia sat beside him, and she smiled when she realized he was there. Willow moved the mirror until it was directly across from him and offered Angel the spot to Doyle's right. Harry sat near the mirror.
"The Brachen legend," Buffy said when everyone had settled in their spots, "was about a demon they'd banished to a dimension called the Nether for behaving like the thing in your dreams. It's been gone since ten-something, but it left behind followers that sound a lot like our bigoted friends, the Scourge."
"And it would seem, then," Giles concluded, pointing to Buffy's knees, "to have something to do with you."
"Why me?" Doyle asked.
"Because you are the Promised One," Buffy replied.
Giles explained. "Isn't it ironic that you're half-Brachen, the same race that banished their leader nearly a thousand years ago and you fulfilled the Lister prophecy by saving them from the followers?"
Doyle was getting light-headed. He certainly never asked to be either Brachen or the Promised One. "But I'm not the one they're expecting to try and stop them," Doyle argued.
"No," Buffy replied. "I am. Maybe we can turn that to our advantage." She put a hand on his shoulder.
"So now we've two got mysteries to solve," Giles remarked. "How to help Doyle and how to stop this Cleansing."
Cordelia yawned and looked at the window where the soft light of the morning was just starting to brighten the curtains that hung there. She found herself yawning, though she tried to fight it. She looked in the mirror and was still surprised to see Doyle sitting beside her. She hardly recognized him, and not because he was slightly translucent in the reflection. He was so thin. His eyes were rimmed dark and his cheeks sunken in. His hands were bony and shook when he lifted them off his knees. Doyle hadn't mentioned it since their arrival, but Giles had said he was starving.
She was leaning back against the couch as he was leaning against Buffy. He yawned occasionally, too, which, when she caught his reflection, caused her to yawn again.
Her eyelids felt heavy and she had to read each sentence of the book twice. The one she had was about the Brachen, and while it was somewhat interesting to read about Doyle's demon race, research was never something that she'd found particularly stimulating. And she had been up for more than twenty-four hours already. Nightmares or no, she needed a nap. She let her head fall back against the couch and closed her eyes.
This was one of the better dreams. No cargo hold. No beacon. No darkness or howling black clouds. Just Giles’ living room with the couch pushed back and Buffy's friends scattered around the floor. Harry was there, too. And Doyle, straight ahead in a mirror.
"I think I've found something!" Willow said with a grin. Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked at her.
"Not that," she said and Cordelia realized it wasn't about a way to help Doyle. "Remember when the Gentlemen were here and we couldn't talk?"
Cordelia didn’t, but Giles and Xander nodded.
"One of the girls from my Wicca group had found spells about speaking. We didn't get a chance to try them, but what if they could help Doyle? Buffy wouldn't have to repeat everything he says."
"Wicca?" Doyle asked.
"Willow's a budding witch," Buffy's voice explained from somewhere behind her.
Cordelia nodded. "It would be nice to speak for myself again," Doyle said. "Can't exactly have a private conversation with you around. No offense, but I’m not really keen on havin’ an echo, ya know?"
"None taken," Buffy replied brightly. "He's up for it," she told Willow, who got up and left the group.
Cordelia looked to her left and saw herself sleeping with her head back against the couch. "Then I can tell you I'm sorry," Doyle said.
And Cordelia felt sorry and knew what he was apologizing for. The visions. The pain he hadn't meant to cause her. She brought up a hand to cover another yawn and Cordelia was shocked at how thin the fingers were. And the jacket. Brown leather sleeves covered what she thought was her arm. She wanted to hold the hand up and examine it more closely but she couldn't. Instead, it moved downward, wrapping itself around a knee she knew wasn't hers. She was aware now, too, of the hunger, the constant vacuum feeling in her stomach, but it wasn't her stomach. Her gaze caught the mirror again and she realized she was looking at herself, or rather at Doyle.
"You know," Angel said quietly, as Cordelia turned to look at him, "seeing you in the mirror when I can't see myself is. . . ."
"Ironic?" Doyle suggested, and Cordelia felt it was her mouth moving, her vocal chords producing Doyle's voice.
"Creepy?" Buffy translated, and Cordelia shook her head, or Doyle did.
Angel smiled and nodded. "I can think of worse though."
Cordelia opened her eyes and popped her head up, looking immediately for Doyle. But all she saw were Buffy's legs and Angel beyond that.
Angel looked at her with concern. "Nightmare?" he asked.
Cordelia ignored him and looked in the mirror. He was there, just off center, and his head was turned in her direction. He said something but Cordelia couldn't hear it.
"You have nightmares?" Buffy asked, and Cordelia knew she was just repeating Doyle's question.
Cordelia looked at Doyle, at the place she knew he was sitting. "It's you!" she said, letting the realization take hold. The room became silent again just as it had for Willow. "I heard you. You said you could tell me you're sorry. It's always been you."
"Cordelia?" Angel asked.
"I wasn't seeing me in my sleep," she explained. She pointed to Doyle. "He was. I was dreaming just now. But I was seeing all of this, all of you. Only I was seeing it from where he's sitting. I saw me still asleep over here. Willow said she might have a spell that could help him speak, but I heard him anyway. And he didn’t say ‘creepy’. He said ‘ironic.’ It wasn't me seeing me."
"It was Doyle," Angel said, finally understanding.
"You were seeing through his eyes?" Giles asked. "How is that possible?"
"He kissed me!" Cordelia exclaimed, as if it explained everything. And to her, it did. That kiss had been like no other kiss, and at first, she'd given in to notions of romantic tragedy. But she'd learned quickly enough that it had passed the gift of his visions to her. Now, apparently, it had done more than that. "He kissed me just before" (she couldn't bring herself to say he died when he was sitting right there) "and something special happened. I could feel it."
"There was a . . .," Angel said, struggling a bit with the description, ". . . blue mist that passed between them."
"And that's how she became the seer," Giles realized.
Cordelia faced Doyle again. "So what's the dark place?" she asked.
Buffy put a hand down on what Cordelia assumed was Doyle's shoulder. It moved and Cordelia assumed he'd become restless. She'd touched a nerve. "The black cloud with red eyes? What is that? I see you there." She lowered her voice. "I hear you scream."
Doyle's pulse was racing, making him lightheaded. Cordelia and the room around her seemed to swim in front of his eyes. He tried to back away, but Buffy's hand was there, holding his shoulder.
In his mind's eye he saw the dark place she spoke of, the black mist and the glowing eyes. He felt the shackles on his wrists and ankles as he struggled, weakly, against them. He felt the pain. "N-No," he stammered, not wanting to see it, not wanting to remember. "It's not real!" he cried, though he couldn't make his voice work.
"Cordelia," he heard Buffy saying, "give me a minute." Cordelia backed away and Buffy moved into her place, putting both hands on his shoulders. "Can we have a minute, please?"
The others scrambled out of the living room. Xander even took Spike's chair with him. Now there was only Buffy, but the room still wouldn't hold still. He heard whispers and screams, a blend of both places, the real and the nightmare, and it nearly blocked out Buffy's words. "Doyle?" she said, and her voice echoed as if bouncing off canyon walls.
"It's not real," he repeated voicelessly. "I don't want it."
Cordelia described the nightmare for them, as much as she could bring herself to put into words. It stirred up images in her mind and she felt sick again.
"I don't thinks it's coincidence," Giles whispered as the stood in a huddle in the kitchen. It was a small kitchen and they had no choice but to huddle. "What if the dream is real? What if the mist is the darkness of the legend? Doyle's still here because he's linked to Cordelia. She anchors him to our world."
"But he drags her with him to the other when he sleeps," Xander hypothesized.
Giles nodded. "We need to know more about it."
"He can't tell us," Willow said, peeking into the living room. "I think he's traumatized."
"You would be, too," Cordelia told her, not really meaning to sound so harsh. But she'd seen the place, seen Doyle there, his flesh burned away, the mist devouring him slowly. She hated it as a dream. It was worse to think it could be real.
"Cordelia, do you think you could tell us more?" Giles asked carefully. "When you see it, do you see through his eyes or are you apart from him?"
She didn't like the way this was leading. "Apart," she replied reluctantly.
"Can you move about freely?"
"I don't know," she admitted. "Why?"
"What if we hypnotized you?"
Buffy held on to him and kept talking until his breathing slowed and his eyes focused on her. He closed his eyes for a moment and then opened them again. His voice, when he spoke, was calm, but his eyes held terror. "They're both real," he said. "I can see it, just as I see you. It's gone for now. Someone else is screaming."
Buffy touched his face. "We're going to help you."
Doyle had lost his focus again. He began to shake. "It's coming back," he breathed. "It's coming back!"
"Look at me!" she told him, taking his shoulders again.
But his whole body was trembling. His breaths came fast and uneven. He grabbed her arms. "Help me!" he begged.
Buffy didn't know how. Doyle tensed and his eyes filled with terror and pain. He screamed, and then fell right through her. "Doyle!" she yelled, but it was too late. He was asleep, translucent and untouchable.
Angel burst in from the kitchen. The others were right behind him. He didn't speak. He didn't need to. Buffy stood and backed away from Doyle. "He's gone," she said. "Asleep."
Cordelia pushed past Angel. "Well, wake him up!" She was frantic.
Buffy shook her head. "I can't. Not when he's like this. I can't touch him."
Now Giles stepped forward and touched Cordelia's shoulder.
"It's real, Giles," Buffy told him. "The nightmare is real."
Giles nodded but spoke to Cordelia. "We need to see what he sees. We need to see the demon."
Cordelia shook her head. "No," she said. "I can't go back there. It's killing him."
"We can't stop it from here," Giles tried to convince her.
"We could go get him," Angel suggested.
“Sure,” Xander quipped, “I’ll just whip out my trusty dimensional portal and set it on Francis.”
Buffy fixed him with a tried expression.
“I know,” he sighed, holding up his hands in surrender, “not the best time for my special brand of humor.”
"We can’t attempt anything drastic until we know more about it," Giles held. He returned his attention to Cordelia. "It won't be like having a nightmare. You'll still be able to hear us."
Cordelia hesitated and looked to Angel. He didn't say anything at first but Buffy could sense the pain he felt. "All this time," he said finally, "it's been a curse. Now maybe it can help him."
Cordelia took a deep breath and nodded.
Giles passed the pen in front of her from side to side. "I don't see how this is going to work," Cordelia told him. She never did understand how someone went from having it totally together to slack-jawed gawker just from watching someone’s pocket watch. And Giles only had a stupid pen.
"Just give it time," Giles told her. He'd ushered everyone else out of the living room to limit her distractions.
She wanted to help Doyle, who was lying on the floor according to Buffy, so she tried to concentrate on the pen. It was a black pen. Actually, it was smoky, with a translucent covering. But the ink was black. The clip was silver in color, and it caught the light from the lamp as it passed back and forth in front of her.
Giles was silent for awhile and Cordelia grew bored with the pen. Maybe that's what's supposed to happen, she thought. Boredom does tend to lead to sleep. Still, she couldn't look away from the pen as it moved this way and that. She started to see two pens, and they wouldn't hold steady in Giles’ hand. Her eyes were crossing and she really wanted to close them.
"If you're tired," Giles said softly, "you can close your eyes."
Cordelia sighed and closed her eyes, though she still felt she could see the pen move from side to side even behind her eyelids.
"You can go to sleep," Giles said, but he sounded far away. She was tempted to open her eyes and see if he had left her, but she couldn't do it. It was like her eyelids were held by iron weights, besides, she could see Doyle coming, running up the gangway with the Lister boy.
She ran forward to meet him. "You’re alive!"
“And you’re not happy?” he asked.
"Where are you?" Giles' voice, like a whisper in the clouds.
"On the Quintessa," she answered, surprised that she could.
She slapped him.
"What was that for?" Doyle asked, bringing a hand to his face.
"Why didn't you tell me you were half-demon? I thought we agreed secrets were bad!"
"What's happening?" Giles again.
"He didn't tell me he's half-demon." She told him, still incredulous. "He was afraid I'd reject him. As if I hadn't already! I thought he knew me better than that."
"It’s true," Doyle replied. “I just-“
She faced him, hands crossed over her chest. "What do you think I am, superficial? So you’re half demon! That’s so far down the list. Way under short! And poor! Is there anything else I should know?"
He thought for a moment. "The half-demon thing is pretty much my big secret."
"Good. That’s out. It’s done," she said, putting her anger away. "Would you ask me out to dinner already?"
He smiled. "Yeah?"
She liked his smile and had to smile herself.
"Cordelia," he started, "would you like--"
"I think we should move forward," Giles said, and Doyle was gone. The ship was gone. There was nothing.
"The Quintessa?" Giles asked Angel behind him. He'd waved the others back in the room as soon as he was sure Cordelia was hypnotized.
"The ship," Angel replied, not elaborating. He hoped Giles would understand.
Giles turned back to Cordelia, who was lying on the couch. "What's happening?" he asked.
"He didn't tell me he's half-demon," she answered as clearly as if she'd been awake. "He was afraid I'd reject him. As if I hadn't already! I thought he knew me better than that."
"Before he died," Angel said, remembering how Cordelia had accused him of keeping Doyle's secret, too. But it was too close. Doyle would be gone in a few minutes. "Can you make her skip that?"
Giles nodded. "I think we should move forward," he suggested to Cordelia, and all emotion drained from her face.
"Tell her the Beacon has gone off and Doyle is gone," Angel told him. "She said her dreams got worse after that." That was all she'd said, but Angel was starting to get a sense of how much worse they were. He'd been to hell, tortured for longer than he could recount. He still had nightmares about it himself.
"Cordelia," Giles said, "I want you to move forward. The light has flashed and Doyle is gone now. Where are you?"
She screamed, a full, terrified scream. Her fingers dug into the cushions on the couch and her whole body tensed. Angel cringed to hear it. He wanted to wake her up, but he knew they needed to know what she saw. He hated doing this to her, and he hated that there was no choice for Doyle.
Giles snapped his fingers, and Angel thought he'd woken her up. The screaming stopped immediately and she went limp on the couch again. But she was still asleep. "You're in the dark place," Giles told her, "but you don't feel anything. No fear. No pain. You just watch. Tell me what you see."
"It's dark," she said, calmly, showing no emotion. "I see Doyle. He's. . . ."
She hesitated, Angel realized. Even under hypnosis, she'd hesitated to describe Doyle.
"Look around you. What else do you see?"
"Rock," she said. "Like a cave. The walls are rock, red and black, but the red is from the blood. There are bones and clothes on the floor. Blood everywhere I go. It's cold here."
"Do you see the mist?"
"Yes. It's over Doyle. It's killing him."
Angel closed his eyes, not wanting to hear that.
"It's angry," she added. "It's screaming at him."
"What is it saying?" Giles asked, picking up a pen and paper.
"Gar na mior fo ne lori . . . “
Giles scribbled frantically on the pad and then gave up, letting the pen fall back on the pad. "I don't understand it," he said. "Perhaps Harry can translate?"
Angel looked around, but Harry wasn't there. He hadn't noticed her leaving. Buffy, who was standing at the foot of the couch, looked around, too, and Willow even left the room to look in the kitchen. Xander went upstairs. Willow returned shaking her head, and Xander leaned over the stairs. "She's gone," he said.
"So's your car," Willow whispered.
Cordelia kept repeating the demon's words. "My car?" Giles asked.
"Angel's," Willow told him.
"Where would she go?" Buffy asked.
Angel shook his head. He didn't know. But he did know that she still cared about Doyle. Maybe she left to find more sources for research, answers they hadn't found yet. He'd have to trust her. He really had no choice at the moment.
"That's enough," Giles told Cordelia, and the recitation stopped.
"It's leaving him," she said. "Doyle?"
"Can he see you?" Giles asked. He looked at Buffy and pointed to where Doyle was sleeping. But she shook her head. Apparently he hadn't changed.
"I don't know," Cordelia replied. "He won't look at me."
"Where did the mist go?"
"It left," she said. "Someone else is screaming."
"That's what Doyle said," Buffy whispered.
"Can you follow it?"
"Tell me what you see."
Cordelia left Doyle and followed the screams to a far wall. "Bones and blood. The rock is black, the blood is red." But there was something else there, lying on the floor, obscured by the cloud that hung over him. "There's a man. It's Blayne Mall, from high school, except he has a vampire's face. He's smoking." The mist had stopped screaming. It was laughing now, its laughter a deafening screech that echoed off the walls and mixed with Blayne's screams. Its red eyes danced and white acrid smoke erupted from Blayne's jittering body. He began to melt, like a wax figure in a blazing furnace. Skin and muscle dissolved, pulling away from the bones on his face like warm jelly as he screamed and struggled to free himself.
"Can you describe it?" Giles asked. It was so hard to hear him over the cackling and wailing.
"His body is smoking. His skin is melting. He's screaming and trying to get away, but he can't get away. The cloud is breathing in the smoke. It's laughing. It's happy now." She stayed quiet for a bit, watching until nothing remained of Blayne but his skeleton and ill-matching clothes. "Blayne is gone." Cordelia reported. "Nothing but bones and ugly clothes."
A light flashed to her right and Cordelia held up a hand to block the light. "There's a bright light," she told Giles. Like the Beacon. It faded and she saw another man. "There's another one."
"Another vampire?" Giles asked.
Cordelia stepped closer to look at him, but he had a normal face. He was surprised. "Do you see me?" she asked.
He looked at her and smiled. His face changed and he bared his fangs. "Yes," she answered Giles. "And he sees me." But she wasn't afraid. His hands went through her when he reached for her. She was like Doyle back in the real world. What Giles had called non-corporeal.
"What are you?" the vampire asked.
"I'm not the one you should worry about," she told it, turning and pointing to where the black mist was moving towards them, red eyes gleaming with evil. "As long as it has you, it leaves Doyle alone."
The mist screamed and raced at him. The vampire ran. "He's trying to run away," she told Giles. "But it's faster." The cloud had passed through her unaware and enveloped him mid-stride. He fell to the ground, scratching at the bones on the floor as he tried to crawl away. But the mist held him and already he was smoking. She was disappointed. He'd be gone too quickly. She hoped another would come. Then the mist would not return to Doyle.
"He's gone," she reported when the mist lifted from the floor. His bones were left, still reaching out from inside the sleeve of his jacket and frozen in a grip of terror.
There was another light and a circle opened in the wall. She could see the real world in the circle, though she had to squint because of the light. She saw a uniformed demon holding a vampire by the head. He twisted and the head came off. She thought she saw Doyle behind them both. But the circle closed and the light faded, leaving the vampire standing in front of her. She smiled and told Giles he'd come.
Giles found her smile disconcerting. She's spoken out loud when she'd talked to the vampire, and while he didn't have any sympathy for the vampire, it was eerie to hear her so dispassionately tell him the mist would leave Doyle alone while it had him. He tried not to dwell on it though. He'd suppressed her feelings, though she still cared enough about Doyle to not want him harmed.
"It's fast," Buffy whispered, her eyes as wide as everyone else's. Except maybe Angel’s, whose face hadn’t really changed.
"Tell me about the light," Giles told Cordelia, hoping to find a way in, or out, of the dark place. "How did the vampire get there?"
"I saw the world through a hole in the wall," Cordelia said. "A demon pulled the vampire's head off. The vampire came here. The hole went away."
"Doyle saw that!" Buffy exclaimed quietly.
"I saw Doyle," Cordelia said. "He saw the vampire die."
"They've opened some sort of portal to the Nether," Giles said.
"But that was hours ago," Buffy argued.
"Different time zones?" Xander offered from the staircase.
"Something like that," Giles admitted. "But Doyle and Cordelia don't seem to be effected by it. Perhaps because they're not traveling physically from one place to the other."
A tear slid from Cordelia's eye. "It's finished," she reported, though her voice held no emotion. "It's going to go back to Doyle."
"Can we wake her up now?" Angel asked, without taking his eyes off of her.
"No," Cordelia said, surprising everyone. "Wait."
She stepped closer to him. The mist was still hovering over the vampire. She had some time. She knelt down and leaned over him. He looked like the vampire when it was melting. His skin was gone, the muscles of his face and hands bled. His eyes stared upward. Unseeing. Unlike the others, he was chained to floor. "Doyle?" she said, wanting him to hear her. She spoke with the voice of her dreams, the one Giles didn’t hear. "I'm here. Go to sleep now."
His eyes shifted. Just a little, but he didn't see her. She touched his shoulder, but her hand went through him. It tingled. "Close your eyes," she whispered. She turned back and saw the mist coming. She didn't have much time. But she'd thought about it even before Giles sent her here. If Doyle was asleep in the world, she dreamed the dark place. When he was awake, she dreamed what he saw. He had to be asleep here to be awake there.
She started to sing to him, one of the songs from her Enya CD. She'd bought it because it was Irish. She'd listened to it in her apartment, where no one else could hear-except Dennis, but he seemed to like it. One of the songs had spoken to her. It was a slow song, calming and she hoped it would comfort him to hear it. "So time is stolen," she sang to him, "I cannot hold you long enough."
He heard her, turned his pained eyes to her. Then he closed them. Just as the mist passed through her, cold and sharp, like millions of needles. As it reached into him, she kept singing. “I know of a dream I should be holding, days and nights falling by, days and nights falling by me.”
“Cordelia?” Giles was calling her.
She ignored him and kept singing. “Strange how my heart beats, to find I’m standing on your shore.”
The whole roomed filled with light until it all disappeared around her and she was standing on nothing. But he was standing there, too, fine and handsome, without so much as a cut or bruise. Just as she’d remembered him.
“Princess,” he said. His eyes held hope. “That you?”
She smiled. “Doyle?”
He stepped closer and she held out a hand. And he touched it! His lips turned up slightly and he wrapped his fingers around hers. “Where are we?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Somewhere in between I think.”
His smile faded, but not the hope in his eyes. “It’s not real,” he said.
Cordelia shook her head and stepped closer to him, close enough to wrap her arms around him. “No, it’s not. But let’s stay for awhile.”
In answer, he pulled her closer and held her. “That was a beautiful song,” he said after a time. “Have you heard ‘Exile’?”
She knew it. It was on the same CD. She tightened her grip.
“Sing me the chorus,” he whispered in her ear.
“I’ll wait the signs to come,” she sang, and she wanted to cry, “I’ll find a way. I’ll wait the time to come. I’ll find a way home.”
“Cordelia, can you hear me?” Giles was closer now.
“I promise,” Doyle whispered. The light faded and she saw his hands, Doyle’s hands, resting on carpet. There were legs all around, so she moved--Doyle moved--away from them and stood up.
“Cordelia?” Giles asked again, more forcefully. “Can you hear me?”
“Yes,” she said. She heard him twice and it made her grin. She could see him, too. He was a few feet away, sitting on the edge of the couch, leaning over her body. He looked worried.
“Are you still in the dark place?” Angel was there, too, and Xander and Buffy. Everyone was so intent on her.
“Where are you?”
“Behind you,” she said, and laughed.
No one else did though. They froze. And then they looked at each other. Then they looked behind them. Only Buffy’s expression changed. Her eyes grew wide and she nearly fell off the arm of the couch. “Doyle!” she exclaimed, pushing past the others. Cordelia felt her hand on his shoulder. “Are you alright?”
“Apparently not,” he whispered. Then he spoke up. “He can wake her up now.” Buffy turned to tell Giles but Doyle stopped her, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Make sure he doesn’t make her forget everything. None o’ that ‘When I clap my hands you’ll wake up and remember nothing’ stuff, alright?”
She furrowed her brow but otherwise nodded and he let her go. “You can wake her up now,” she told Giles. “But don’t make her forget anything.”
Giles turned back to her body. “When I count to three,” he said, “you’ll wake up.” He glanced back at Buffy. “And remember everything. One, two, three.”
Cordelia opened her eyes and saw Giles. She immediately turned her head, looking for Doyle, he was gone, invisible to her now. She found Angel though, and he helped her sit up. She grabbed him and hugged him. “I saw him!”
Despite the hour (and the fact that she'd been up all night), Willow was proving to be quite a lively person. It was her shift and she was prattling excitedly about something while setting various bottles and candles around him. Doyle wasn't listening though, not that he was in any immediate danger of falling asleep. Not now that he knew what it meant--and definitely not while Cordelia was sleeping.
He was remembering, holding on just enough to Willow's voice to keep the barely controllable fear at bay. He was remembering the dark place, as both he and Cordelia had called it. And he was seeing her there.
It wasn't just this last time, he realized. She'd been there before, standing beside him, her mouth hanging open in a scream he couldn't hear over his own and the roar of the mist, the demon, that had him.
Like this last time, the demon had left him occasionally, and he would hear others screaming, though he was unable to see what was happening.
He tried not to remember the pain. It was like the Beacon, searing heat burning through him. Except that it never ended. It subsided a bit when the demon left him, but it always reintensified when the demon returned.
"Well?" Willow pulled his attention back to the here and now. "You want to give it a try?"
Doyle was confused and his reflection frowned at her. "Give what a try?" he asked, shrugging so she'd understand what he was trying to say.
She grinned. "Nice accent! I didn't know you were Irish. Angel's Irish, too, but I think he's been here too long."
Doyle sat up straighter and paid more attention to the paraphernalia around him. "A couple hundred years'll do that to you," he mumbled. "You really are a witch, aren't you?"
“Wiccan,” she corrected with a modest, self-conscious shrug. “Witch kind of has some bad connotations. But I'm trying. Stuff doesn’t even go wrong that much anymore." She looked up quickly. "Not that something went wrong this time! I mean, you can talk."
Doyle could talk before. It was everyone else who couldn't hear him, but he understood what she was saying. Her spell had worked. "I could kiss you!" he told her, which caused her to blush again.
"Hey, I know!" she said, grinning. "I can take rain check and you can kiss me when we get your body back."
Doyle smiled. "Deal. And, trust me, once I get my body back you’ll all be in fer round a overflowin’ appreciation.”
"You should keep it down. People are trying to sleep over here."
Doyle sat up on his knees to get a better look over the couch. Angel was just getting up from the floor.
“I thought you like the night," Doyle replied, knowing that Angel had only been teasing. Willow's job was to talk to him.
Angel helped Willow put away her things. "Mind if I take over?" he asked, touching her on the shoulder. She smiled and shook her head. Angel helped her off the floor, and she started upstairs.
Angel checked the mirror and sat down. "I get it now," he teased. "You just wanted all the attention."
Doyle chuckled lightly, not wanting to wake anyone else. "You're getting better at the humor bit."
Angel gave him a sad smile. "It hasn't been easy," he admitted. "I was learning from you."
Doyle sighed and wished for Buffy's legs to lean back on. "This isn't exactly how I thought things would go."
Angel leaned back against the wall. "Life's funny that way," he replied.
"Is death funny that way?" Doyle asked.
Angel thought about that for a moment. "In my experience," he said, "yes."
Doyle nodded, sensing a certain amount of wisdom in that.
Angel dropped his head. "I'm glad things didn't work out like you planned," he said. He quickly looked up at the mirror. "Except for the whole Nether thing. What I mean is, I'm glad you're alive."
Doyle dropped his voice to a whisper, all too aware now that his voice was audible to the others. "But I'm dying."
Angel turned his head and actually managed to look Doyle right in the eyes. "I'm not leaving here without you."
Doyle offered him a small smile. "I'm not ready to cash out just yet, man. Not when things are finally startin’ ta look up fer a change."
But Angel didn't smile back. In fact his normally broody countenance fell a bit. "Hold on. I know that look. There’s something yer not tellin' me," he challenged.
Angel looked away without answering, but Doyle could be patient when he needed to be. Angel would talk. It just took time.
"I went to the Oracles," he finally answered. "They seemed to think you were dead."
Now Doyle took the time for silence. It said a lot that Angel had gone to them for him. It also meant the Oracles were wrong or that they knew more than they were letting on. "What did they say exactly?"
"They said bringing you back would nullify your noble death and leave your atonement unfulfilled. They said you don't live so that others will."
Atonement. He had atoned. They'd said so. So why did he still feel guilty? And why was he still alive when they sounded so certain he wasn't?
"I think," Angel said, still facing the wall, "they still expect you to die. They didn't want me interfering."
"Well that’s right nice of ‘em, isn’t it?" Doyle remarked, understating his feelings. He felt betrayed, not by Angel, but by the Powers That Be. "Why keep stringing me along like this?" he asked. "I know I haven't done a whole lot to be proud of with my life, but I don’t deserve this. Do I?"
"No, you don't," Angel was quick to say. "That's why I'm interfering."
"I promised Cordelia," Doyle told him, already feeling her slip away. "I promised her I'd find a way back. I don’t know how I’m supposed to do that quite yet, and now you're telling me the Powers That Be have the cards stacked against me?"
"I just think that there's something bigger going on than just your situation," Angel explained. "The Scourge is still out there, still killing people. We only won a skirmish. The war’s still on. But if you're the Promised One. . . ."
“Hold on there, man.” Doyle didn't like where this was leading. "Are we even all that sure that’s what I am? I mean I did sort of. . . ." He pantomimed an explosion with his hands.
Angel looked at him. "That demon killed three vampires in less than five minutes. But it can't kill you."
Doyle shook his head. "It can," he argued. "It's just taking longer." He didn't want to be the Promised One. He didn't want that responsibility.
"That isn't the point," Angel said. "You are the Promised One. And the demon that has you controls the Scourge. Maybe this is all part of the plan to stop them, once and for all."
"And I'm still supposed to die," Doyle added unhappily. He'd been willing to accept that back in the cargo hold, but not now, not after he'd just gained some hope.
"Not if I can help it."
Angel/Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Close to Home...So Far Away
By Gabrielle Lawson
Contributing Authors: Mike Donovan, Joe Smith Jr. and Charles Kline II
Harry opened her eyes. She turned the wheel sharply and the car swerved back onto the right side of the road. She let out the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding and tried to force her eyes to stay focused on the road.
What letter was she on? K? No she'd gotten that one when she passed the QuikTrip. Besides, that was when she was going forward. J had tripped her up going backwards. Now she was doing both, alternating: A, Z, B, Y. And she'd gotten J off a jeep that had passed as she was turning off the highway.
So it was Q. Served her right. Road signs were few and far between on the gravel roads this far from civilization. Did the names of trees count when playing the alphabet game by yourself to avoid falling asleep and crashing a friend's car forty miles from the nearest highway?
A sign. "Karly's General Store. 3 miles," it read.
"Why couldn't you sell antiques?!" she yelled, hoping the noise would help. But she'd had the radio turned up all the way for the last two hours. Noise wasn't good enough.
And then it hit her. Karlina. Karly. She'd made it. The drowsiness left her. She saw the store up ahead, a lone building surrounded by trees. A single gas pump stood to the right of the drive. The parking lot was big enough for three cars, though Harry doubted they ever got three customers at once. She pulled in and parked in the center space. Harry smiled when she saw the signs on the storefront. "Karly's General Store"; "Antiques"; "Movie rental"; "PO Boxes."
"Q, K, P, L, O, M, N," she recited before turning off the engine. "I win."
A young woman came out to greet her as she stepped out of the car. She was taller than Harry remembered, but that could have just been the shoes. Despite the rugged surroundings, the girl was wearing high heeled, knee-high, black velvet boots, a mini-skirt, and a short jacket. And, of course, it had been a few years.
She beamed. "Harriet Doyle, is that you?!" She ran down the wooden steps in front of the store and wrapped her arms around Harry without waiting for confirmation. "You haven't changed a bit."
Harry laughed. "You have, Karlina. What's with the outfit?"
Karlina let go, but kept her smile. "You never know when a handsome young bachelor is going to need a tank of gas. Come on in. Have a Coke and tell me everything." She led Harry up the steps and opened the door for her. "What's it been? Four years?"
Harry felt her stomach tighten, but accepted the can Karlina offered. She nodded. "You were so much younger then. I'm surprised you remember me."
"Comes with the genes," Karlina replied offering her a seat by the wood stove that sat in the center of the store. "So what have you been up to?"
"Traveling mostly," Harry replied. She took a sip and realized she was thirsty. She took a long drink before she set the can down on the little table between her and Karlina's chair. "But unfortunately, I don't have time to tell you everything."
Karlina became serious, her brows furrowed. "It's Francis, isn't it?"
Harry sighed. Karlina had been just as perceptive when she was only fourteen. Harry nodded. "But it's not what you think." Karlina's hand was resting on the table, and Harry took it. "I need to see your father."
Karlina didn't pull her hand away, but she straightened up in her chair. "What's going on, Harry?"
Harry really didn't have time to explain everything to Karlina. She would probably have to tell the girl's father and then the Elders, if he would agree to take her to them. "I need his help. I need him to take me to the Elders."
Karlina nearly jumped out of her seat. As it was, she bumped the little table. Harry caught the can before it fell off. "Do you know what you're asking?" Karlina asked. "They wouldn't see you last time. If not for Francis, they wouldn't have tolerated you at all!"
"I think they will this time," Harry told her. "Francis is in trouble. Will you help me?"
Karlina looked at her hand. "You're not wearing your ring," she observed. "No mark on your finger. You left him."
"Divorced." Harry had no intention of lying. "But that doesn't mean I stopped caring about him."
"It's not his drinking again?" Karlina asked. "There are hospitals for that."
"Not even close," Harry replied. "I really don't have time, Karlina. Trust me. Please."
Karlina sat back down, frowning, as she watched Harry closely. Please, Harry thought again. She'd need Karlina's father if she were ever going to get in.
Finally, Karlina sighed. "I gotta lock up."
It only took her a few minutes to secure the store. She gave Harry the key to the gas pump, and Harry locked it. She stopped at the car and grabbed the book from the back seat before meeting Karlina at the back of the store.
She stiffened, nearly dropping the book when she heard the low growl from the nearby trees. The growl rose into a full-throated scream that sent Harry's heart into her throat.
"Choro!" Karlina scolded. "Come out of there. You remember Harry."
The branches parted, and a tawny, full-grown mountain lion emerged. "That's Choro?!" she asked. "He's grown."
Choro sniffed her and then rubbed its face on her leg. "He tries to act all big and tough," Karlina said, smiling proudly as she rubbed the lion's ears, "but he's a pussy cat at heart." She started walking, and Harry and Choro dutifully followed.
The house was another mile into the wilderness, reachable only by foot or horseback, and Harry wished the weather hadn't been quite so agreeable. Horseback would have been faster. Still, she had more time with Karlina this way and spent the forty-minute walk telling of her travels.
The house was a rather nice cabin. Two stories, but still with that rustic look. "You might not want to mention the divorced part," Karlina warned as she reached for the door. She opened it, holding it open for Harry. "Dad!" she called out. "You'll never guess who's here!"
A deep voice grumbled loudly from the other room, "Darak norinim bracha!"
Karlina sighed and rolled her eyes. "It's not like he doesn't understand English," she complained. "Mom used to live here, too." Still, she tilted her head and changed, letting her spikes show.
"He loved her," Harry said, knowing exactly what she was talking about, even if she had divorced Francis. "The death of a spouse hits you hard. Everyone deals with it differently."
She, herself, had found herself yelling at Angel that he deserved punishment more than Francis. To his credit, Angel understood it was mostly her grief talking. Sadly, he'd even agreed with her. It ended with him holding her as she sobbed. She woke up later that night to find herself tucked in on the couch, her wedding photo still clutched in her hand. (read vignette)
"It's been five years," Karlina held, sounding like the little girl Harry remembered. But her father was coming and she dropped it. "Garr, cadno dar filjam."
"Harriet Doyle," Hherom said, dipping his head in greeting.
"Seranim, Hherom," Harry replied, inclining her own head. Her Brachen was rusty; she hadn't used it outside of research in over three years.
"What brings you?" Hherom asked, still speaking his native tongue.
"I need your help," she told him, hoping she had the grammar right. "Francis needs your help."
"Your husband does not want my help."
Hherom was of average height for a Brachen, but that put him more than a foot higher than Harry. It was hard not to be intimidated. Still, she was resolute. Francis needed this. "He doesn't have a choice," she said. "He's in the Nether."
Hherom froze, but only for a moment. His stern countenance returned quickly. "Then he is already gone, and you are no longer a concern of ours. Send her away, Karlina."
Thankfully, Karlina wasn't afraid of disobeying her father. "What's the Nether?" she asked.
Harry stood her ground, unwilling to give up. "He's not dead."
Karlina spun around, dropping the spikes and falling back into English.. "Dead?! You didn't say anything about dead!"
Harry stayed with Brachen. It was Hherom she had to convince. "He's not dead," she repeated. "I've seen him. He's split between here and there. The Scourge sent him there to feed the Devourer. That was in November."
Hherom turned away from her. "I know little of the Nether. Only that it is a place of darkness and torment," he said, softening his voice. "I can't help you."
Harry chanced a step toward him. "You can take me to the Elders. They know of the Nether. They know how to stop the Devourer."
Karlina threw up her hands in frustration. "What's the Devourer?!"
Hherom turned, ignoring his daughter. "If you are wrong," he growled, "we both die."
Karlina was scared. Harry was, too, but she refused to show it. "I'm not wrong. Francis is the doorway. The Devourer is coming."
Hherom approached his daughter, taking both her shoulders in his big hands. "Stay in the house, Veris Na," he said, calling her his Little One.
Karlina wrapped her arms around him and pressed her head to his chest. "You won't tell me, will you?"
Hherom lifted Karlina's head and brushed her hair back from her face. "You have your mother's eyes."
Karlina changed again and switched languages. "I have yours, too."
"Stay here," Hherom repeated, pulling away from her embrace. He turned to Harry. "Come."
As they stepped out onto the path, Harry knew why the Brachen had banished the Devourer: They loved their children.
It was nearly noon now and everyone was awake. Cordelia had beamed when she heard his voice. Buffy seemed relieved. She wouldn't have to repeat anymore. Spike, though, had decided it was worse hearing a disembodied voice than having to look in a mirror to see him.
Doyle almost forgot about the Oracles and the all-too-real nightmares in the simple joy of speaking and being heard. But when Willow offered to make sandwiches, he remembered his empty, aching stomach. He stepped outside where he wouldn't have to watch.
He sat down on the concrete steps and tried not to think of ham and cheese or even peanut butter and jelly. His self-debate over white and wheat bread was interrupted, however, when the door opened and Cordelia emerged.
"Doyle?" she asked. "Are you out here?"
"On the steps, Princess" he answered, scooting over to offer her a seat. She had started to walk that way, but she hesitated. "I'm on the left," he told her.
She looked relieved and sat on the right side. She was beautiful, but then he'd thought that from the moment he saw her running toward the car with Angel after nearly being vampire food. That night she'd been dressed to impress. But the next day she had showed up at the office in jeans and an oversized shirt, and he'd thought her even more gorgeous then.
"You're staring at me, aren't you?" she asked, catching him by surprise.
Doyle gave her his best mischievous grin, regardless of whether she could see it or not. "I can't help myself," he replied.
She blushed and offered him a momentary smile. But then it was gone, and she looked in his direction. "You don't have to say you're sorry."
The constant ache in his stomach moved up to his chest. He'd forgotten that she had heard him. But he hadn't forgotten that he had hurt her. "Yes, I do," he said. "I didn't know about the visions."
She stood up, hands on her hips and eyes flashing. "You didn't?"
Doyle wasn't quite sure what she was upset about. "Um, no." He didn't know what else to say. "I wouldn't have wished that pain on you."
That seemed to help. She relaxed her stance and sat down again. She didn't look at him though. "Well, that's good, but. . . ."
Doyle leaned closer to her. "But what?"
She bit her bottom lip and turned her head a bit. "Well, there was this empathy demon--"
Doyle felt his face flush with anger. "The one that tried to auction you off."
Now she turned toward him. "You know about that?"
"I came in just before he grabbed you," Doyle said, barely controlling his anger, "before he said all those terrible things."
She smiled a little at him. "Before he went all evil, he said some pretty nice things. He said maybe you chose me, trusted me with the responsibility, and gave me the one thing you had of value."
Doyle did like the sound of that, but he also knew what a vision felt like. "I kissed you," he told her, "because I thought I'd never have another chance." She melted at that. "But maybe the rest was subconscious," he added. "Because I can't think of anyone else I'd trust more."
She held up a hand toward him. "I wish I could touch you," she said.
Doyle touched his hand to hers, just to where it started to tingle. "You already have."
It had taken Hherom fifteen minutes to convince them to even open the door to Harry. Harry had waited outside rehearsing to herself. But she hadn't expected the welcome she received.
Four strong Brachen arms held her merely human ones, forcing her to fold over her knees even as they forced her to kneel. Hherom, though larger, was in the same position. A bulky man in a gray hood, imposing even by Brachen standards, stood just to her left. He had a broad-headed ax, and Harry didn't doubt what it was for. They'd even pulled her hair forward for her.
One of the Elders' servants came forward and retrieved the book from where it had fallen at Harry's knees.
She tried not to lift her head much, but she wanted to see if they'd open it to the page she had marked, the page that told the story of Moren and the defeat of the darkness that devoured children. She'd found the story just before Cordelia realized she was dreaming what Francis saw. It was more detailed than the legend Giles had found. But it couldn't tell her everything.
The Elders--there were thirteen of them--mumbled and argued among themselves until Harry felt her fingers go numb.
Finally, one stood directly in front of Hherom. "Why do you bring this human to us?" he roared, implying punishment if the right answer wasn't given.
"One of the children, her husband, needs our help," Hherom said, speaking of Francis in the way the full-bloods always spoke of half-breeds. "The Devourer has him."
"And you think this child is the Promised of Moren?"
Hherom was at a loss. Harry hadn't told him enough to argue her case. "I know he is," Harry said.
Stunned silence filled the chamber. The Elder in front of Hherom looked at the tall one beside Harry, and that one raised his ax. The Elder nodded, and Harry rushed to speak, even as the ax came down. "He was taken in November!"
She had closed her eyes, so she didn't see the Elder raise his hand. She did feel the cold, sharp metal on the back of her neck and the warm tickle of blood as it slowly dripped to the floor.
"How do you know Lo'oran still has him?"
Harry couldn't lift her head without the ax cutting farther into her. "He told us last night."
That caused a murmur. "We are giving you a chance to speak," the Elder warned. "Use it wisely."
The weight on her neck lifted, and her arms were dropped. Harry lifted her head, noting that Hherom had not been released. She still knelt though. Deference was important at this stage.
"Francis, my husband, is one of your children,” she began, just as she'd rehearsed. “He never knew his father, but he is half Brachen. He works with a vampire, a vampire with a soul. Francis has visions of people who need help, and he and the vampire try to help them. In November, he had a vision of Lister children. They went to help and learned the Scourge was after them." She remembered every detail as Angel had told it to her. "They put the children on a ship, but the Scourge found them. Angel, the vampire, fought those who got on board but the Scourge locked everyone in the cargo hold and lowered in a weapon, a Beacon of light that would kill anything with human blood. Angel was going to jump over and disable it, knowing that he would be killed by the light. Francis took his place. The Listers said he was their Promised One. He disabled the Beacon and disappeared in its light.
"But he didn't die," she continued, concentrating on just the one Elder. "He's still here, in this world."
"You told Hherom he was in the Nether," the Elder accused.
"He is," Harry held. "His body was transported to the Nether, but part of him is here, seeking help from the Slayer. She sees and hears him."
The Elder considered that for a few moments, while the others muttered to each other behind him. Finally, they decided. "He is a spirit, an apparition," the Elder concluded, looking toward the executioner, who raised the ax over Hherom. "You waste our time."
"He moves between this world and the Nether," Harry explained quickly. "He described a dark place with walls of black and red. A black mist with red eyes is devouring him. Someone else saw it, too."
The Elder held up his hand, freezing the executioner in mid-arc.
Harry kept going, feeling she was making an impact now. "When Francis died," she explained, "his visions were given to another. Now when she sleeps, she sees what Francis sees. She sees Lo'oran. And she sees Francis there. Last night when she asked him about this, he saw both this world and the Nether. Moren said his Promised would exist in both worlds."
The Elder waved the executioner away and the ax was lowered, without touching Hherom. “The Lister are simplistic people,” he said, full of contempt. “The Promised One is not personal savior to a handful of children.” Harry wasn't sure if that meant she'd convinced him or not. “You called him a doorway,” the Elder spoke again.
“Francis, in this world, found the Scourge in a meeting,” she told him. “The speaker said that in two days--tomorrow night--their leader would emerge and the Cleansing would begin. Francis, in this world, is starving. In the Nether, he is weak and injured. He's dying. I think he'll be dead tomorrow night. I think that's how Lo'oran will emerge.”
The murmur was louder, more urgent now. She sensed fear in some of the voices. She chanced a glance at Hherom, who gave her the slightest tilt of his head in affirmation. The Elder returned to the rest of the group and joined in the argument. Harry could only understand a fraction of what they said, and she assumed they were using a more archaic dialect, something akin to Catholic priests speaking in Latin so that congregation members wouldn't understand. They were at it for perhaps another twenty minutes. Enough that Harry's legs were prickling with pins and needles. Her ankle cramped and she really wanted to at least switch positions. But the executioner still stood at the ready, and she didn't want to jeopardize her case simply on discomfort.
Finally, one of the Elders emerged and the murmur quieted. He wasn't the same one. This one was younger, taller, with broad shoulders and long fingernails like claws on his hands. “Moren said many things of the Promised One before he died. He would be a danger as well as the solution. Moren promised many things. He did not promise victory.” Harry's heart sank at that, though she still believed Francis was the one. The Elder surprised her with his next words. “I will go with you to the Valley of the Sun,” he said, even though she hadn't told him just where Francis was. “I will judge if the child you speak of is the Promised of Moren. If he is not, you and those who have helped you will forfeit your lives.”
Harry looked to Hherom, who hadn't even wanted to help her. She had brought him here. And perhaps they would include Karlina who had brought her to Hherom. Their lives were hanging on her theory that Francis was the Promised One. Was she being sentimental? Was her grief at his death making her see more than there really was? Was she risking more lives for Francis's one? Would he even want that?
Hherom shook off the hands that held him and stood. “I offer my life,” he declared to the Elders, “and the life of my daughter. If this human is right, and nothing is done, my daughter is already dead and without her, I cannot live.”
Harry felt a lump in her throat, but choked it away. No vulnerability. She had to at least appear to believe fully. She had to stand with him for what he was offering her. She stood, ignoring the stiffness in her left ankle. “He is the Promised One,” she said.
The Elder dropped his head once to her and then bowed to the rest of the Elders. Hherom took Harry's arm and led her to the door with the Elder following behind them.
"How about this for an idea," Spike said, startling everyone. "Seeing as how we've been getting' all chummy lately, why don't you let me drum up some help? I know a few local blood-drinkers who would be positively tickled to have a shot at these Scourge blokes."
Doyle thought maybe the hunger was making him dizzy. Spike being helpful just didn't sound right.
Buffy raised her eyebrows. "We've been 'getting all chummy' because you'd starve if we didn't."
“And because the only things you can fight are demons,” Willow added.
"Why would vampires--present company excepted--help us fight an army of demons?" Xander asked.
Angel gave the answer, "Because vampires are the lowest form of half-breed."
“Speak for yourself, Nancy-boy!” Spike snapped.
Angel ignored him, a pensive look on his face. "Doyle, you said the half-demons fight them."
Doyle was starting to see what they were getting at, but it seemed a long shot. "Yeah," he said, "but they usually end up dead. You thinkin' of putting together an army of your own?"
Angel turned up the corner of his lips just slightly. "Something like that."
"I can maybe see half-demons," Willow said. "But vampires and Buffy, side by side?"
"Army," Buffy said, staring forward like a deer caught in headlights.
"Buffy?" Giles said,
She looked at him. "Riley's in the army."
Spike stood up, indignant. "No! Those butchers did this to me."
"Did what to you exactly?" Doyle asked, curious now.
"Kidnapped me, kept me locked up like a lab rat. They take vampires and demons and do experiments on them."
Doyle didn't exactly mind that Spike had lost his bite, but still something bothered him. "What would they do to half-demons?"
"They wouldn't even know," Buffy reassured him, "even if they could see you."
"Not all of them can pass for human," Angel told her. "The Listers couldn't."
"We'll need the help," Buffy reminded them. "If I'm going to stop this leader of theirs, someone is going to have to hold off the Scourge."
"So which do we go with?" Xander asked. "Vampires, demons, or GI Joe?"
Willow sat up straighter, smiling at Buffy. "Well, since we already know Riley. . . ." Doyle got the feeling there was something between Riley and Buffy. He looked at Angel, but he didn't seem to have noticed. Either that or he was hiding it well.
"The Initiative and Buffy are not exactly on the best terms," Giles argued.
"If there are half-demons around here," Angel put in, "they must keep to themselves. They'd probably be neutral on the Slayer issue. At least until we can convince them that she's on their side."
They debated the merits of each group for awhile, some more animated than others. Doyle actually got dizzy following the conversation. He put two fingers in the corner of his mouth and whistled loudly. That got their attention.
"How many are we talking about?" he asked, looking first to Buffy.
She shook her head. "I'm not sure," she admitted. "Maybe a dozen. Or two. I never got a good count. They kind of keep secret, too. But they have guns!"
"Vampires?" Doyle asked Spike.
Spike looked at Buffy. "More than a dozen," he said, snarling in contempt. "What's your point?"
"My point is I saw at least a hundred well-trained, fanatical demons," Doyle answered. "Ya can't fight them with a couple of dozen of anybody."
"We could ask them all," Willow suggested.
"And what's to keep the soldier boys from dragging the vampires away?" Spike pointed out as he sat down again.
Xander eyed Spike, "And what's to keep the vamps from biting us human-types? They're not usually the type to uphold their end of a bargain."
"How many were killed by the Scourge last night?" Angel asked.
Cordelia answered that. "I saw at least three."
"I think I heard at least one more," Doyle added.
"Could be more," Angel continued. "Let them know what they're up against. They might even welcome us helping them."
"And if the soldiers didn't know about the vampires. . . ." Xander added.
Willow had an idea about that, too. "What if they had orders to ignore vampires for a day?"
"How do we give them orders?" Buffy asked. "I know we could get Riley to go along, but what if his commanding officer doesn't agree?"
Willow went to the table where her computer was set up. "They were sent out when the Gentlemen came,” Willow asked, tapping at the keyboard, "right? And when those demons were going to open the hellmouth."
Doyle joined her, looking over her shoulder.
"What have you got, Will?" Buffy wondered.
She'd typed a headline. 'The Leader comes!' She added tomorrow's date. "If they know there's a big threat," she said, changing the formatting until it started to look like a flyer, "maybe they'll want to send the boys out to play hero." She spun the screen around for the others to see. "We could put it in another language, something weird but translatable without too much trouble."
Xander squinted and shook his head. "And pass them out on campus?"
"No," Buffy said getting the idea. "We pass them out on a demon."
Plans were made, and teams assigned. Cordelia volunteered to go with Doyle in search of any nearby half-demon populations. Most of the others would be doing the same, though in different areas around town. Buffy would recruit Riley, and Giles would wait at the house for that. Spike and Angel would go to the vampires, and neither looked entirely happy with that arrangement.
The two of them wouldn't be leaving until after sunset, and Cordelia wanted a chance to talk to Angel alone before the others were ready to leave. She waited until Giles pulled out a city map and started showing Doyle the less desirable parts of town, the places where people could be overlooked. She snagged Angel's arm and led him quietly upstairs. To his credit, he didn't ask her what she wanted until they'd reached the bedroom at the top.
"What's wrong?" he asked, closing the door.
She decided to give him a chance to come clean before she got angry with him. "What was that about the Oracles?" Cordelia asked in return.
Angel took a breath and she noted that she could actually see him try to close himself off. "You might as well start talking. You told Doyle they said he was dead. I was there, remember?"
He stepped back against the door, head lowered. "You were asleep," he said, finally realizing that she'd heard the whole exchange. "I don't know who they are exactly. But they have some link to the Powers That Be. They watch," he explained. "They don't generally interfere."
"I know who they are," Cordelia stated, surprising him into looking up at her. "Doyle told me how they turned back time for you, took away your day with Buffy--and might I add that you've been handling being around her rather well?"
Angel gave her a pointed stare, but he did offer a response. "I'm here for Doyle. Nothing is going to get in the way of that."
Cordelia turned serious again. "Because he's supposed to die, and you're not supposed to interfere."
Angel didn't exactly answer that. "I've been waiting for them to send you a vision to try and draw me back to LA"
"You think they'd do that?" Cordelia asked. "I mean, aren't they supposed to be the good guys?"
"When I asked them to bring Doyle back, they said it was selfish. 'The war rages on.'"
Cordelia threw up her hands. "Well, it sounds like it's going to wage right here in Sunnydale."
"Which means the Slayer could probably handle things," Angel went on.
"But Doyle gets lost in the ensuing chaos."
"Which is why we're going to interfere."
Cordelia nodded. He had the same look of determination in his eye as when he had come to Russell Winters and saved her in the process. "What if I do have a vision?"
Angel took her arm and opened the door. "Let's hope they're not that selfish."
Buffy waved when she saw him. He smiled and, without realizing it, her own face lit up. She rose from the bench and waited for him. The shuttle would arrive in two minutes, if it stuck to its usual schedule of lateness.
His hair hung down over one of his eyes and it swayed with each stepped. He had a brightness about him so different from Angel.
She hadn't meant to think of Angel. She liked Riley; she really did. She might even love him, though she wasn't going to be too quick to jump to that conclusion anymore. She still loved Angel, though. She probably always would. She just couldn't be with him for reasons neither of them could change. So she'd allowed herself to have other possibilities, and Riley was turning out to be a good one at that, despite what he did for a living.
He kissed her cheek when he reached her. "Do you always put your homework off until Sunday evening?" he asked, still smiling. "I could have come to your room."
The shuttle was coming, so Buffy pulled him over to the stop. "Actually, we're going to meet Willow. She needs help, too."
He squinted at her, one side of his mouth turned up. "Now Willow does not strike me as someone who puts off her homework to the last minute. It's only reading anyway."
The shuttle's door opened, and Buffy stepped in. Riley hesitated, though he seemed more amused than accusing. "But you're not carrying any books."
"I left them with Giles," Buffy told him. His half-smile went away then and he joined her on the shuttle bus.
They found two seats on one side of the bus. "You haven't been in all weekend," he mentioned, keeping his voice low so no one else would hear. "Is something going on I should know about?"
Buffy didn't lower her voice as much. "I wouldn't have asked for study help if I didn't think you would know about it."
He straightened up in the seat. "But you went to Giles for help before asking me."
"He's Giles," she replied, offering him her most innocent smile.
"You can always come to me for help, Buffy," he scolded lightly, and Buffy wondered if she'd really hurt his feelings. But she couldn't explain everything there on the bus, and he knew that.
"For some things," she replied, "I go to Giles."
His eyebrows dropped a little, but he otherwise accepted that. They didn't talk much the rest of the trip. Buffy stood up as the shuttle came to a stop. She noted he kept a wary eye out as they walked, peering into the shadows.
"We're not on the bus anymore," Riley said.
"Let's just get to Giles' first, okay?" It was just one more block anyway. They arrived at Giles' complex and she started down the stairs.
Riley noticed. "You're either trying to scare someone off or letting them know we're coming"
Buffy hadn't meant to be that obvious. She decided not to reply to that though and instead knocked on Giles' door. The door opened quickly and Giles motioned them inside.
"Good to see you, Riley," Giles said, offering him a seat on the couch. Angel was already sitting in one of the chairs and he stood. Giles introduced him. "This is Angel."
Angel offered a hand. His face was unreadable. "I'm glad you could come."
Riley shook his hand, nodding, though he still seemed uncertain. "Riley," he said, rubbing his fingers together, "but I get the feeling you already knew that. Do I get to know now why I came?"
Giles sat down across from him. "To be blunt, we need your help."
All question disappeared from Riley's face. "I'd be glad to help in any way I--"
"We need your friends' help, too," Buffy added, "your commando friends. The Initiative."
Riley leaned back, letting out a long breath. "I'm a dead man,” he said, for perhaps the fifteenth time since she found out what he did for a living. “What happened to secret?”
“End of the world takes precedence,” Giles argued.
“End of the world?” He sat up again.
“As we know it,” Angel added. “So are you game?”
“I can't promise anything of that nature,” Riley said. “I don't give orders.”
Buffy frowned at him. “Lilac?”
Riley blushed. “I mean, I give orders, but I don't give the orders."
"We have a plan for that," Buffy assured him.
But Giles held up a hand before she could launch into it. "Perhaps we should start at the beginning."
Buffy gave Riley a slightly embarrassed grin. "Right." She sat down herself and decided on the best place to start. "There's this guy named Doyle. . . ."
Doyle wasn't sure he liked the plan. He wasn't confident about anyone's chances in a fight with the Scourge, not even a Slayer's. He could still see the faces of the Brachen he hadn't helped, the smashed furniture, the tiny shoes covered in blood. And, of course, the Beacon.
He had less confidence in vampires keeping their word. Vampires without souls anyway. Most of them were fairly selfish, not really caring if others of their kind were in danger.
But he didn't see much in the way of options either. They had to stop the leader of the Scourge, which apparently was Doyle's own personal demon. To do that, they had to fight the Scourge who had vowed to stop Buffy. While they still hadn't figured out how to deal with the one demon, the army of demons was a given, and a more tangible one at that. They could be fought, if only there weren't so many of them.
So allies was the plan. Allies that couldn't necessarily be trusted. Most of them couldn't even be told about each other.
The only part Doyle liked about the plan, and he saw 'like' as a relative term in this case, was his part: the half-demons. They wouldn't have to worry so much about the vampires, since the latter didn't generally like demon blood. If they could pass for human, they wouldn't have to worry about Buffy's soldier friend and his men. Of course, they'd still have the Scourge, but that made it all the more likely that the half-demons themselves could be considered trustworthy. That is, if they could ever find any.
"This is Sunnydale," Cordelia said. "We have demons all the time. One of our friends is a werewolf. There's bound to be half-demons around here."
Doyle looked over at her. “Which friend was a werewolf?”
She checked for him in her mirror. “Oz.”
Now that was surprising. He'd met Oz, and he hadn't seen werewolf in him at all. Well, she had said 'was.' “He's not anymore?”
She frowned. “He still is, I guess. He's just not around anymore. Buffy said he had this thing with another werewolf and like, totally freaked. Then he just took off after that. Kind of like Angel, I guess.”
“Speaking of people who aren't here,” he said, “where's Harry?” No one had said anything up to now, though he had noticed her absence.
“Don't know,” Cordelia answered. “She left sometime during our last trip to, well, you know. She took Angel's car. Haven't heard from her since. Here we go!” She could switch gears so quickly. “Broken down buildings. Boarded up windows. Welcome to the sparkling wonder that is Sunnydale.”
“Good place to hide as any,” Doyle commented, focusing on the problem at hand, though he still wondered about his ex. The building before him wasn't as tall as the one in LA where the Listers had been hiding, but otherwise, it was fairly similar. It was the third neighborhood they'd been to. Doyle had to be back before much longer. He still had to lead Riley to the Scourge—or rather, lead the Scourge to Riley. If Buffy had convinced him to help. “I'll check first. Wait here.”
She nodded and he tried the stairs. But they were slats, not solid. He tried a tentative step through the wall, on ground level, but he was able to lower his foot farther than the ground. Had to be something below. He walked around the building and finally found an entrance from an alley in the back. Good concrete steps led down to a doorway blocked with worn cardboard boxes and a homeless guy. He looked human enough. So Doyle stepped over him without speaking so as not to catch the man's attention. The boxes caused his legs to tingle, but it was nothing compared with what the door did. Solid metal passing through him. While it wasn't painful, it wasn't exactly comfortable. But it was an interesting sensation watching the inside of metal pass his eyes.
It was dark on the other side. There was a large contraption in the center of the room. Its pilot light gave little illumination but Doyle didn't need that. He changed, letting the demon form take over, and sniffed. Rats mostly, and trash. But nothing human had been down there in awhile. Nothing demon either as far as he could smell. He turned back around to leave. Then he stopped. He thought about the trash smell. Some of it was old, really putrid. But some of it was fresh. Pizza. Fruit not quite rotten yet. Bread not moldy. Someone had been here, the scent was just covered by the stench. He knelt down and sniffed the pizza box since someone would have had to handle it. Not human, but definitely not rat. He'd found them. He tried the stairs that led upward, but they, too, were slats, wood with nothing but refuse underneath. He'd have to get Cordelia.
"Cordy," she heard Doyle's voice. "Over here, by the stairs." Cordelia lived with a ghost, and she liked hearing his voice again, but she still found it disconcerting when she couldn't see the source of the voice. She held up the little mirror as she walked and finally spotted him at the base of the stairs leading to the building. "They're in there," he told her. "But I can't go in. You'll have to."
Great, she thought. What if these people weren't as friendly as the Listers? She didn't let it show though. Doyle had enough to worry about. She nodded and started up the stairs.
"Bring them down here so they can see me," Doyle called after her. "I can help convince them."
"If you can find a window with actual glass in it," she returned, slipping in the door. It was dark inside. No electricity. The place looked abandoned. The remains of broken furniture and cobwebs. But there were signs of life. The dust on the floor had been disturbed by footprints, for one.
"Hello?" she called out tentatively. "My name is Cordelia. I come in peace." She hadn't meant to sound like a character from a bad science fiction movie. She kept moving, peering into each dark hallway off the lobby.
Harry was the one who should have been doing this. She was the one who studied demons. Cordelia didn't know her very well, but she didn't seem the type to run off on Doyle like that. Well, at least not when his life was in danger. And she didn't seem like a car thief either. Cordelia thought maybe Harry knew something she didn't tell everyone else. She hoped it was something good. They only had one more night, and they still hadn't found a way to fight the black mist that was killing Doyle.
She heard a noise. Wood creaking. It was above her. The stairs were at the other end of the lobby.
She wished Doyle could come with her. "I'm not going to hurt you!" she called. "And I'd really appreciate it if you didn't hurt me," she added quietly as she started up the stairs. The boards creaked beneath her with every step. They would know she was coming up. They could set a trap for her.
She stopped at the first landing, trying a different tack. "I'm not with the Scourge," she called out, "if that's what you're worried about. I'm just a human. I have a friend downstairs though. He's half-demon. Brachen. He's the Promised One." If they were Listers, that was sure to work. And maybe other clans had heard of that prophecy, too.
As her eyes began to adjust to the darkness, she thought she saw a shadow at the top of the next flight.
"He saved the Listers from the Scourge in LA" she added, speaking now to the shadow, which reminded her too much of the mist.
"Then he can't be downstairs." The shadow moved a bit closer and the stairway creaked. It had a deep voice, so she guessed it was a male. "The Brachen is dead."
Cordelia's pulse quickened with a mixture of pride and bad memories. They'd heard of him, of what he'd done.
"Not exactly dead," she told him. "Come down and I'll introduce you."
"If he is not dead," the shadow man countered, "have him come up."
"I said 'not exactly dead,'" Cordelia reminded him. "Which comes with some drawbacks. He sort of . . . falls . . . through stuff."
The shadow didn't speak right away, but Cordelia thought she heard whispers flutter down the stairwell.
Then there was another voice. "What's his name?"
She recognized the voice. But it didn't make any sense that it should be here. "Doyle," she answered. “Allan Francis Doyle.”
“Francis?” a familiar voice repeated with a wry tone, “And I thought my name was bad.”
Another shadow appeared beside the first. It was shorter with a bushy head. "Rieff?" she asked. "Is that you?"
He stepped a few steps down until she could see him better. "Hi," was all he said.
"What are you doing here?" Cordelia scolded. He was supposed to be safe on Briole with his family.
"Spreading the word," he answered. "My dad jumped the gun a bit, it turns out."
"What do you mean?"
He came down further and sat on the steps. "The Promised One," he replied. "The century isn't over yet, and you'd think someone with a whole prophecy would do more than save twenty half-breeds from an army like the Scourge."
Cordelia felt slighted, even though Angel had said the same thing. "Then Doyle isn't the Promised One?" After what he had done, he deserved to be.
"If I thought that, I wouldn't have come back."
Cordelia was confused. "So he is?"
"The Scourge is still out there," Rieff said. "And if he's really downstairs, then he must be the Promised One. He just hasn't fulfilled the prophecy yet."
"How about when the leader of the Scourge is defeated tomorrow night?" Cordelia offered, wondering just how close their own theories were to the Lister prophecies.
Rieff nodded, but he frowned, "And the Promised One dies in battle."
Cordelia felt a stabbing pain in her chest. "Dies?"
He nodded again. "It's all pretty cryptic, but that's what a lot of the scholars get out of it."
"Well, maybe your prophets didn't take his friends into account," Cordelia countered.
Rieff grinned. "I didn't see my name in there anywhere."
Cordelia held out a hand. "Come down. I'm pretty sure he won't be glad to see you."
Rieff stood and followed her down the stairs. "I know why I'm in Sunnydale, but how did you know to come here?"
"I used to live here," Cordelia replied, ducking under a cobweb that hung in her path. "Well, not here specifically, of course, I mean who do I look like? No offense. Doyle came here to get Buffy's help. He's outside."
"Who's Buffy?" Rieff held open the door for her.
"Vampire Slayer.” Cordelia stopped on the sidewalk and faced the street. She held up the mirror and panned it around looking at the building behind her.
"What are you doing?" Rieff whispered.
"Looking for Doyle," she answered. "Another one of the drawbacks."
"You're aimin' too high, Princess," Doyle said. "I had to get off my feet. I found a window. Glass and everything."
Cordelia turned around and looked for low windows, with glass. Rieff spotted it first, but then, he had been living here. She pulled him over to it and knelt down until she could see Doyle's reflection. "I found someone," she told him.
"Someone who should be safe with his family," Doyle added.
Rieff was still kneeling, wide-eyed with hero-worship. "Wow," he stammered, "it's, um, good to see you. I didn't get to thank you, not really, not for what you did."
Doyle turned to him, and Cordelia couldn't see his face anymore. "So in your undying gratitude you came back here to get yourself killed. If my foot wouldn't go right through you, I'd plant it in your keister."
Rieff just smiled. "I came back because of the prophecies. You made a believer out of me. You're going to need help. The Scourge is going to try and stop you. You'll need someone to hold them off."
Cordelia decided this part of the plan was going to be easier than anyone thought. "How much help are we talking about?"
“I'm tellin' you, I'm done with her." Spike argued, “Dumped her like a hot potato, I did.”
"Really?" Angel was hardly convinced. "That what you tell everybody?"
"It's true!" the blonde vampire insisted. “Got all clingy and blubbery on me. It was quite pathetic really.”
"Sounds like the two of you are perfect for each other."
Spike snorted, “Yeah, right, like you're this big expert on relationships. Wasn't that Buffy's new beau back at Giles' place? Wholesome looking chap, isn't he? Hear he's pretty spiffy with a stun-gun, too.”
Angel's face darkened and his brow furrowed, “I would have thought that you knew that from first-hand information. But you didn't even see the guy who shot you, did you?”
"Shut your trap," Spike spat, kicking at the grass. "We're here. Let's see if I haven't completely worn out my welcome." He moved the bushes aside and started in. Angel followed, but stayed back out of sight.
The reaction was instantaneous. "Spike!" It was a girl's voice, no older than Buffy, but less mature. "If you came looking for your stuff, you can forget it, I burned it. I thought I told you not to come back here." She was angry.
"Things have changed, Harm. I'm a new man," Spike said calmly. Then more urgently, "Now put that silly stick away and hear me out."
"I don't have to hear you out," she held. "I threw you out."
Angel decided it was a good time to step in. She had Spike backed up against a wall as it was.
Spike saw him and pointed his direction. "Hear him out then."
Harmony--Wasn't she one of Cordelia's friends?--relaxed her grip on the stake she held above her shoulder. She looked Angel over and let her hand fall to her side. "You brought me a present?" she asked Spike without taking her eyes off Angel. She ran the tip of her tongue over her lips.
Spike rolled his eyes. "He's a vampire, you bloody idiot. And not even a very good one, at that."
Harmony frowned then cocked her head to one side. "But he's cute. A lot cuter than you. What's the problem, handsome," she asked, addressing Angel for the first time, “you can't kill either?”
Spike pulled himself off the wall and straightened his coat. "He can," Spike replied, in a sing-song manner, "he just chooses not to because the poof's got a soul."
Angel ignored Spike's mocking. "We're here because of the Scourge," he said.
"Well you can't hide here," she declared immediately. "I am not taking him back." She pointed to Spike.
"Take me back?!" Spike was indignant. "You've got one hell of a lot of nerve, you bubble-headed bimbo! I ought to stake you."
Harmony narrowed her eyes and lifted her stake again. "You already staked me," she threw back at him.
Angel sighed and covered Harmony's hand with his own. That had always been Spike's problem. He lacked focus. "We're not here to hide. And no one is staking anyone."
She didn't put the stake down. "Then what do you want?" she asked.
"Your help," Spike admitted, eyes rolling up toward the ceiling.
"And a few introductions," Angel said. "We're going to fight the Scourge."
Harmony dropped the hand with the stake and raised the other hand to her mouth. She turned around and her shoulders began to shake.
Spike leaned toward Angel. "She's laughing at us," he smirked.
Harmony didn't wait for Angel to reply to that. "Have you seen those guys?" she asked, still stifling her laughter. "They've got, like, this whole army."
"And they kill vampires," Angel added. "Which is why we're raising our own army."
Her eyebrows went up. "Of vampires? What about the Slayer?"
"She isn't all that popular with the Scourge either," Spike told.
"We thought we might . . .," Angel hesitated, "work with the Slayer."
She didn't bother to hide her laughter that time. “Work with the Slayer. The Vampire Slayer?”
“It's a common enemy thing, Harm,” Spike argued. “We work together one time and deliver a legendary ass-whipping. Everybody gets what they want, namely dead demons, then it's back to all the blood-drinking and heart-staking your empty little head can handle.”
“And you want me to introduce you to other vampires,” she asked Angel, still giggling, “to get them to agree to this?”
“That's the idea,” he said. He wasn't thrilled with this idea in the first place. Vampires couldn't be trusted. They worked too much on the pleasure principle. They didn't necessarily possess a sense of honor. They worked for themselves and occasionally for others, but only in return for something. “Just think, a whole night, from sundown to sunrise with no Slayer to worry about.”
“But there's a demon army to worry about,” she reminded him.
“You can't hide,” Angel told her. “They'd find you. I know. I've seen them. I've even fought them. You can try and fight them or you can die. We'll have others fighting, too. Half-demons. With the Slayer and her group, we can win.”
“If we don't win,” Spike took over, “they're going to get stronger. Their leader is going to pop up tomorrow night and start feastin' on impure demons. Including us, Harm. And even if you do manage to hide from them, there won't be anything left to eat, will there?”
“Um, helloo!” she raised her hand and rolled her eyes distastefully, “You are such a doofus. We don't eat half-demons.” She paused, eyeing him with even greater disgust, “At least I don't.”
“Forget about the half-demons then, Harm, and think about the humans,” Spike tilted his head down and looked up at her from under serious brows, “Because after tomorrow night, the Leader of the Scourge is going on a humanity campaign.”
She wasn't laughing anymore. “We'd starve?”
Spike gave her a salacious smile. “Trust me, love, it's no bloody fun.”
Harmony frowned and sat down on the edge of her bed, her cocky demeanor suddenly subdued, “I think I know where to find some help.”
Cordelia had wanted Rieff to come back with them, but the boy had insisted that he go and speak to the others, those who had returned with him to recruit willing fighters from the area. He'd given her some journals though, notes on the prophecies which spoke of the battle to come. Had he real arms, Doyle would have offered to carry them for her, but as it was, he had just enough energy to walk. He was tired now, more than the day before. The sidewalk at his feet seemed to sway, but he knew that was just his eyes. He was dizzy. And he still had to go back out again. He almost wished it were tomorrow night, just so he could know it would all be over soon. He would sleep, one way or the other.
No, he'd promised Cordelia. There was only one way. He would make it back to this world, as one whole person, somehow. Maybe there was something in the journals to tell him how.
“Do you think Angel had it this easy with the vampires?” Cordelia asked. He could tell she was nervous. He hadn't spoken much since they left Rieff. She was just trying to fill the silence.
He was too tired, too hungry, too dizzy to speak, but he did for her sake. “He couldn't have. He had to go with Spike. I got lucky. I had you.”
She blushed and he decided he liked that better than when she would roll her eyes and insult him. And yet, he had to admit he missed the challenge in that somewhat. Apparently, the way to a girl's heart was in dying for her. While it was faster than slowly wearing her down with charm, it was costly and not a little painful. And one usually didn't get the girl afterward. Not unless one happened to be split between two dimensions--which was painful in its own right--and have connections to a Slayer.
“What are you thinking?”
He couldn't tell her that he was musing on his own death or amazing facsimile thereof. “That I missed you,” he told her instead. It was still the truth. Just a different spin on his actual thoughts.
“Me, too.” She'd lowered her voice, but he knew she meant it. He'd seen her crying, heard her listening to that Enya CD or watching the commercial over and over.
He looked up and saw that they had arrived. Buffy was waiting for them at the top of the stairs that led to the courtyard. She waved as they walked up and held out a hand to help him. She could see what Cordelia couldn't. She looked concerned. “Tired?” she asked.
After they'd walked in, Doyle addressed Cordelia, “Princess, why don't you fill Giles in? I need to talk with Buffy for a bit.”
She turned up one side of her mouth, but she nodded and met Giles at the table. Buffy's eyebrows folded down, but Doyle ignored her for the moment. He didn't release her hand, and walked her toward the bathroom. He stepped through the side of the bathtub and sat down, facing the side. He pointed to the faucet. “Can you turn it on, please?”
“Oh!” Buffy said. “We should have thought of this sooner.” She turned the faucet and water started to fall. She even put the stopper in so it would fill up around him. “Let me know if it's too hot. Or cold.”
Doyle was too worn out to answer. Besides the temperature was okay. He pulled up his knees and folded his arms over them so he could rest his head.
“Don't fall asleep,” Buffy warned. “Fill me in. What did you find?”
“Rieff,” Doyle answered, keeping his head down.
“You found a reef?” Buffy sounded confused. “In the middle of Sunnydale?”
Doyle found the strength to give a soft chuckle. “No Rieff, one of the Listers we saved.” He had to take breaths between the words.
“Oh,” she still sounded confused. “Isn't he supposed to be somewhere else? Safe like?”
Doyle nodded, as much as one could when one's head was on one's knees. “He came back. He's been studying prophecy. Seems I'm not done yet. He even knows about the 'great battle' tomorrow. He's been recruiting for it.”
“That's good news!” Buffy exclaimed. But her enthusiasm, if one could tell from the sound of her voice, was short-lived. “You don't seem happy.”
He lifted his head and looked at her. “If Rieff hadn't run off, I wouldn't have followed him. His family wouldn't have been waiting for us. They would have left on time. No one would have had to do what I did.”
Buffy sat down on the side of the tub and turned sideways with one leg flat on edge. “Not that time maybe. But there still would have been a Scourge and a Beacon. Others would have been killed or sent to the Nether to have the life sucked out of them. It just wouldn't have been the Listers, and it wouldn't have been you.”
Doyle dropped his head again. “Not to sound too selfish or anything, but I wouldn't have minded not being included in the story. This hasn't exactly been easy. Someone else could be the Promised One. I wouldn't have minded.”
“I know,” she said, and Doyle felt she did, to a point. “I didn't ask to be the Slayer either. I'd much rather have been a cheerleader and prom queen.”
Doyle let the corners of his lips turn up as he looked at her. She had the look of a cheerleader. But that didn't equal up. “No offense, but it's not quite the same. You're stronger for being Chosen. I'm weak. And transparent. No one even heard me until two days ago. Have you ever felt so hungry you feel sick?” He waited for her nod. “I passed that months ago. Now it just hurts and threatens to swallow me up. I'm tired-–exhausted--but I can't sleep. When I do, it's just like it was right at the end, when I couldn't keep myself from screaming any longer. It's like that all the time. Months of that. It's too much.”
She didn't say anything. She just put her hand on the back of his head and slowly lowered it to her leg, letting him rest there. Doyle dropped his legs into the water and let himself rest. Her hand stayed on his hair, stroking it gently. It felt good to have someone touch him. She probably didn't know how much that meant to him. “Just don't fall asleep,” she said. “You're better off here.”
He could have done so, easily, just by closing his eyes. But he knew what was waiting for him there. He knew Buffy was right. Slow starvation and exhaustion here was better than that. So he kept his eyes open and watched the ripples in the water that weren't the least bit disturbed in their course by his presence.
He wasn't sure how long they stayed that way before he heard the bathroom door open and felt her fingers lift from his hair. Giles spoke as he lifted his head, "Buffy, it's time."
Buffy nodded and Giles disappeared again. "Last outing of the night," she said, standing and offering her hand again. "I promise."
Doyle offered her a reassuring smile he didn't quite feel. He took her hand and felt he had to rely on her strength too much just to stand. "Thanks for the rest," he said, stepping out of the water. "I'm good to go."
She gave him a pouting frown that told him she was skeptical. But she didn't say anything as she turned off the faucet. She held his arm and helped him walk though. They only had an hour to meet up with Riley who was purposely leading his group farther toward the docks.
It took them nearly the whole hour and Doyle was tired again. But he had spotted Riley's group. They, of course, hadn't spotted him. He returned to Buffy and told her they were at the spot she and Riley had agreed upon earlier. Near the docks but further in toward the city. Now they just had to find the Scourge. Doyle knew where their headquarters was, but it was fairly distant and he really hoped he didn't have to go that far again tonight. It was already going to be a very long walk back to Giles' place.
Buffy walked about twenty paces behind him. She had promised to always keep him in sight. Doyle wasn't worried for himself though. The Scourge couldn't see him. They couldn't hurt him. Not as he was. But they could kill her if too many of them should go after her. The plan was to break off only a small group.
Fortunately, Doyle didn't have to go far. He'd started in the direction of their headquarters, but he'd only gone perhaps a half a mile when he heard them. He turned up a block and caught sight of them marching away.
Doyle motioned for Buffy to catch up with him. "Just missed 'em," he told her, pointing in the direction they had gone.
She didn't have time to respond. Just as the echoes of the jackboots melted away, four people emerged from hiding and started running in the opposite direction. Doyle felt his pulse increase. Two of the four were short and held the hands of the taller ones. They ran close to the buildings and kept looking back over their shoulders with glowing gold eyes.
Then one of the children screamed. Doyle stepped into the street to get a better look. Three uniformed demons had stayed behind in ambush. One of them had one of the children held off the ground by one arm. Another held the mother by the waist, pushing her forward with his other hand to keep her quill-like hair from jabbing him. The third ran after the two who remained.
"Buffy!" Doyle cried. He ran toward the mother and screaming child, forgetting his own exhaustion and his intangibility. They must have heard him though because the demon with the child looked up to find the source of his voice. Seeing nothing, he returned his attention to his captives.
The father, now carrying his child, was running in Doyle's direction. Doyle froze when he saw the demon reaching only a hand's width from the man's collar. Doyle heard a snap and felt something solid and thin pierce his shoulder. As quickly as he noticed it, it was exiting his chest and flying into the skull of the demon which had nearly overtaken the father. The demon flopped forward onto the sidewalk with a short arrow protruding from the side of his head. Doyle turned to see Buffy reloading her crossbow. She motioned the father past her.
Buffy stepped into the street with Doyle as the man disappeared into the alley. They both faced the two with the captives.
The demon was watching again, but now he had the child by the neck, her legs kicking furiously and her long fingers wrapped around his arms. The mother cried piteously and reached out toward her child.
"I've only got one more," Buffy whispered.
"Save the child," Doyle told her, knowing the mother would want it that way.
"So this is the Slayer," the demon with the child taunted. He lifted the child higher, using her to block his face and torso.
"I can't," Buffy whispered back. She took a few steps forward.
"I'll distract him," Doyle offered, starting to run again. He had to reach them before the demon snapped the little girl's neck. He ran to the side of them, away from the mother. "Over here, ya big, ugly scab-fest."
The demon turned toward the voice just enough. The arrow caught him in the ribs just beneath his right arm. He hurled the girl away, and Doyle watched helplessly as she hit the pavement with an audible crack.
Buffy lunged at the other, but that demon was quicker. He swept the knife Doyle hadn't even been aware he had across the woman's throat and let her fall gurgling to the street. Then he tackled Buffy. There was only the one left, and Doyle didn't doubt that she could take him. But they needed him alive. For Riley. Buffy didn't run right away though. She stayed to pound him a bit while Doyle went straight to the little girl.
She wasn't moving. There was blood beneath her head. He couldn't see if she was breathing because she was laying face down. “Little girl,” he called to her, hoping to wake her. It was all he could do. But she didn't move.
Buffy was gone when he looked up, and so was the last demon. But the girl wasn't moving. The mother had also stopped moving. “Please, wake up, darlin'” he called to her.
There was movement, just not by the little girl in front of him. Two forms moved out of one of the buildings. The father and other child. They slowly moved his way. Doyle placed his hand into the girl's chest where her heart was. He felt movement there, the tingle changing rhythmically. But it was faint and slow. “Hurry!” he called to the father. “I can't help her.”
The father hesitated, hearing the voice. “Hurry!” Doyle shouted again, hoping to shake the man into listening anyway.
It worked. The man came and knelt down beside his daughter. But he couldn't touch her either. His long fingers hovered uncertainly over her still form. "What can I do?" he begged, gold cat-slit eyes looking for the person belonging to the voice.
Doyle removed his hand. The tingle he'd felt, her heart through his hand, had stopped changing. Like her mother, the girl was dead. "Save your son," Doyle told him. "Get out of here before they come back."
The man's eyes glowed wide, moving from his daughter to his wife. He hesitated in uncertainty and Doyle knew what he was thinking. He couldn't just leave them there, lying in the street. But he had his son to think about. The boy was crying, clutching to his father's sleeve. He was even younger than the girl.
“Save the boy,” Doyle told him again.
And the man stood. He picked up the boy but didn't walk away. “Where can we go?” he asked. “They'll find us.”
Doyle told him where Cordelia had found Rieff. It wasn't necessarily safe, but it was better. The man thanked the air that talked to him and left.
Doyle stood and found his legs shaky and unstable. He collapsed again. How many more were in the buildings behind him? He felt hollowed out from hunger and ineffectualness. Had he arms he could have caught her. As it was, all he could do was sit there watching the blood pool beneath the girl's tiny body with the guilty knowledge that they'd bought him a few moments' respite from the monster in his dreams. The price was too high.
Buffy watched as they caught him. She'd let him chase her, past the buildings where she'd spotted the rest of the family. Half-demons. Vampires didn't generally have families. And their eyes didn't glow like that. She'd given the demon enough of a beating to slow him down. She'd wanted to kill him straight out. She hoped whatever Riley's people did to him that it would be painful. She thought of the woman and the little girl. And of Doyle, whom she'd left there unable to do anything.
The demon had chased her all the way to Riley's position. Its determination was its undoing. Had it given up, it might have gone back to catch the father and child. But it had kept after her. Buffy had ducked around a corner and into a building just across from Riley. He'd seen her and flashed a red beam of light at her. The demon was down before he could decide which way she'd gone. Riley emerged from his hiding place, talking into his radio. He was joined by three others in less than a minute.
The demon was bound and his head covered. As he was lifted from the ground, one of the other commandos noticed a folded piece of paper beneath him. He picked it up, opened it, showed it to Riley. Riley shook his head, gesturing at the paper. He didn't understand it. They'd take it with them back to base where it could be translated.
All according to the plan. All except that family. Buffy watched Riley and the others leave. She moved to another window, one near the alley, and waited for Doyle.
He never came. She waited ten more minutes and saw no one enter the alley.
She found him back where she'd left him. Sitting beside the little girl. The girl hadn't moved. Doyle didn't even look up when she touched his shoulder.
“I sent the father away,” he mumbled. “He couldn't do anything either.”
She squatted down beside him. "You tried," she told him. “We'll stop them tomorrow night.”
“One night,” Doyle sighed. “One night and she might have had a life.”
Buffy didn't know what to say to make him feel better. She didn't feel particularly good either. So she didn't say anything. She hooked her arm in his and stood him up. They walked back to Giles' together without saying another word.
Angel/Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Close to Home...So Far Away
By Gabrielle Lawson
Contributing Authors: Mike Donovan, Joe Smith Jr. and Charles Kline II
Buffy opened the door, ready to compare notes on the events of the night. But she and Doyle were met with silence. It wasn't that no one was there. Everyone was there, sitting quietly and watching her with wide eyes. Well, not Anya. She just looked bored. Even Harry had returned. She closed the door behind her back and still no one spoke. She smiled, a bit unsure of the situation. She looked at her blouse. No, not covered in blood or gore. “Okay, what's going--”
Doyle, just to her right, tapped her shoulder. When she looked at him, he was wearing nearly the same expression as the others. But he wasn't looking at her so much as past her. He pointed to her left.
She turned quickly and found a chest blocking her view. A big chest, covered in tight-fitting leather. She looked up, found shoulders. Up farther and she found a face. Red, narrowed eyes glared at her from with a frame of blue-gray spikes. "Someone you know?" Buffy asked Doyle behind her.
"Danarim do fara?!" the demon snarled fiercely.
Buffy stepped back. "What did he say?" she asked Doyle, who hadn't bothered to answer her last question.
"How should I know?" he whispered back.
"He's Brachen, isn't he?" she shot back.
"He asked where Francis is," Harry said, standing. "This is Gherosha, of the Clan Narok."
So he was a friend of hers. "Nice to meet--" Buffy tried.
"Darak fim caram!" Gherosha spat back at Harry. Maybe friend was going too far.
"Where is he?" Harry translated, almost matching his snarl, but leaving out the angry arrogance.
Buffy assumed they meant Doyle. Buffy pointed a thumb over her shoulder. The Brachen immediately pushed her out of the way. From the look on Doyle's face, she thought he might bolt right through the wall.
"It's alright, Francis," Harry said.
"Darak fim caram!" Gherosha repeated far more emphatically. Harry dipped her head in resignation, and Buffy wondered if she shouldn't just stake the guy simply for being rude. But Doyle was still there, not backing into the wall, so she guessed she'd go along with it if he did.
The Brachen was taking stuff out of a pouch he was wearing. He threw some of the books off the table and started setting out several talismans and bowls. He chanted something that Harry didn't bother to translate. Finally, he threw some powder into one of the bowls causing a green burst of flame. He then picked up the bowl and threw the contents at the door, where she and Doyle were still standing.
Buffy jumped, expecting hot liquid, but it was just powder, though it did stick to her clothes.
It also stuck to Doyle, who now was glowing slightly. He held up his hands, looking at them. He stepped back just a bit and hit the door. He actually hit the door.
"Hey!" Spike exclaimed. "We can s--"
Harry had stepped up behind him, clamping both hands down over his mouth, just as Gherosha turned on him. But it was too late. The Brachen removed Harry's hands and grabbed Spike by the throat, lifting him straight out of his chair.
Spike's eyes narrowed and his hands gripped the demon's big arm, but he couldn't free himself.
"Dnesh ta narim!" Harry said quickly, touching the Brachen's arm as well. "Dnesh ta narim. Narim do Francis."
Gherosha emitted a low growl, but he dropped Spike. He returned his attention to Doyle who was distracted by his ability to touch the wall. "I could really go for a sandwich right now," he whispered to Buffy.
Buffy didn't want to speak since it was rather obvious the demon wanted the floor, but she did motion to Willow with her hands as she moved slowly back into the room. Whatever the powder had done to Doyle, it had given him some measure of solidity. Maybe he'd get a chance to eat something before it wore off. Willow nodded, but didn't get up right away. Buffy understood that. Now was probably not the best time.
Gherosha stood in front of Doyle, who was now paying close attention. "Birank guhor dekina?" the demon asked. Doyle shook his head, not understanding.
"You are ashamed of your people?"
Doyle met the Brachen's gaze which was difficult considering how much taller Gherosha was. "The Brachen are not my people," he said.
The Brachen just stared at him, waiting for a translation.
"Ti Bracha neonim gahor," Harry said, and the Brachen growled again.
"Tuesh tir birank," Gherosha spat. Harry hesitated to translate. "Darak!" he snapped at her.
"It is you who shame us," Harry said softly.
Gherosha growled, but seemed satisfied. He turned back to Doyle and roughly grabbed the back of his head with one hand. Buffy felt the hair on the back of her neck and arms stand up. Her instincts told her this wasn't going to be good.
Gherosha placed his other hand on Doyle's forehead, pressing hard. His muscles strained with the effort, and Buffy felt her stomach tighten. Doyle's own hands came up to try and push the demon away. She couldn't see his face, though, to see if he was in pain. Then he screamed and she knew he was. She stepped forward, stake in hand, as Doyle crumpled to the floor with Gherosha's hands still on him. Or in him. She could see his face now and Gherosha's wrist where it disappeared into Doyle's forehead.
Buffy sensed everyone else standing behind her and decided to end this. "That's enough!" she declared, advancing on him. "Your little demonstration of family loyalty is over. Let him go!" She punctuated her request with a kick to the knee that would have shattered human bone.
Gherosha roared and released Doyle by throwing him into the corner against the hall tree, which shook against the impact. While she was distracted by Doyle, who remained on the floor, clutching his face and gasping for breath, Gherosha swung one of his large arms, connecting with her face and sending her flying right into Harry. They both fell, knocking over a lamp.
"Dar tefim. Lo'oran mekit ko renorin. Ad so fir taril so benin. Lo'oran ma graya."
Harry was too busy trying to extricate herself, but Buffy didn't feel like waiting for a translation. She stood up, facing the beast. He glared down at her with his fiery read eyes. "So you are the warrior?" he asked, in clear, if guttural, English. He didn't sound impressed.
"I'm the Slayer," she told him, keeping one eye on Doyle as he struggled to sit up behind the demon.
"And how will you slay Lo'oran?" he asked, his voice mocking her. "Will you stake the wind?" He reached behind his back and unsheathed a long, heavy sword, its black blade decorated with faint ghoulish faces. "Can you cut a cloud with a sword?"
The mist, she realized. He was talking about killing the demon in the Nether. And she had no idea how to answer. She didn't know how to kill a mist.
He held the sword in strike position, and Buffy wished she were closer to Giles' weapons chest. "What if the wind were to become a tree?" the demon posed.
What was with demons and riddles anyway? Why not just come out and say it? Still, she could answer that last one. "I'd cut it down," she told him.
He lowered the sword. "Not without this." Then he turned and, narrowly missing Doyle's legs stormed out the front door.
Harry was up behind her. "Take it from him!" she urged, lightly pushing Buffy toward the door. Buffy glanced back once, and Giles was already there, looking through the weapons. Trusting him to get what she needed, she charged out, hoping to keep the demon from getting away.
Doyle still felt something from the demon's hand, a remnant of the agony he'd felt full-force only a few minutes before. His back, too, still hurt from its contact with the hall tree beside the door.
He sat up, using the wall and floor for support, while still holding one hand to his face. He had no idea what the Brachen had done to him, but it left him shaky and somewhat self-conscious. Had the demon destroyed his face? Beneath his hand, it felt alright, and since the beast was busy with Buffy, he chanced removing his hand.
And he saw the demon stomping towards him, seemingly even taller now that Doyle's perspective was lower. He pulled his legs back just in time to avoid being stepped on as Gherosha rushed out the door.
Harry was behind Buffy, pushing her towards the door. "Take it from him!" she said, and Buffy, too, brushed past him, tackling the demon in the courtyard. Harry was right behind her. Angel was next with a sword in his hands.
No one, as yet, was shrieking at Doyle's appearance, so he figured his face was still intact, which was at least something. He tried to stand, reaching for the hall tree but his legs felt like rubber bands beneath him. Then someone's arms were around him, and he turned to see Cordelia's hair. He stopped trying to get up and brushed her hair back until he could see her face. He could touch her, just like in the light place the last time they'd dreamed together. He touched her cheek and decided he could stay just like this forever.
If he weren't so hungry, and if she weren't so intent on getting outside with everyone else.
"You're going to be alright," she told him. She was smiling, but he could see, by the tears glistening in her eyes, that she was trying to convince herself. She started to lift him, and Doyle decided he should help her. Nearly everyone else was already outside.
The movement hurt and each step jarred some bruised or aching joint. But it was only a few steps and the others made room for them at the door. The demon had backed Buffy into the fountain. Angel tossed his sword to Buffy, who caught it by the hilt and immediately brought it down to parry the demon's thrust. Now she was driving him back.
Someone tapped on his shoulder. Doyle found Willow there and she was holding a perfect white bread sandwich out to him. He grabbed for it, forgetting decorum in his months-long desire for food. But all he caught was Willow's hand. "Dammit!" he muttered, feeling the last vestiges of endurance leave him. The sandwich was still there, but his fingers had gone through it. Frustration won out over all else, and his knees buckled, putting all his weight on Cordelia. Frustration, anger, helplessness, hunger, exhaustion, hopelessness, pain, all piled on top of each other until he couldn’t see straight. After all he'd gone through, all he'd suffered and was still suffering, this was just too much.
“You sadistic bastard!” Buffy yelled, delivering a swift kick to the demon’s face. Harry was amazed at her agility, and she secretly hoped Buffy broke an important bone or two before the contest was over. She could see Francis, on the ground, falling apart. She hadn’t seen that since the day he’d found out about his demon half. And then he’d been able to smother it in a bottle. Now he couldn’t even do that.
“He is a demon,” the dark-haired girl, Anya, snorted.
There was a loud crack and Harry turned back to the fight. The demon howled, clutching his arm, but Buffy was still there, pounding him. She swung her sword high overhead and brought it down on the demon’s injured arm. He dropped the sword, Lo’oran’s own sword, and gripped his arm tighter. Buffy dropped her sword and kicked her left leg out, hooking the demon’s ankle, pulling him down. She slipped a toe under the hilt of the big sword and lifted it from the ground to her waiting hand. She moved forward to straddle him at the waist and lifted the sword high, blade down, with both hands. She brought it down with such force, Harry gasped and stepped forward to stop her. But she needn’t have bothered. The blade stopped just as it began to cut into Gherosha’s neck.
“What’s to keep me from killing you right now?” Buffy asked him, pushing the sword down just a little.
“How will the wind become a tree?” he asked in return.
“Talk fast,” Buffy told him. “This sword is getting heavy.”
“It is for you to kill the beast,” Gherosha argued, anger showing in his eyes. He pushed Buffy off of him, and she let him do it. But she kept the sword ready as he walked over to Francis. Francis backed away from him, but Gherosha got down on one knee and dipped his head in deference to him. He took Doyle’s hand and Doyle tried to pull it back, but the demon was stronger. He held on and placed a scroll in it. When he removed his hand, the scroll promptly fell to the ground. “Kae oran def init. Miselte pai sa.” Harry decided to wait on that one. A translation would be disruptive at this point.
Gherosha stood and started to walk away, but Buffy met him, sword in hand and pointed once again at his throat. “What’s to stop me now?”
Harry did step forward this time. “Karlina and Hherom,” she answered for Gherosha. “They staked their lives to convince him to come here and see if Francis is the Promised One.” Harry stepped between the blade and the demon, for their sake. “If he doesn’t return, they’ll die.”
Buffy frowned but lowered the sword. “Go,” she waved Gherosha off. “Quickly.”
Gherosha turned and started up the stairs. But Harry had one other question for him. “Lo’oran na sta oronad?”
He stopped on the last step but didn’t bother to face her. “Po yesht.” Then he was gone.
Po yesht, she repeated silently. Not yet.
"I can't read it," Giles said from somewhere near the door. "It's probably Brachen."
Harry faced him and noted that Doyle was already fading again, as if Gherosha's presence had contributed to the spell that had made him visible. Cordelia and Angel, while they still could, were helping him into the house. They were his family now, she realized. "I'll take a look at it," she told Giles.
"You're bleeding," he replied, indicating her hand.
"What?" Harry looked down and saw the blood between her thumb and forefinger. "Oh," she said, "must be from the lamp."
"Well, we should take care of it." He rolled up the scroll again and took her hand, leading her into the house. He took her past the kitchen to the bathroom and sat her down on the side of the bathtub while he rummaged through the medicine cabinet. "So are you going to tell us what just happened out there?" he asked as he took a bottle and some gauze from the cabinet.
To the point. That was a good trait. "He was evaluating Francis, to see if he was the Promised of Moren," Harry replied. She sucked in a breath as he swabbed her cut with iodine. "You don't have to torture me," she teased. "I'll talk."
He raised his eyebrows. "You should have talked to us before you left. We might have known what to expect." He finished dabbing and cut off a piece of gauze. "Especially Doyle."
Harry did feel bad about that. She could still hear Francis' scream. "I had no idea what the evaluation entailed."
Giles finished with the gauze and started taping the bandage to her hand. "What did you ask Gherosha before he left?"
He forgot to let go of her hand and Harry wasn't in any hurry to remind him. "I asked if Lo'oran--that's the demon that has Francis--I asked if it devoured humans."
"And his answer?"
Harry bit her bottom lip. This part gave her a stomachache. "Not yet," she replied. "Just after this happened," she nodded toward her hand, "he spoke to me. He said, 'Lo'oran will devour Francis and then it will devour the one who holds him here. And then Lo'oran will be free.'"
Giles looked up, staring at nothing as he pondered what she had told him. "The doorway," he realized. "First Doyle, then Cordelia."
"Then humanity," Harry finished, "in all of its forms."
Giles met her gaze and handed her the scroll. "And this?"
Harry unrolled it and started reading. She could make out the syllables though she could understand only a fraction of the words. It was Brachen but it was a dialect she didn't recognize. Still, she could pick up the gist of the scroll.
"It's a spell," she realized, "or an incantation. I think it's just what Gherosha said it was."
"To make the wind into a tree?" Giles was skeptical. He started packing things back into the medicine cabinet.
"Lo'oran’s present form is insubstantial," Harry explained. "To kill it with a sword, it would have to be physical. That's what this spell will do."
"And what did he say to Doyle as he gave it to him?"
"He said he was divided," Harry explained, "and that he must be one."
Giles sat down on the closed toilet and faced her. "Angel was right. We do have to go in and get him."
Doyle tried to keep a hold on her hand, Cordelia's hand, as if it was hope he were holding on to. But he was falling again, his hand through hers, and his hope into despair. It was too much.
The Powers That Be, or the forces of darkness or whoever, were sure having a great laugh at his expense. They stole death from him, leaving him in purgatory, neither ghost nor a flesh and blood person. Then after months of slow torment and loneliness, just when he thought he'd finally move on to whatever end they saw fit for him, they instead dangled salvation before his eyes. They gave him a chance to be seen and heard and a reason to believe he could see this through and maybe even survive. Then they gave him his hands, flesh enough to touch a wall or to hold her hand, but not enough to take a simple sandwich. Yeah, they were probably falling all over themselves with that one.
How much was one man reasonably assumed to be able to take? He'd promised Cordelia he'd find a way, but the hunger was eclipsing even her. He'd thought he could ignore it, distract himself with other things. But the other things had turned out just as bad. His nightmares were real and he'd been sharing them with Cordelia. The Scourge had come to Sunnydale, and he’d watched a mother and child die at their hands. And tonight, if he could last that long, he'd watch many more die when they tried to fight the Scourge.
He was glad now that he was fading into transparency again. Everyone was looking at him, eyes filled with pity. And what could pity do? It couldn't feed him or free him from the dark place. It couldn't erase the last months or return him to his life. It only made him feel worse. A freak, as if he wasn't enough of one before. Half-demon, unworthy of his wife, his dreams, his job. Nor worthy of Cordelia. Why had he even tried? Now not even worthy of a simple death, a sacrifice for a handful of others. Or life. Phantom Dennis had it better off.
Buffy, now the only one that could see him without the mirror, sat down beside him. "I'm sorry about the sandwich," she said, touching his leg.
Doyle didn't bother looking at her. He didn't want to speak either. His voice was now an intrusion. "It doesn't matter," he whispered. "What's one sandwich, one day? I'll eat tomorrow."
To her credit, she didn't try spouting any cheerful encouragements. But that also meant she knew he was lying. Doyle brushed off her hand and backed away. Buffy frowned but didn't try to stop him.
"So how did it go with the vampires?" she asked Angel. She'd changed the subject, and Doyle realized she was being thoughtful again, allowing him to disappear again, by removing the attention from him.
"As well as can be expected," Angel reported. "I wouldn't trust them with my life, but I’m banking that they’ll be too worried about dealing with the Scourge to give us any real problems. And you?"
"Riley got his man," she replied. "It just didn't go as smoothly as we planned."
Doyle stood and backed toward the door. He didn't want to hear about the family. He didn't want to remember the little girl and the sound she made when her head hit the pavement. Memories were painful. The bad ones because they were bad and the good ones because they reminded him what was missing.
The wall--paint, plaster, wood, wiring, wood, plaster, and paint--passed his sight as he stepped through it to the courtyard. The sun was just beginning to color the sky with dawn's hues of gold and red. It would probably be a beautiful day. His last day.
Buffy stopped mid-sentence as soon as she realized Doyle was gone. She walked over to the little window that faced the courtyard and found him sitting on the steps looking at the sky.
Angel and Cordelia came up beside her, but she turned them back toward the room. "I think he just wants some time alone. I'll keep an eye on him." But she headed toward the bathroom instead. "I'm going to see what's taking Giles."
The door was ajar, but she knocked anyway.
"We're coming out," Giles answered, and a moment later he was opening the door.
"Actually, I was hoping you might stay for a bit," Buffy said, pushing him back in. Harry nodded and passed her though, and Buffy noticed both the bandage and the scroll. She drew Giles farther inside and shut the door. "He looks so much worse now," she whispered, afraid the others might still hear. "He was tired and sickly-looking before, even just yesterday, but now. . . ."
Giles took her shoulders and sat her down on the side of the bathtub. "Yesterday," he told her, "he had hope. He had enough reason to look past everything he's feeling and keep going.”
Buffy could think of a few things that could have done that. The little girl, Gherosha, and . . . "The sandwich?"
Giles nodded. "It may seem like a small thing to you or I, but to a man who hasn't eaten in months. . . . A dying man."
Buffy felt a stab of pain in her chest. "But he's not going to die," she held, hoping Giles wouldn't be able to argue.
"He is dying, Buffy," he said. "He'll be dead before tomorrow morning, if we do nothing. He may still. The point is, that sandwich threw him off balance and he can't see past the hurt and the hunger. There's a word for that feeling."
"Hopelessness?" Buffy wasn't happy with that word.
"Overwhelmed," Giles corrected. "And he'll have to find a way past it before nightfall or Lo’oran will destroy us all."
Angel listened to what Harry was saying, and marveled at prophecy and how sometimes little things one did prescribed one's place in it. When it came down to it, Doyle had made himself the Promised One. Harry didn't say exactly that. She was telling them what Gherosha had said about Lo'oran, the demon that was killing Doyle, that it would devour Doyle and then the one who held him here--Cordelia. Cordelia hadn't liked either part of that. None were happy with what came after it. Once it got Cordelia, Lo'oran would be able to devour all other humans.
Angel heard all that, and was concerned, but he'd focused on the part about Cordelia holding Doyle here. That was what made him different from all the others. Doyle had kissed Cordelia before jumping to the Beacon and passed his visions on to her. Had he not kissed her, he'd have been gone in an instant. Because he did, he was split in two and Lo'oran was having to struggle for months to finish him. Amazing really.
"So we know how to kill this guy, right?" Xander asked.
Harry was about to answer, but Giles, emerging from the hallway with Buffy, beat her to it. "Yes, we have the sword. Doyle must read an incantation that will bind the demon in physical form so that Buffy can destroy him."
Xander was a bit surprised. "That's it? All the fuss about prophecies and promised ones and all he has to do is read? I could have done that when I was six." He paused and gave a guilty smile. “Okay, eight, but that wasn’t my fault. I mean people weren’t even using Ritalin back then.”
"We should get him," Angel suggested. "With Willow's spell, he can read it out loud."
"It's not that simple," Giles argued, "but we will get him. He has to be one for the incantation to work."
"One?" Willow asked.
"His corporeal self and his non-corporeal self need to be united. From what Cordelia's told us, he can't make it out on his own. And we can't send him there looking for himself. Lo'oran would have him the instant he's . . . reconstituted."
Angel stood. Doyle had died for him, or so even Doyle had thought at the time. Angel was willing to do the same. He had been that night, too. "I'll go," he stated.
"Me, too," Cordelia added, standing beside him.
But Giles shook his head. "Neither of you can go. Angel, you wouldn't last thirty seconds. Only humans are invulnerable to the mist."
"I'm human," Cordelia argued.
"Let me explain," Giles said. "Doyle is like a chain linking this world and the Nether. You're the anchor on this side. We can't even predict what would happen to him if you went over to the Nether. You and Doyle are the doorway the Scourge spoke of. Through you, Lo'oran can cross over onto this world."
"With all the fun and happy times that entails," Xander threw in. “We’ll bite the big one faster than Euro-Disney.”
"Buffy and I will go," Giles said. "One will distract the beast while the other releases Doyle."
"So who's doing the distracting," Xander asked, "and who's doing the releasing?"
"I'll be the one waving the red cape," Buffy answered. "Lo'oran may not be dining on humans yet, but he still might be dangerous."
"Well, it seems to me that this particular stick has two short ends. You’re going to need some help." Xander went on, "If Doyle's in as bad a shape as he sounds, someone'll have to carry him out. Of the remaining fully-human people in the room, I’d have to say I’m your best bet."
"This is going to be a very dangerous undertaking, Xander," Giles cautioned, finding a seat on the couch. “Not something to be considered lightly.”
“Hey, I’d like to stay out of the line of fire as much as the next guy,” Xander admitted, “but, like I already said, your choices are about as slim as Alley McBeal’s waistband.” He folded his hands under his chin and looked up at the former Watcher with exaggerated hopefulness, “Come on, let me play with the big kids, Giles? Pleeaasee?”
“Alright,” the older man allowed with a tired sigh. He waved his hand distastefully in Xander’s direction. “Just stop . . . that.”
Xander complied and leaned back against Anya’s waist with a victorious grin, “I can’t believe this. I just argued to get myself killed.”
"You're so brave," Anya remarked proudly, running her fingers through his hair.
"How do we put the mick back together so he can read the scroll?" Spike posed.
"We think simply having both pieces of him in the same space will unite him," Harry answered. "He’ll probably be in poor condition. He'll have to stand. Someone will have to support him."
"Once he's out," Angel offered, "he's my responsibility."
"Good," Giles replied. "We have every reason to believe the demon will follow him. Buffy's job, at first, will be to buy time for Doyle. Once the demon has exposed itself, Doyle reads the spell."
Buffy lifted the sword from the coffee table. "Then I kill the demon."
"That's great and all," Spike commented, "but you seem to be forgetting something. How do you plan to get there in the first place? It’s not like some little fairy is going to fly through the window, sprinkle you all with pixie dust and fly you into Nether-netherland."
"The demons used some sort of portal," Cordelia reported. "I could see it when I was there."
Angel remembered that. She'd even seen Doyle standing on the other side. "Yes, but Doyle didn't mention seeing a portal when he saw the vampire killed."
"And I didn't see anything when they killed that family last night," Buffy added.
"We’ll find a way," Giles decided. "Somehow. When are your classes?"
He was looking to Buffy, but it was Willow who answered. "Oh we knew better than to register for morning classes."
"Yes, but I should think you'll need some rest before then," Giles argued.
"And we'll need our books," Willow added.
Giles nodded, “Good, the rest of us will keep researching.”
Buffy walked to the little window near the door. "What about Doyle?"
"We'll look after him," Giles assured her.
Spike smirked. "Some of us, at least. I’d rather find something more interesting to do. Like watch paint dry." Angel felt a stab of anger, but pushed it down inside himself. Spike may be helping, but he was still evil. Whatever had been done to him hadn't given him a soul. He couldn't sympathize with Doyle at all.
"You don't have to stay," Giles reminded Spike curtly. "Research isn't exactly your forte."
"The sun's up, I can't bloody well leave now, can I?" the vampire complained. “My jacket’s got a hole in it.”
Xander picked up one of the books Gherosha had thrown to the floor. "Then make yourself useful, Deadbeat," he ordered, dropping the book in Spike's lap.
Buffy's reflection frowned at the window, but she let Willow walk her out. Angel took her place at the window and saw her stop and talk to the steps for a few minutes while Willow waited nearby. She touched what must have been Doyle's shoulder, given the height at which her hand was held. Then she and Willow were gone.
Cordelia gave the books a half an hour. She gave Doyle just as long, checking the window with her hand-held mirror every ten minutes. The books turned up nothing, and Doyle never moved from his spot on the steps. Sometimes he was staring at the ground, other times he was looking up at the sky. He looked so tired and frail, like the slightest breeze could knock him over.
She knew what it was like to go hungry. Not that hungry, but that wasn't the point. She'd been hungry enough to go to parties just so she could fill her purse with finger sandwiches. It gets really hard to see the bright side of things when you're that hungry. She imagined it was hard for Doyle to see any side of things as hungry as he was.
She thought of that place, between this world and the Nether, where they'd met for those few perfect moments. It was like that kiss, only longer and he wasn't about to be disintegrated by a genocidal disco ball. She didn't know where that place was exactly, or if it was just a dream they'd shared. But it was a good dream, and he was in need of a good dream.
"Giles," she decided, surprising everyone in the room, "I want you to hypnotize me again."
Giles looked up at her over the rims of his glasses. "Whatever for?"
Cordelia had told Angel about the white place, but he was family. It was special to her, and sharing it with the other would make it less so. "I want to talk to Doyle."
"So what’s stopping you?" Spike snorted. "He's invisible, not deaf."
Cordelia shot him her worst annoyed-but-better-than-you glare then ignored him. "Please, Giles."
Angel addressed her as if they were alone. "How is he going to get there?"
Cordelia didn't know, but she felt she had to try. Maybe this link she and Doyle had wasn't only one way. "I'll find a way."
Angel watched her silently for a moment, and she knew he would understand. They had a link, too, because of Doyle.
Angel turned to Giles. "You should let her try."
Giles raised his eyebrows and gave a slight shrug. "Catch her," he said, and then snapped his fingers twice.
Cordelia had the vaguest sensation of falling. She heard Giles say something about post-hypnotic suggestion, and she tried to remember to be angry about it later. He spoke to her and told her she could go where she needed to go.
She turned around and found herself surrounded by white. She was still in Giles' apartment, but it was bathed in light until all color was drowned out. She moved toward the door and tried to open it, but her hand passed through the knob. Like Doyle. Doyle would walk through the door, so she stepped forward into the wood. She felt it pass through her, tingling every inch of her body from front to back. She saw the inside of wood. And then she saw Doyle and she called his name.
Doyle looked up and over at the door, but no one was there. It had sounded like Cordelia, but also not like her. She sounded distant and near at the same time. Then he saw her, or rather he saw something move in front of door. "Cordelia?"
She smiled and he could see her smile. He could see her, like a ghost walking toward him across the courtyard. She became a little clearer with each step. "You never said how cool this is," she noted.
"Wait a few months," he told her. “The novelty wears off real quick.” But he didn't understand how she was doing it. "What happened to you?"
"I had Giles hypnotize me again," she said. "I just walked through a door! I saw the inside of a door."
Doyle remembered getting a kick out of such things at first. "Wait’ll you’re looking at the inside of a sandwich and tell me how great it is," he remarked. "But that doesn't explain how I'm seeing you. He didn't hypnotize me." She'd reached him now, and he moved over so she could sit down beside him.
"We've got some sort of brain-link going on," she explained. "Did you ever walk through a person?"
He had and it wasn't a pleasant experience. "I'd avoid the vampires," he advised. "It’s like walking into a meat locker.” He frowned. “Brain-link?"
"That's how we dream the same dreams," she told him. "Or how I dream your nightmares. I think it's only fair that you should share one of my dreams for a change."
Doyle regarded her closely. She was still smiling, but it was wider now, more sincere. She was excited about something. "Did you have something specific in mind?"
"Close your eyes."
Doyle felt his non-corporeal heart beat quicker in his chest. Closing his eyes was dangerous. He might fall asleep. "I can't," he said, knowing what was waiting for him on the other side of sleep.
"Not the dark place," she told him. She covered his hand with hers and he felt a tingle as if she were really there. "This is my dream, remember?"
He had to admit there was something going on between them. She was only a figment of the real Cordelia's hypnosis and yet he could see and hear her. And she could see him. She had sung his corporeal self to sleep last time, and, for a few minutes, they had met in a bright, peaceful place where she had even touched him.
Forgetting himself, he closed his eyes, reaching for the memory of that place. When he opened them again, he was surrounded by white and her hand was touching his. She pulled gently, turning him around to face her. She looked so real, standing there. They were both standing. He lifted a hand, fully-restored, and touched her face, tracing the line of her chin with his thumb. He felt his own lips turn up into a smile. "I like this place," he said.
She touched him back. "So do I. You look better here."
"Not a big accomplishment from what I’m told.” Now that he thought about it, he felt better here. "I don't know how we did this but I'm not hungry anymore."
She smiled and released his hand so she could wrap her arms around him. "Maybe we can stay here until it’s time to go. We've almost got it all planned out. We just need a doorway to the dark place, and then Giles and Xander are going to bring you out."
Doyle held her away from him until he could see her face. "They can't do that," he warned. "They'll be killed."
Cordelia was still smiling, still optimistic. She shook her head. "It can't take humans," she assured him. "They'll get you back together and then you can read the spell on that Brachen scroll so Buffy can kill the demon."
"Just like that?" Doyle asked. Besides the 'kill the demon' part, it almost sounded anticlimactic.
Her smile broadened and she hugged him again. "Just like that. And then you can come home again. We missed you. I missed you. I'm sorry for all the mean things I said to you before."
"None of those things matter now," he told her, hugging her back. Her long hair tickled the backs of his hands. It felt good and it had been a very long time since he'd felt good. If he was going to finally die, it was nice that he could have at least this time of peace beforehand, even if it was just a dream. "Still, it's nice to know that they didn’t forget me. That you . . . didn’t forget."
"Nothing's been right since you--" she said, her head still buried in his shoulder. She didn't bother finishing the sentence; they both knew what she meant. "It was like a part of me was gone. I'm still not sure how it happened. You're so not my type. I mean, you’re not even in the same tax bracket as the guys I date. But I love you."
Doyle had been stroking her hair, but he stopped. He knew she'd missed him. She'd grieved for him; she'd remembered him. He knew she cared about him. But love? It certainly sounded good, but it didn't sound entirely true under the circumstances--or maybe because of them. "Are you sure?"
She pulled away quickly, and her eyes flashed in anger and surprise. "What?!"
She was still quite young despite all that she'd seen. "Are you sure you're not just in love with the idea of me? The one that died for you? I mean, who can top that? I'm sure I couldn't live up to it. I'm a flawed man, Cordelia. That's easy to overlook when I'm dead and you miss me. So you need to be sure before you say it."
She stepped closer again, touching his arms. The anger was gone. "Let’s get you home. Then we'll have plenty of time to find out."
The words were nice but the circumstances were heavier. "I'm not as sure about that as you are," he told her. He may not have felt the hunger or the pain, but he could still sense his death was close by. He was running out of time.
"You're not going to die," she commanded, "not this time. No ‘kiss-the-girl-jump-to-your-death’ heroics this time, Buster. I mean it. You’re coming back to LA with us. For good."
"But we’re not in the clear yet, remember?" he held. “There’s still a long way to go.” He shook off her hands and turned away. "And I'm not feeling very heroic right about now. I'm scared. No, scratch that, I'm terrified. Maybe I don't feel it here but I know what's happening to me." He turned back, but now he was another step away from her, out of her reach. "I don't want to die, Princess. I didn't then either. But this is different. Then, it was supposed to be over in a flash. It was just the better option. The world has more use for Angel than me. Now, I might just fade away."
She crossed her arms over her chest, but he didn't see anger in her eyes. "Fat chance, Promised One." She cocked a finely kept eyebrow. “Seems like the world has big plans for you.”
Doyle shrugged, throwing up a hand. "Well, I didn't go lookin’ for any of this Promised One stuff either."
"Some people just get lucky sometimes."
He smirked at that. "Maybe from your point of view. Instead of a somewhat quick and anything-but-painless death, I get months of starvation in one dimension and unspeakable agony in another. Fortunate is all in the eye of the beholder." He sighed and turned away again, not that there was anything to face. It was just easier than facing her. "Maybe it’s better this way anyway. It wouldn't work out. I'd only disappoint you. Just ask Harry."
Her voice was quick and adamant behind him. "I'm not Harry."
"No," Doyle admitted, "you're not." He spun around. "And I'm not the hero you wanna make me out to be. I wish I was. I really do. But I'm the same Doyle ya used to laugh at back at the office. I dress bad and drink too much. And I know I fall on the down side of pretty. Not to mention that I'm probably poorer’n dirt now. And I can't survive just because you want me to."
Her eyes glistened and her bottom lip quivered, but she didn't give in to tears. "Before you and Angel found me," she said, dropping her eyes, "I couldn't buy a loaf of bread. I stashed finger sandwiches in my purse from parties just so I could eat something. Having money isn’t what makes you a good person." She looked up and some of the fire was back in her eyes. “Lord knows I'm aware of your fashion sense, or lack there of. And you are a little too familiar with every type of beer and whiskey in the northern hemisphere, but I don’t care. I can't type and I make terrible coffee. But you saw something special in me anyway. Didn't you?"
No fire in that last bit. It was said with the same vulnerability as when she'd 'asked' if she could work for Angel. And his heart ached just to hear it. He stepped toward her again. "You got me there, Princess." He smiled softly, holding her eyes with his own. "I was hooked the second I set eyes on you."
The fire was back in a flash. "So what? I don't get that? I don't get the chance to overlook some of the really stupid things you do and think you’re special, too? Well, that's just not fair!"
Doyle was shocked, to say the least, but a little thrilled, too. That was the Cordelia he'd fallen for, after all. But he'd never looked at it as being unfair. She was a princess, and he was a frog who'd fallen in love with her. And, unlike the fairy tale, he wasn’t going to change from a kiss. Why would a princess fall in love with a frog?
Since he hadn't found anything to say in response, she went on as if she'd won the point, which, he supposed, she had. Her voice was soft but firm enough to curb an urge to argue. "I know that any time we have is a gift I never thought I'd have again whether it's one day, one month, or seventy years. Let's not waste this fighting. Let's just get through today--through tonight--and then see what happens."
That sounded like a new Cordelia, appreciative rather than demanding. He liked her. He liked them both. "You've grown up," he said. But he still saw himself as the frog.
"Losing someone does that," she answered, stepping close to him again.
The frog wanted the princess, no matter how doomed such a relationship was. He couldn't fight that anymore than he could fight the demon in the Nether. "And what does finding someone do?" he asked, feeling just as vulnerable as she had appeared to be only moments before.
She smiled softly and wrapped her arms around him again. She laid her head on his shoulder and held him. "Only good things," she replied, and she sounded very certain.
He smiled. Maybe a kiss had done more for him than he had thought.
"You said you'd watch out for him," Buffy accused as soon as she and Willow stepped through the door.
Giles simply put a finger to his lips and pointed toward the sofa. "Don't wake Cordelia." Then he went back to his book.
Buffy, apparently, wasn’t content with that. She dropped her voice but not her tone. "He is asleep."
Spike slammed a particularly large tome closed in frustration. "It's not like we can wake him up." He growled when Anya handed him yet another book. Fortunately, Cordelia didn’t seem to hear either the slam or the growl.
Xander gave him a patronizing smile. "We can't kill-"
Spike grumbled, interrupting him, "Can't kill. Can't kill. Gettin' bloody sick of those two words."
Xander took a breath then repeated, "We can't kill the demon until he comes out of his little hole."
"No luck with a portal, huh?" Willow asked.
Spike ignored her, narrowing his eyes at Xander menacingly. But he flipped open the book, taking no care to see that its cover wouldn't tear.
Giles sighed. That was a risk when working with vampires, he thought. He looked over at Angel, who was delicately turning a brittle page. Soulless vampires, anyway. "Let's not give Spike the old books," he suggested.
"They're all old books," Anya argued. She dropped her voice, "Relatively speaking, anyway."
Willow immediately sat down to help with the increasingly frustrating research. Giles had found at least a dozen references to the Nether but none told how to get there or even how Lo'oran had got there. There wasn't even a mention of Moren, the Brachen believed responsible for his banishment, according to Harry.
"You know what happens to him when he sleeps," Buffy tried, and Giles could tell she was frustrated as well.
He sympathized, but what Spike had tactlessly said was true. They couldn't wake Doyle. Besides, "It's always happening," Giles pointed out, "whether he's asleep or not."
"But he doesn't feel it."
Angel closed his book. "He's not feeling it now," he assured her. "You saw him?"
Buffy nodded, but she was frowning. She hadn't worked all the pieces out. "He's still there, but his eyes are closed and he wouldn't wake up."
"He's with Cordelia," Angel explained, if that could be called an explanation. He'd vaguely described the 'white place' to them earlier. "She's under hypnosis. He's alright."
"Relatively speaking, anyway,"' Anya repeated.
Giles watched as Buffy looked into Angel's eyes. He believed that Doyle was alright, and Buffy accepted it coming from him.
“They’ve really got something there, huh?” she asked.
Angel sighed. “I want them to have the chance to find out.”
Harry closed her book and reached for another. "I should have asked Gherosha while he was here."
"As I recall," Giles offered, "he wasn't entirely forthcoming with what he did tell us."
"But he knew the prophecies," she held, "and the legend of Moren. He even had the sword."
"I don’t understand." Xander said, standing. "Where did he get the sword? This demon wasn’t a California resident in his glory days, was he? Somehow, I’m having trouble picturing him cruising down the strip with the top down and the wind blowing through his hair, you know? I need a snack. Anyone else want a soda?"
Willow and Anya both raised hands. Harry did, too, but she also answered his question. "Prophecy, I suppose. They must have known we'd need it here."
Giles decided he was thirsty, too. "Perhaps some tea," he called to Xander, "while you're in there."
"So we need to find that prophecy?" Buffy asked.
"Actually we need the history," Giles corrected. "This fellow Moren banished Lo'oran to the Nether. It would help to know how he did it."
"But that wasn't a two-way street," Willow argued, "otherwise he would have gotten out. We'll need both directions."
The phone rang and Giles thought to answer it, but Xander was already up. Besides, he had Cordelia to deal with as apparently the ringing had woken her up.
They'd talked for a few hours, and Doyle had started to feel alive again for the first time since . . . since the Beacon. Even though he knew this wasn't real. He felt real. And Cordelia felt real as he held her. They had run out of things to say, or at least he had. Now he just listened happily as she prattled on about everything that had happened since that day.
And then she was gone. One moment she was in his arms and time was standing still. The next moment, his arms were empty, Cordelia was gone, and the white around him felt like it was closing in.
He heard a roar building, vibrating in his own chest. His heart pounded against his ribcage, and the sound of it, the pressure of it, filled the space between his ears until it became a familiar howl behind him. He turned to see an impenetrable darkness moving toward him. Two ferocious red eyes glared at him as the roaring mist approached, a cyclone of fury. Instinctually, he backed away. But now, the whiteness behind him had become a wall of black and red. Dizziness flooded his head as the white turned red, and he could no longer tell whether or not he was standing at all. He found himself lying on his back, chained to the ground and at the mercy of the demonic mist. It was on him, searing away the flesh of his face and body.
"Cordelia!" he screamed, wondering where she'd gone, why she'd left him here.
The mist tore into him, laughing, taunting him. Doyle tried to close his eyes against the tortured faces that appeared within it, telling himself that if he could sleep he'd wake up on Earth. But the pain was too much, the roaring laughter too loud. It was winning, and they both knew it.
Xander picked up the phone, waving to the others to continue the discussion. It was late afternoon already and the battle was set for that night. "Mister Belvedere’s" he announced.
"Xander?" a familiar, rather nasal, British voice asked.
"Wesley?" Xander asked in return.
"Yes, I need to speak to Giles," Wesley answered. He did sound rather worked up about something, but then, he often had.
"You calling from England?" It was a really clear connection, considering the distance.
"No, I'm in L.A May I please speak to Giles?"
"Angel and Cordelia are in L.A.," Xander said, wondering if they'd run into each other.
"Not at the moment, no," Wesley answered, sounding a bit annoyed.
Well, turnabout being fair play, and all. . . . "That's because they're here."
"There!? In Sunnydale?" There was a pause. "Following one of Cordelia’s visions, perhaps?"
Xander was only half-listening. Buffy was talking about her meeting with Riley. "Not that I'm aware of," he replied, catching the part about a vision. Cordelia was quite upset about waking up. She went straight to the window, but, of course, there was nothing to see. "Look, Wesley, we're kind of in the middle of something. Can you call back tomorrow?"
"I daresay tomorrow will be too late," Wesley said. "I have reason to believe that Buffy is in grave danger from a N'thirae demon. The last of his kind."
"What's a Nitheria demon?" Xander asked. Buffy was relaying the Initiative's plans. It seemed to be going well. The Initiative had orders to capture and/or kill the uniformed demons tonight. Vamps were safe enough.
"N'thirae," Wesley corrected. "It’s a very dangerous creature. According to prophecy it will emerge tonight, after vanquishing the Promised One, and set about devouring all traces of humanity on Earth."
Now, Xander was paying attention. "This guy wouldn't happen to be a black mist with red eyes, goes by the name Low Orange or some such?"
"Lo'oran." Surprise again. "You're already aware." And was there a twinge of disappointment in his usually smug voice, too?
"Yep," Xander replied. "We got a whole party going on. Demons, vampires, ghosts, you know, your typical Sunnydale shindig. Sorry you didn’t get an invite, but it was kind of a last minute thing, you know? Anyway, the guest of honor’s going to get stabbed to death with a sword tonight so it’ll all be over before tomorrow morning."
"You can't kill it with a sword," Wesley argued. "Not in mist form anyway. You'll need a spell to change it--"
"From the wind into a tree?" Xander returned, going with the Brachen demon's phraseology. "Got that, too."
"Oh." Definitely disappointment. "Well, then, I suppose you don't need my help."
Wait. Wesley wasn't good for much, Xander thought, except research. "Maybe you can help, Wesley," he said. "We need a way in to where Misty the Demon is. And back out again," he added, remembering what Willow had said. "We haven't had any luck yet."
"Why on Earth would you want to go there?"
Then again, maybe not so great at the research. "You're slipping in the prophecy department," he told the Watcher. "The Promised One is split in two?" he tried. "Corporeal and non? You know, gotta get the creamy filling back together with the cookie crunch.”
"Dear God!" He actually sounded worried. "I hadn't realized. You didn't sound like-- Of course. I'll see what I can find." Then he was gone.
Xander hung up the phone, wondering what it was he didn't sound like. He picked up the tray he'd prepared and joined the others again.
"Who was it?" Giles asked.
Xander addressed Cordelia instead. "You guys been hanging out with Wesley?"
"Wesley?" Giles sounded surprised. "I thought he'd gone back to England."
"The Watchers Council kicked him out," Angel explained.
"He works with us now," Cordelia added, sounding neither pleased nor displeased with the concept. She was sitting in the corner next to Angel.
Everyone was staring at Angel though, even Spike.
Angel looked up. "He has his moments."
"Occasionally," Cordelia offered in support. She kept glancing toward the window. "Very occasionally."
"What did he have to say?" Giles asked
Xander passed out the sodas and handed Giles his tea. "He wanted to warn us about Doyle's demon."
Angel's already prominent brow dropped further over his eyes. "He knew?"
"Not about the ghost impersonation bit," Xander answered, "but he did know about the Promised One and the demon's coming out party."
"Gotta admit he's good with the books," Buffy offered.
This time when the phone rang, Giles was the one to answer it. Cordelia had convinced Buffy--without too much trouble--to go out and check on Doyle, but Buffy had a feeling she already knew where he was. He was still sitting there on the steps but now he was slumped over, the railing going through his torso. And he was translucent, more so now than before. She could barely see him at all. He was back in the dark place, and he was dying.
"You've got it!" Giles exclaimed, which was about as excited as he ever got. And it had been less than two hours since Wesley called the first time. Apparently, Angel was right. Wesley did have his moments.
Giles grabbed a pad of paper and a pen and started scribbling quickly. Everyone else just waited, quietly watching. Well, everyone but Willow who went to look over his shoulder, grinning with interest.
"Right," Giles said. "Thank you, Wesley, and yes, I'll tell them."
"Tell us what," Angel asked, clearly worried.
"Wesley says he's holding down the fort and that you needn't worry. He's even solved a case while you're away. Something about a missing dog. Sounded quite pleased with himself."
"Two hours ago he was sure the world was going to end," Xander commented with a smirk.
"I hope he remembered to invoice," Cordelia spoke up. She was sitting next to Angel, and Buffy tried to stifle whatever it was she was feeling when Cordelia leaned close to him or touched his arm. It wasn't right and she knew it. A) She couldn't be with Angel without him losing his soul and going on a killing spree. B) She had Riley now and she really cared about him. And C) Cordelia was clearly hung up on Doyle, and it was probably grief over his apparent death that had made her and Angel closer friends. It was all very logical, but hearts and heads didn't always see eye to eye.
Giles went on describing the spell and assigning parts. Willow volunteered to get supplies from the magic shop. She and Anya would perform the spell together when the time came. All the pieces were in place. Even Doyle, since Cordelia had filled him in during her hypnosis.
"He's going to need some things, I would imagine," Giles said. "Food, for one, but we'll have to be careful and watch what he eats."
"He'll need clothes," Cordelia added, standing up. She wasn't exactly speaking to Giles. She was talking to Angel. "His are all . . .," she hesitated, motioning with her hands, ". . . bloody and he doesn't have anything to change into." Her eyes widened and Angel stood up beside her, clearly worried. "He doesn't have any place to live," Cordelia realized. "He doesn't have any clothes or books or knickknacks. He doesn't have anything!"
Angel stood in front of her, close so she had to look up at him. "He has us," he told her and Buffy's feelings of anger left her. "We'll manage. We always do."
Cordelia's face contorted a bit as she bit back tears. "He said that. Just like that. On the day. . . ."
Angel grabbed her shoulders with both hands. "This isn't that day," he pronounced. "It's a completely different day. It's the day we get him back."
Her anger had left her, but Buffy found herself more jealous than before. Cordelia was closer than she could ever be with Angel.
"You sound awfully determined."
Buffy spun around to see Doyle standing in the doorway. He was pale and he swayed on his feet. He looked as if he'd fall over. Buffy hurried over to him to offer him support.
"You put on a good act," Angel said, "but I can hear you smiling."
And he was right, though Buffy was the only one who could see it. It was a soft smile, weak like he was, and a little sad. "I should start out," he said, opting not to confirm Angel's suspicions. "It's a long way and I don't think I'm up to hurryin' anymore. Besides, it'll give Harry time to teach me that Brachen spell."
Cordelia was smiling again. "I'll go with you."
"I'm sorry, Cordelia," Giles broke in. "But we need you to meet with Rieff. Let him know the strategy."
Cordelia looked crestfallen. "We'll meet you there, Princess," Doyle assured her. Cordelia nodded. Harry picked up the scroll.
Buffy turned to Giles. "You'll bring my bag?" She'd packed a bag after class. Good running shoes, Mr. Pointy--because she always took Mr. Pointy--that sort of thing.
"Of course," he replied, still scribbling out notes on the paper. Buffy caught Angel's gaze just before she turned to leave with Doyle and Harry. His eyes told her to be careful. She wished the same for him. Then she took Doyle's arm and started out the door.
Giles felt a bit like a general, assigning his troops and planning strategy. Xander off to the supermarket, Willow to the magic shop, she and Anya on the portal spell. Spike and Angel would rendezvous with the vampires, Cordelia and himself with the half-demon recruits. To be fair, Riley's group had already planned the battle strategy, conveniently leaving room for the latter two allies in such a way that only half-demons who could pass for humans should be seen by the soldiers. All would converge at the rendezvous point just after sunset.
While he felt a certain amount of satisfaction in being useful once again, he also felt a sense of trepidation he'd been putting off until now. He'd found it ironic that he felt more comfortable around Spike, the soulless but harmless evil vampire, than Angel, who was cursed with a soul and a guilty conscience. One simply doesn't shake off torture--or the murder of a loved one--like one shakes off sleep after an afternoon nap. And now he had to trust a rather large share of the fate of the world to several dozen soulless and wholly harmful evil vampires, not to mention the dubious--at best--Initiative. Giles started to wonder if he shouldn't prefer the boredom.
Cordelia didn't speak for at least ten minutes after they had set out, and Giles found that quite uncharacteristic for her. "So," he started, hoping to get some conversation out of her as they walked, "how is it that you came to work for Angel?"
"He saved me from a vampire," she said. "I needed work--in between auditions, of course--and he needed someone with business sense. Can you believe he wasn't even charging?"
Giles smiled. That sounded like Cordelia. "And Doyle?"
"He’s the previous owner of these wonderful visions I keep having," she answered. "He used to dig up information on the streets, too. You know, seedy people with weird nicknames like Frankie Tripod and Manny the Pig. And he knows every pub in L.A."
He certainly didn't sound like Cordelia's type. But then, she had gone out with Xander.
"He wasn't always all wrong-side-of-the-tracks," she continued. "He used to be a teacher and volunteer at a food bank. You see that in him sometimes. It's like he tries to hide it, but it's there."
"It's not an easy thing to wake up one day and find out you're a demon," Giles told her, remembering his day as a Fyarl demon thanks to Ethan Rayne.
"I think he didn't think he deserved what he had," she said, surprising Giles with her insight, "so he sabotaged his life. Here it is." She stopped in front of a particularly dilapidated building.
Giles followed her up the steps, noting that she didn't appear apprehensive or put out. She seemed not to mind the dusty floors and cobwebs hanging from the corners. "Hello?" she called out. "It's Cordelia. Is Rieff there?"
A young man with prominent ridges, particularly around his eyes, bounded down the steps. "Hey, Cordy," he offered in greeting. Giles didn't think he could be older than sixteen. "Who's your friend?"
Cordelia gave him a smile. "This is Giles, ex-Watcher and expert on all things demonic."
Giles frowned, not agreeing totally with the introduction. "I'm a librarian," he offered instead. "Or, at least I used to be. Nice to meet you." He held out a hand and Rieff took it.
"We're all set," he said. "Just tell us where you need us."
Angel/Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Close to Home...So Far Away
By Gabrielle Lawson
Contributing Authors: Mike Donovan, Joe Smith Jr. and Charles Kline II
Doyle hated to ask for help. Oh, not the general kind of help. He'd asked Giles to help him with little effort. Walking from LA, that had taken effort. It was the personal kind of help that he hated asking for. Like now. Walking was becoming increasingly more difficult with each step. His legs felt soft and unstable, like Jell-O, and the ground refused to lie still under his feet. If it weren't for Buffy holding him up, he would have collapsed already. It was nearly sunset, and they still had half a mile to go. They could have made better time if she'd carried him, but he refused to ask for that. He'd walk.
Harry had given up trying to teach him, deciding instead to prompt him when the time came. His mind just couldn't hold the foreign words, not when it was so hard just to keep going. Buffy had even put him in the fountain back in town, but this time he hadn't even felt it. His lungs fought for each breath. His mind kept saying he was going to survive, but every part of his body was telling him that he would die tonight. Just the opposite of last time, when his body had sung as he jumped from the catwalk with his mind knowing all along what it would cost.
The sky was beautiful, streaked with fiery orange and neon pink against a deepening blue. Trees were becoming more common as they moved farther out of town, and the sun slid behind them. The air was clean, unlike L.A. and he decided Sunnydale, in spite of the hellmouth, was a nice locale for his last day on Earth, if that's how things turned out. Though, truth be told, he missed the emerald green of his native Ireland. He had hoped to return someday to the land of his youth and innocence. That didn't look likely now.
He looked at Harry as she walked beside him, but he couldn't tell what she was thinking. He hadn't had the chance to say goodbye last time.
Their last conversation had been unpleasant, for both of them. There was so much he wanted to say to her. It was strange, like one day he knew her, and was known by her, completely. They thought they'd be together forever, that nothing could come between them. And the next they were strangers, mere acquaintances, each with memories of the other that no longer quite fit. Before they had completed each other. Now they belonged to two different puzzles.
Even if he'd found the words, he couldn't say them. They were words to say in private, and he'd missed his chance for that. Buffy couldn't leave him now until they reached the rail station, and the others would probably be there waiting for them. There was a time when he and Harry could finish each other's sentences, know each other's thoughts. Maybe, at a time like this, she still could. Of course, it would probably help if she could see him.
"We've got company," Buffy whispered, just loud enough for Harry to hear.
Doyle looked and saw the trees moving. But then so was the ground, to his eyes anyway. Then he saw a face, human-looking, maybe a little pale. There were more of them. Moving through the trees, staying clear of the sun's last rays. Vampires.
Each glanced toward the three of them--or Buffy and Harry, since they couldn't see him--as they went. Some snarled openly, demon-face showing. But none made a move toward them. The alliance appeared to be holding.
Watching them, Doyle missed seeing the railroad tracks coming up, and he stumbled a bit when the ground inclined. Buffy had one arm around his back though, and he didn't fall. They crossed three sets of tracks, overgrown with grass and weeds as they headed for the little abandoned station Doyle had seen just two nights before.
A door opened in the building up ahead and Rieff walked out with two others Doyle didn't recognize. One of them, a woman, looked human. Cordelia and Giles also emerged, and Giles shook hands with Rieff and the others. Cordelia hugged the boy and waved to the others before they left to take up their positions. She looked up and waved again, this time to Doyle, Buffy, and Harry. Buffy picked up the pace, but she helped Doyle to keep up.
Cordelia frowned with worry as they entered the station. Doyle didn't know what to say to her either, and this time he couldn't just kiss her. Too bad that.
"This way," Giles offered, leading them past the largest room with benches where passengers used to sit and wait for trains. There was another fairly large area behind that one, closed off from the outside by four walls and two doors, one on each side. "There will be half-demons here," Giles explained before stepping through the door, "the most trustworthy of our temporary allies. They'll be our last line of defense outside these walls." He stepped in. "If the Scourge gets that far, Angel and Spike will be on this side."
"They here yet?" Buffy asked.
"Behind you," Angel answered. Doyle tried to turn his head, but a wave of dizziness caused him to close his eyes.
Giles continued, pointing as he spoke, "The commandos have the north, vampires the south, with half-demons between them to the east and west. Those who can pass for human will be closest to the Initiative, seeing as the latter is not privy to our alliance."
He pointed toward the back wall where the full-length mirror was standing. "Doyle, when the time comes, you'll need to lie down in front of the mirror, so we can see where to place your corporeal half."
Buffy walked him over there and Doyle dropped to the floor, thankful for the rest. Still, he had to stay upright, which made him dizzy, or lay down and risk falling asleep.
Cordelia sat down beside him. "We were worried you might run into the Scourge before you got here," she said.
"They don't generally go out in the daylight," Anya reminded her. "Willow's here."
Willow entered with Spike just behind her. She was carrying a paper bag. Spike closed the door behind them and Willow headed to the corner where Anya was sitting with Xander. She looked a little pale. "It's getting crowded out there," she said.
Xander got up and handed a gym bag to Buffy. She thanked him and left the room to change. There was a knock on the other door and everyone jumped. Angel crossed the room and slowly opened the door.
"Don't worry," a man's voice said from the other side, "I'm alone." Angel stepped aside and a light-haired soldier walked in. He was dressed in camouflage and quite well armed. Doyle guessed he was Riley.
Giles met him at the door. The younger man spoke first. "We're all set out there. My men have orders to concentrate only on the demon threat and to stand their ground. Hopefully that will keep them from wandering too far around the building. Is Buffy here yet?"
"She's just changing," Giles replied. He held out a hand in the direction of the mirror. "There's someone I'd like you to meet." Riley followed him over to where Doyle was sitting. "Riley, meet Doyle."
Riley was staring wide-eyed at the reflection, which, Doyle reasoned, would only show his back. He didn't feel like turning around though. "Pleasure," Doyle managed, not knowing yet if he meant it or not.
Riley smiled, looking a lot less like a soldier. "Likewise. When this is all over, we'll have to shake hands. Good luck."
Seemed nice enough. And he was about to risk his life fighting the Scourge. "You, too."
Riley smiled again and turned back to Giles. "When can we expect them?"
Giles placed a hand on Riley's arm, turning him away from Doyle. Doyle could still hear though. "We can't begin here until just before midnight. The Scourge knows we'll try to stop their leader from emerging."
"So they might show up early," Riley finished. "Could be a long night then. I'd better get back out there. Tell Buffy--" He broke off, unable to finish his sentence or put his thoughts into words. Doyle knew how that felt.
"Tell me what?" Buffy asked, returning to the room but now dressed in loose clothes, not as flattering, but definitely more practical.
Riley walked up to her, bent down, took her face in his hands, and kissed her. Doyle knew that feeling, too, without the bending down part. But while he could empathize with Riley, he sympathized with Angel, who turned his back to them while they kissed. Thus far he'd done a good job of not showing it, but Angel still loved Buffy and always would.
Doyle looked at Cordelia beside him and wished he could kiss her again like that. But he couldn't touch her. Not yet, he told himself. Tomorrow. He would fight with every thing he had left just to see her tomorrow, to hold her hand, to see if a princess and a frog could make a go of it.
"Oh, that," Buffy said when the two of them parted. Her face was a bit red and she glanced at Angel, who was still facing the door. "Be careful," she told Riley.
"You, too," he whispered. He smiled for her and turned to walk out the door. Doyle watched him go, wondering which side of the door would be more dangerous.
"What do we do for the next three hours?" Cordelia asked, shifting her position.
"We prepare," Giles answered.
Cordelia wasn't particularly happy with preparing. She was bored. Over in the corner, Willow and Anya were preparing for the spell. They'd laid out all but one of the talismans and ingredients and were practicing the words. Giles, Buffy, and Xander were discussing what they would do in the Nether. Harry was trying again to teach Doyle the Brachen spell. He sounded so tired and breathless.
Angel and Spike were similarly without much to do. Spike skulked alone in the other corner. Angel was fond of sitting quietly in the dark, so he just watched the others, listening.
She wished she could talk to Doyle. She was worried he would die tonight, leaving her again. She didn't think she could manage that pain again.
"Cordelia?" Giles said, interrupting her thoughts. He motioned for her to join the Nether-going party.
Finally something! She stood, finding her legs a little too stiff from sitting on the floor for two hours. She did her best to hide that though and walked over to where they were.
"Was there anything distinct about where Doyle is being held?"
"You mean besides blood and bones and life-sucking black mist demon with glowing red eyes?" she asked in return. The whole place was pretty distinct.
"Yes," Buffy replied, "besides that. You said it was like a cave. Was it like one big room or a bunch of tunnels?"
"Big room," Cordelia answered, remembering. "But it was dark. I could see walls sometimes, but there might have been other tunnels."
"And Doyle is chained to the floor?" Giles asked. "How thick was the chain?"
Cordelia remembered that too. Doyle shackled and struggling weakly. She lifted her hand, her thumb and forefinger about half an inch apart. "Hands and feet, with shackles."
"Well, we should be able to get through one or the other," Giles began. Cordelia didn't hear the rest. Blinding pain shot through her temples, distorting his voice into an inhuman din. She dropped, knowing what was coming even as it hit full force, filling her skull with deafening pressure. She vaguely felt her vocal chords vibrate, but was not aware if she had spoken or screamed. Images swam madly through her consciousness, familiar images. Doyle.
Angel kept his back to the door so he could hear beyond it. But he kept his eyes on the rest of the room. He tried to focus on Doyle, but that was difficult when there was nothing to see. He tried watching Cordelia, but she was bored and therefore boring. He tried listening to Harry for awhile. He practically had the spell memorized himself, though Doyle sounded tired and confused by it all. Inevitably, Angel's eyes and ears and attention drifted back to Buffy.
She was standing in the center of the room with Giles and Xander, going over strategy. Angel still saw her kissing Riley though. It hurt, though he knew he should be happy for her. He couldn't be with her without risking everything, including Buffy. She needed a human to love her. And she deserved to be loved.
He regained his focus when Cordelia was called over to them. They asked her about the Nether again and she answered without showing fear, as if it was easier to talk about now that she knew it was real. Or maybe she just thought it was the best way to help Doyle. Either way, she told them about the area and about Doyle.
Xander held up a large pair of cutters, but it was Giles who replied to her statement about the shackles and chains. "Well, we should be able to get through one or the other."
Cordelia's eyes widened suddenly, and Angel jumped to his feet. Her whole body tensed up, and her eyes rolled back just before she fell. Giles and Xander caught her first, looking at each other in anxious confusion.
"She's having a vision," Angel explained as he slipped in behind her and wrapped his arms tightly around her.
Cordelia started to relax, and Buffy looked over Angel's shoulder to where Doyle would be. "Were they always like that?" Doyle didn't answer and Angel guessed he was feeling guilty for leaving the visions with Cordelia.
When the vision was over, Angel turned Cordelia around to face him. "What was it?" Angel asked. He took some aspirin and a small bottle of water from his coat pocket and handed them to her. Her hand shook as she popped them into her mouth. "What did you see?" He was sure the Powers had sent the vision to try and draw him away.
Cordelia brightened immediately and smiled one of her prom queen smiles. "Nothing," she told him.
Angel knew she was lying and it strengthened his suspicions. "Was it L.A.?"
Cordelia gave him a condescending look. "How can it be L.A. if I didn't see anything? Just sudden onset temporary migraine. All gone now." And to prove her point, she shook off all the arms supporting her and stood up, brushing the dust off her slacks.
"She saw me," Doyle said from behind them. He'd spoken quietly, but the vision had silenced the room, leaving no competition for his voice.
Cordelia spun around. "It doesn't matter because it's not going to happen. Got that?"
Angel stood to face her. "Cordelia," he tried, hoping to convince her to share what she'd seen.
But she wouldn't let him finish. She poked him in the chest. "That goes for you, too, Broody-Boy."
Angel held up two hands in surrender. He could guess now. Doyle was dead in the vision, for real this time.
Cordelia released him and nodded once. "Good. That's settled then." She held up her watch and frowned. "I think we should get started now."
"It's not even eleven o'clock yet," Giles pointed out.
"It won't matter," Cordelia told him, and Angel knew she'd seen a time in her vision as well. That's when the shooting started outside.
Riley fought to keep focused. He was a soldier first and he was on an important mission, even if he did largely manipulate events to produce that mission to help Buffy. He still didn't understand her sometimes, why she harbored Hostile 17, for example. And then there was the other one, Angel. His hand was cold when Riley had shaken it. He was probably a vampire, too. She was supposed to be a vampire slayer, the Vampire Slayer. He didn't get that.
There he was. Thinking about Buffy again. Distracted. Well, it had been two hours already. He glanced around at his men. They were still in position, though a few of them were yawning. “Keep your eyes open! I promise you won’t be bored much longer!” he called out, hoping to rouse them, and himself. Beyond them, around the corner of the building, out of sight would be the mixed breeds. Until yesterday he hadn't even known they existed. Part demon, part human. One more piece to the puzzle that had replaced the reality he had come to believe in. He didn't know what to think anymore. Everything had become muddled and gray since he met Buffy. Nothing was clear anymore. The Initiative, Prof. Walsh--the late Prof. Walsh--vampires, demons, good, bad, even himself. What was right? He missed Iowa and the simplicity of his youth.
He was doing it again. "Stay alert," he spoke into his headset to his men. He was really telling himself. He focused again on the tree line beyond the tracks and wondered if Buffy was just as bored.
Graham held up one hand and pointed toward the trees. Riley lifted the night vision goggles into place, and the trees came to life. They were there, more than two dozen that Riley could see, creeping towards the edge of the tree line and stretching beyond his line of site.
"Maybe we should deploy some men around the side of the building in case they try to flank us,” Forrest said, making it clear that it was as much a criticism as a suggestion.
Riley shook his head, thankful that he'd discussed tactics with the CO in private. "No. We have reinforcements surrounding the building. I’m not going to weaken our position. We'll make our stand here!!" He pointed forcefully to the ground as he spoke in a voice loud enough that everyone heard his answer. "Cock and lock, boys and girls-its Showtime!" He heard the clicks and clacks of the weapons as bolts were pulled back and released and rounds were inserted into grenade launchers. Maintaining his watch on the tree line, he saw through his goggles the first of the demons as they stepped into the clearing, looking like German officers from an old black and white WWII movie. More followed, and Riley breathed a sigh of relief he hoped he wouldn't regret as he noticed that they apparently weren’t carrying any firearms.
Riley lifted his own weapon and targeted the forehead of the lead demon. He waited a few more seconds, and his men waited with him. "Fire!" Riley commanded, pulling his own trigger and watching with satisfaction as the demon dropped, his head exploding in a haze of bone fragments and brain matter. More shots rang as the demons rushed their position. The marksmanship of the Initiative soldiers brought down the first wave of demons, but it wasn’t enough as even more came out of the tree line. There’s too many! Riley thought grimly. They’re going to overrun our position. Shaking off his doubts, Riley barked out his orders. “Even numbers-fall back to our secondary position. Odd numbers-lay down covering fire. Marston, Rodriguez, you’ve got the shotguns. Let ‘em get close, then let ‘em have it and fall back!”
Giles mouthed the words along with Willow and Anya, coaching them silently though they couldn't see it. So far, after twenty minutes, there was still no portal, and the cutters were getting heavy in his hand. Goose bumps began to raise on his arms and he'd stopped sweating. Anticipation, perhaps, of the demon that would devour him and all other humans if the spell didn't work.
"Is it getting colder in here?" Buffy whispered beside him.
Or perhaps the room was just getting colder. Hadn't Cordelia told them it was cold in the Nether. Giles started to hope that maybe Wesley had gotten the spell right, then as he heard the sound of the shotguns outside, he swore to himself that Wesley had better have gotten the spell right.
"Look!" Xander whispered just as several of the others stood up. The far wall was changing, becoming less solid. It rippled. Then there was a small spot of darkness, about two-thirds of the way up the wall. It spun, brightening on its edges until it was tinged with a brilliant blue. It grew.
"I think we'll need our jackets," Giles suggested as a draft of cold air began to emanate from the portal, now a foot in diameter.
"We'll need a step ladder," Xander commented. The portal was rather high up on the wall.
"We'll make it," Buffy told him as she pulled on an old jacket Giles had decided to throw out. It hung loose on her, but at least she wouldn't have to ruin one of her own should she get thrown around.
Giles tugged on his own dark jacket, and glanced back at the portal. It was a yard wide now, but still halfway up the wall. He could hear a howling wind from the other side, but all he could see was blackness. He checked the batteries in his flashlight and handed the folded tarp to Xander.
At five feet wide, the portal stopped growing. It was at least three feet off the floor. Giles checked his watch. 11:20. Cordelia had been right to make them start early.
Giles turned to Buffy, but Buffy was looking toward Doyle. She looked worried, but she offered him a light smile. Giles touched her arm. "Remember, a N'thirae demon in this form is practically invulnerable. There's not much you can do to him except lead him away from us. But he can harm you, so be careful. N'thirae demons have limited telekinesis. He can throw you."
Buffy nodded. "So I keep running and watch how I fall. Let's do it."
Giles nodded as well and took a deep breath to steady his own nerves. "Xander?"
"Right behind you," the young man answered.
Buffy went first. She only carried a flashlight, and she jumped easily into the portal. Xander went next and Buffy's arm reached out of the darkness to help pull him in. Giles followed and the two of them pulled him up.
The floor here was level with the lower edge of the portal and through the portal he could see the dimly lit, utterly empty room of the train station.
"Where'd everyone go?" Xander asked, raising his voice to be heard over the wind.
Giles had expected this. Cordelia had watched a vampire being killed, the same vampire Doyle had seen beheaded some six hours earlier. "We're not there yet."
"This stuff would give Stephen Hawking a headache," Xander complained.
Giles panned his flashlight around, trying to get his bearings. Unlike Cordelia's description of a wide-open area, they were in a narrow corridor, blocked on one end by the portal itself. The walls were black as Cordelia has said, but they dripped with a thick, red liquid much as cave walls on Earth dripped with water.
There was only one way to go and Giles hoped it led in the right direction. He took a step and his shoe made a sucking sound as it left the floor. Brittle bones broke into powder as his foot pressed down again.
"I'm glad I opted to leave my new Nike's at home," Xander said as they started down the corridor. "Everyone remember where we parked."
Scourge had overrun Riley’s first position, but they had left many demons on the ground. “Where’s Walters?” Riley called out as his troops set up at their fall back position.
“He didn’t make it!” Riley’s number one called back and pointed towards a throng of Scourge surrounding the hapless Walters who had his knife out and was stabbing at the demons, but there were too many of them and he finally went down beneath their blows.
“Bastards!” Leslie screamed out as he flipped his M16 to full auto and emptied the clip on the clump of Scourge gloating over their kill, bringing many of the demons down and scattering the rest.
Rieff heard the guns and the sounds of the soldiers shouting before he saw the Scourge, but not long before. Well, Dad, he thought, this is it. I hope we were right about this whole Promised One thing. He had a sword that had belonged to the Quintessa's captain. It was an antique cutlass with a curved, single-edged blade that had belonged to the captain's grandfather. He'd given it to Rieff on the trip back to L.A. He'd said he had no son to pass it on to, and he hoped it would do him some good. Holding it, feeling its weight had given Rieff the courage in what he was doing, but now the old fear was returning. They were the Scourge.
Ixani stood beside him and changed, leaving behind her human face for a more imposing one. Her forehead creased and bulged; her teeth became fangs more frightful than a vampire's; and her eyes, now all white, seemed to glow though they gave off no light. "I'm afraid," she admitted, loud enough so that Rieff wasn't the only one to hear, "but I saw my family murdered. I'd rather join them in death than let the Scourge continue to walk the Earth. If I die tonight, I'll take them with me."
There was a murmur of ascent from the crowd, and the first of the Scourge attacked. Naroni met him, cracking a baseball bat hard across his knees, and then, as the demon collapsed to the ground, he swung the bat in a sweeping arc, smashing its skull.
But the demon wasn’t alone. Another of the Scourge tackled Naroni before he could recover from his attack, causing the bat to slip from his fingers on to the ground. The Scourge trooper stood over his companion, his club ready to avenge his fallen comrade. Seeing this, Ixani raised a hand, and, making a fist, pulled it back to her chest before thrusting it out again, extending her fingers in a throwing motion. The demon was lifted into the air and tossed into three of his compatriots, bringing all of them down in a heap. Sighing in relief, Naroni took advantage of the breathing space bought for him by his companion, and, struggling to his feet, recovered the bat and readied himself for his next opponent.
Rieff didn't have time to watch the rest. He'd never actually killed anyone before and he was still unsure of himself, but the Scourge didn't wait for him to find his confidence. He brought up the old cutlass to parry the blow from one of the club wielding demons, but he didn’t take into account the force of the blow as the momentum from the demon’s swing brought the club down on him, striking a glancing blow, forcing him to lose his balance as he staggered and fell. The demon that had brought Rieff down stood above him, and smashed his boot hard on Rieff's stomach. Rieff gulped for the air that had been knocked from his lungs and clutched at his stomach while still clenching with his right hand the hilt of his sword. As the demon raised his boot for the second, killing blow, Rieff raised up, thrusting the sword outward and stabbing the demon through the chest. Rieff looked in astonishment as he saw the demon crumple to the ground, clutching his stomach. He'd never killed anyone before. Rieff felt the waves of nausea rise from his stomach and wasn't sure if it was because of the boot or the sloshy, sucking sound (somehow he could still hear it over the sounds of the battle) of the demon's abdomen as he pulled the sword out again.
But he had no time to analyze the situation as another demon had already appeared to take the place of the one he had killed. Rieff let his instincts guide him as he used his arms to hit, his legs to kick, and his head to know when to duck. And when he could, he swung the sword, slicing a gut open or thrusting it forward to stab--anything to stay alive or to save the lives of his friends. Ixani, always nearby, used a discarded knife or club, or when necessary, her teeth. But most of the time she used her telekinesis, throwing an attacker away from her or turning his own weapon against him.
Naroni, with his bat, did his part in the fight as well. He screamed with battle rage, his eyes wide and wild, in an unstoppable, berserk fury. Rieff, glancing his way, saw him bash in the heads of two of the demons with that bat that he waved in an uncontrolled fury.
Rieff had it harder. Each motion was an effort. Each kill exacted a price, in pain, in sickness, in fatigue. Each blow made him more susceptible to the next, but he wouldn't give up. He kept a tight grip on the sword and tried to keep his enemies in front of him where he could see them.
Another one fell before him, giving him a rare opportunity to catch his breath. Turning towards Ixani, he saw that she was struggling with a demon that had successfully grappled her throat with his arm and was about to deliver the killing blow with a knife that he had in his other hand that she couldn’t see. Reiff could only watch helplessly as the demon stabbed the knife into her back. Screaming in pain and anger, she dug her teeth into the demon's arm, causing him to howl in anger and outrage as he stabbed her again. Both Ixani and the demon fell to the ground, but Ixani, recovering faster, whipped her head to the side, tearing a swath of flesh from his arm, forcing the demon to release her and the knife still in her back. And as she fell, Ixani watched the demon as he leaned forward and pulled the knife from her with his good hand. He tried to move the mangled arm up, but it wouldn’t move as he wanted it to. Instead, the knife turned in and moved toward his own skull, stopping only an inch from his face as the demon laughed, dropping his hand to his side.
Rieff found the rage inside of himself when he realized his friend was dead. He was already running toward them before he was aware of it. As the demon tried to stand, triumphant over his fallen foe, Rieff slashed down at him with his sword, channeling all of his rage with his stroke, severing the demon’s head with one blow. The body fell beside Ixani as the head rolled away in the opposite direction, but Reiff didn’t have time to concern himself with where it went. Instead, he turned grimly away from his fallen friend, sparing her one last glance as he looked for another demon, his thoughts now only of death and killing.
Rieff heard the sound of gunfire as the Initiative soldiers continued to lay down fire against the Scourge demons rushing their position. Every now and again, he’d hear the louder sound of the shotguns mixed in with the staccato of the M16’s as the demons got a little too close to the soldier’s position. Rieff knew that they had to hold this position-they had nowhere else to fall back to.
The wind became louder as they walked but it became clearer as well, separating into distinct sounds: the whistle of the wind through the corridors, the screams of dying men, the ghastly cackle of the demon, and the echoes of it all.
"He sounds fairly distracted already," Xander commented. "Maybe you two didn't need me after all."
"I'll wager it's more interested in Doyle than any of the other victims," Giles replied. Doyle was the demon's ticket to freedom.
They came to a fork, a choice between left and right. Giles stopped everyone and instructed Buffy to close her eyes and listen. He and Xander stood as still as possible. The echoes made it difficult to tell which direction the true sounds were coming from. Then Giles noticed her hair. She had it tied back in a pony tail which whipped around her head to slap against he left cheek.
"The right," Giles decided. The stronger draft having come from that direction. Buffy agreed.
Another ten minutes passed before they reached the end of the corridor and the large area Cordelia had described. They stopped at the edge and looked out. There was more light here, though not much, and Giles couldn't see any particular source. Bones stood out in bright contrast to the darkness of the walls and floor. Unlike the debris in the corridors, there were whole skeletons of bones still covered in clothes. They could not see the demon, but then they couldn't see more than twenty feet before everything dissolved into black shadows. They could hear him, laughing in triumph and joy at the apparent bounty of the evening.
"Does that mean we're losing?" Xander asked, whispering into Giles' ear.
Giles shook his head. It didn't mean anything yet, only that people were dying, which was expected if unfortunate.
"There!" Buffy said, pointing. Giles followed her arm and extended finger toward a glint of metal and moisture, a mound of clothes with no stark white bones against the far left wall. "I'll go first," she told them. "Stick to the wall. I'll try to draw him farther away." She only waited for a nod from Giles before running out into the room, bounding effortlessly over the skeletons on the floor.
"Kind of hard not to stick to the walls," Xander said, holding up a finger covered in the red liquid that seeped from the black rock.
Giles didn't reply except to step out into the room and motion for Xander to follow. The roar of laughter changed to an angry bellow just as Buffy disappeared from view. Giles told himself she would be fine. He stayed close to the wall where, hopefully, his dark clothing would blend in and make him less noticeable. For the same reason, he left the flashlight off and tried to rely on the inexplicable ambient light.
They made quick progress now that the roar was becoming more distant. Buffy had succeeded in drawing the demon away. The sound still echoed into the room though and Giles still couldn't see more than twenty or thirty feet.
As they neared the mound Buffy had pointed out, colors became slightly more distinct. Giles recognized Doyle's brown leather jacket, marred though it was by blood and debris. He stepped up his pace but slowed again when Xander stumbled behind him.
There was a soft, agonized moan in the room, audible now that the demon's roar was more distant. Giles thought perhaps it was Doyle. He tried not to think about it being anyone else. Doyle was the only one they could help.
Giles stopped short when he was close enough to actually see the man. He hadn't meant to stop, and Xander ran into him.
"Hey!" the younger man scolded, but then he got a good look over Giles' shoulder and shuddered himself. "How can he . . . ?" he whispered but couldn't finish.
Be alive? Giles finished for him silently as he tried to stifle his own need to retch. But he was alive. Doyle's chest rose and lowered in an erratic manner, pulling air into whatever he had left of a respiratory system.
Giles forced himself to move again and pulled Xander with him. Thankfully, most of Doyle was covered in pants and shirt and jacket, though they themselves were covered in blood. His face and hands, however, were uncovered and told, in detail, the carnage of his ordeal. His right hand, the one Giles could see, was bereft of flesh entirely, leaving only tendon and bone. Ragged muscle covered the majority of his face, shredded and torn. Some places were simply laid bare. The bone of his jaw was visible from his chin to his left temple, streaked with oozing blood vessels, and one of his eyes was open, having no eyelid to cover it. But he seemed to be unconscious, and Giles was grateful for that.
He motioned with his hands and Xander began spreading the tarp out beside Doyle. Giles took the cutters and began working at the shackles around Doyle's ankles. He could feel bone beneath the sodden socks as he placed the blades. He tried to concentrate instead on applying enough pressure to cut through the metal.
As he moved the cutters to the second ankle he noticed Xander's wide-eyed expression. Shock, mostly. Xander had seen a lot since he became friends with a Slayer, but this place--and Doyle. . . . Giles had been trained as a Watcher, and he was having a hard time. The wind picked up and Giles even imagined hearing voices whispering in it.
The bolt holding the second shackle broke and Giles looked up to hand the cutters to Xander. But Xander was still staring, and not at Doyle. Not at Giles either. His gaze was higher, over Giles shoulder. Giles turned his head, expecting to see the N'thirae demon behind him, as illogical as that was. Instead he found half a dozen mixed breed demons looking down at him.
Right, left, left again, long corridor, right. Buffy tried to memorize her path so that she could find her way back. The demon was fast, but she'd thus far managed to stay ahead of it. Left turn. Barely ahead of it. She chanced a glance behind her, though she needn't have bothered. She could hear it. She only saw black behind her anyway. And the distinct glow of two red eyes. They glowed brighter as she looked at them and, before she could turn away, she felt her legs lift off the ground.
Buffy tried to control her fall, but she couldn't quite tell which way was up. She felt something hard and damp slam into her back and then her side. Her flashlight was gone, but she could feel gravity now. She'd been thrown against the wall.
The only visible light now was the red glimmer of those two angry eyes. She could barely see where the demon ended and the wall began. It screamed at her, so loud and so furious that her chest vibrated with the sound and then suddenly lunged, filling the space around her until she couldn't breathe without drawing the mist into her lungs. It pricked her skin, her eyes, her mouth, causing her to cough so hard that she couldn't even hear herself in the din. As she tried to rise, the demon forced her down again, the mist that she had inhaled creating a feeling like that of drowning in a pool filled with sand.
Then she was off the ground again and slammed into another wall. She grunted as the wind was knocked from her lungs, but she almost felt that a blessing as she had a moment to fill her lungs with oxygen before the demon laid into her again. She held her breath and squeezed her eyes shut, covering her face with her hands.
The demon screamed in frustration, and the sound, coming from beside her, behind her, in front of her, inside her, threatened to shatter her eardrums.
It thrashed her around a few more times for good measure and then threw her aside in disgust, like a toy that no longer had any use. Even as she dropped, she felt him let go. She landed hard, pinning her left foot between her body, the wall, and what felt like her flashlight. Her ears still rang but the demon's roar was growing quieter. Buffy decided she was either going deaf or the demon was heading back the way they'd come.
She coughed again as she sat up, thankful to breathe again. She hoped it was enough time for Giles and Xander. All her Slayer strength was useless against the mist. It had lost interest in her. It wouldn't follow her again. It might even have realized she was only a diversion.
She had to get back to the portal. As she retrieved her flashlight and pushed herself to her feet, a sharp pain shot up her leg from her left ankle. Knowing that she had no choice, but to bear the pain, she bore her weight down on the injured leg. She’d limp tomorrow, but today she had a world to save.
Doyle couldn't remember ever being so tired, not even after walking to Sunnydale. It overshadowed the hunger. He wanted to lie down or at least to rest against something. All he had was himself though, so he'd propped his elbows on his knees. But then his legs grew tired. His eyes kept crossing in an attempt to close, but he forced them open again and again. That was getting harder.
Harry still sat beside him, though she'd stopped bothering to teach him the Brachen. Instead she just talked to him, encouraging him to hang on and to be strong, as if he could keep his non-corporeal heart beating by sheer force of will. He knew she meant well, but Doyle didn't feel he had a whole lot of choice in the matter. He would last or he wouldn't, no matter what he wanted.
Cordelia, also nearby, checked her watch again, biting her bottom lip. Giles and the others had been gone nearly an hour. It was now well past midnight. Maybe he'd already outlasted the time she'd seen in the vision. She still hadn't told anyone what it was, not that it would have made a difference. Knowing the time wouldn't bring Giles back any sooner. He would come when he came. It was as simple as that.
Except that it didn't feel simple. While Doyle felt the temptation of eternal rest if he were to simply close his eyes and die, he also felt regret. He'd come so close to a second chance. At life, at love, at everything. He'd get it right this time, if fate cooperated. He'd even try to be friendly to Wesley. So close. It felt very far away now.
And then there was guilt. If he died, the demon would be free. The Scourge would win. All the people he'd given his life to save would die--and then some. Another one of life's ways of making sure he never did anything right. Only this time, the whole world would suffer.
Doyle dropped his head to his knees and his eyes closed for a moment. It felt good, strain and pressure melting away from his eyelids and his mind.
Harry. Of course. The strain returned.
"Sit up, Francis. Hang on."
Like lifting weights, Doyle lifted his eyelids. Lifting his head was like lifting a Buick. But he did it, just so he could look at her when he told her, even if he couldn't focus his eyes anymore. "I'm dying," he said, trying not to sound as annoyed as he was. "I can 'hang on' all I want, but I can't stop it."
Cordelia moved into view. "But you promised."
He did. "I'm not trying to die, Princess," he tried to explain. It took so much effort to talk. "I'm just running out of time."
Giles heard the howling again and knew by the faces around them--now ten in number--that the demon was coming back. It was still quite distant, but Ixani, the woman he'd met earlier with Rieff, warned him the beast was fast. Giles still couldn't decide if they were fully corporeal or not. They would have had to have been 'killed' by the Scourge to end up here.
"Cut the chains," she told Xander. "Worry about the shackles later. You must get the Promised One out."
The chains were easier and Xander, with the help of one of the half-demons, of a race Giles didn't recognize, had them loose in less than a minute. He dropped the cutters and grimaced as he slowly reached his hands under Doyle's shoulders. Doyle winced at the touch and Xander jumped back, hitting the wall.
Giles was startled, too. But there wasn't time. Doyle still appeared to be unconscious. They had to move him. "We have no choice," Giles told Xander, as he slipped his hands under Doyle's ankles. He felt them twitch but he held on. Xander took hold of his shoulders and, as gently as possible considering the rising volume of the demon's roar, they transferred him to the tarp. He felt less like a living person and more like a sack of bones as they lifted him, he weighed so little. Still the tarp sagged in the middle, but two of the others stepped forward to lift it.
Giles went first, relinquishing one corner of the tarp to Ixani. He headed toward the corner of the room, back-tracking the way they'd come. With his free hand, he flicked on his flashlight and found the tunnel. The whole entourage was accompanying them and Giles wondered what hope there was for them. Doyle was different. Though they appeared healthier here, only Doyle had a place to go.
Suddenly, the demon screamed behind them, shrill and deep at the same time. It hurt Giles ears, but he could hear syllables in the din, a rising and falling of pitch. It was cursing, Giles decided, even though he couldn't understand the words. It knew what they'd done.
Ixani stopped, halting everyone else. She handed her corner to one of the others. "We can slow it down," she told him.
"You'll die," Giles said, knowing it was ridiculous even as he said it.
"We're already dead," she replied, moving back to where Xander was, near Doyle's head. "He is not." She kissed her hand, touched Doyle's forehead and then slipped into the blackness behind them. "Every twenty meters," she called back, and two other followed her, each offering the same tribute to Doyle. The seven that remained looked fearful, but none argued, and the convoy moved on again.
An agonized scream followed them down the tunnel as they reached the fork and it sputtered out quickly. Giles knew Ixani was gone. One of the others kissed his hand, touched Doyle's forehead, and let the group pass him by. Now they were nine in total and still at least ten minutes from the portal.
"Faster," Giles decided and they all stepped up their pace.
By the time they reached the portal, only one half-demon was left. They didn't need him anymore to hold the tarp, which they carefully laid on the ground. They needed him, a Brachen, same as Doyle, to hold off the demon for as long as possible. They could hear it devouring one of the others deeper down the corridor. The Brachen, a young man, offered what had become the ritual tribute to the Promised One and stepped away. "I hope I'm the last," he said.
Giles held out his hand. "Good luck," was all he could think to say. The young man took it, with a tentative smile. Giles nodded to Xander, and, with his hand still on a corner of the tarp, stepped through the portal and into the world he still hoped to save.
Angel checked his own watch every time Cordelia looked at hers. He wished she'd told him more about the vision, but he also knew it wouldn't help. There was only one way to save Doyle now, and it depended on Giles.
He could hear scuffling and gunfire coming from outside the door, but so far no one had gotten through. The half demons, vampires, and Initiative marines were doing their jobs. Angel hoped it stayed that way, at least until Doyle was safe. He didn't want to lose him again.
The portal shimmered and Giles dropped through it, leaving one hand inside. "We have to hurry!" he called, but Angel was already on his way over.
Giles turned and put his other hand into the portal. Then he pulled and the tarp Xander had carried in began to slide out. Angel could smell the blood and he wanted turn his head away. But he couldn't. This was Doyle, his friend, and, looking at him, Angel couldn't believe he was still alive.
Xander emerged with the end of the tarp and the three of them carried Doyle to the back wall. He weighed nothing at all. Harry was turning the mirror on its side, and Angel could see that Doyle was already on his back. His eyes were closed, not relaxed like someone who'd fallen asleep, but tight like someone who really didn't want to see what was on the tarp.
Angel stepped back a step and knelt down as they lowered the tarp over him. He began to change as soon as the tarp hit the floor. The two Doyles became one, the non-corporeal image disappearing and the corporeal changing. Muscle rebuilt itself over the bones on his face and hands and filled out beneath his clothes.
Cordelia held her breath as she waited for the change to finish, for skin to cover the new muscle. She'd stepped back instinctively toward the door when she first saw him, and now Giles held her arm as she inched forward again. She gave a moment's thought to the sweater he'd just ruined but decided Doyle was worth more. It was working, in spite of her vision. They would get him back.
But the skin didn't come. Some of what he had even went away, leaving his face raw and bloody. Doyle's whole body tensed, and his fingers clenched the edges of the tarp. He opened his eyes, Cordelia closed hers, dropping to her knees as the pain erupted in her head.
But this one was different. Even as she saw the swirling images of the vision, she saw and heard what was going on around her. "Cordelia?" she heard as if under water. Someone was screaming, a sound of panic nearly drowned by the inhuman roar of the demon. Black mist poured hesitantly from the portal, as if it were unsure of its new surroundings. A hot wind began to swirl around the room, and someone cried, "He has to!"
And in her vision Cordelia saw the answer. Doyle in the Nether, torn and dying, little more than a skeleton. Doyle in this world, barely a reflection, emaciated from hunger. And Doyle in the white place, healthy, strong, and alive. Three. And the white place was hers. The vision left her, and she knew what she had to do.
Angel was holding him up, but Doyle couldn't speak. He was in too much pain, and she had his voice. Cordelia looked at the portal and the demon that was almost through it. She stood, pushing Giles away until she was free. The demon screamed at her, but he wasn't all the way through. She ran, covering the ten feet in two seconds and placing herself between the demon and Doyle.
He looked horrible. His face, with no skin left, oozed, and his eyes--there was so much in his eyes. Fear, pain, sadness, regret, worry, love. She focused on his eyes and told herself to ignore the blood as she brought her hands gently to his face. He stiffened and she knew she'd hurt him but it was the only way. Closing her eyes, she kept the memory of him on the Quintessa in her mind and kissed him.
Even with her eyes closed, she could see the light between them. She felt the skin knit together beneath her fingers. He relaxed and kissed her back. Time seemed to melt away and she could have stayed that way forever. But he still had work to do. She reluctantly broke off the kiss and opened her eyes. He was whole. Thin, perhaps, but whole and there was still so much in his eyes. The pain was gone, but fear and worry remained.
She felt a force against her back, gripping her rib cage. It tore her away from him and sent her flying into the hard wall at the edge of the portal. Her head rung and her vision blurred. She might have thought another vision was coming. But she saw the two red eyes lost in blackness just before her mind closed in on her.
Doyle wished for more time. Everything was happening so fast and he couldn’t process it all. Not that he wasn’t happy with some of it. The pain was gone, though he was still hungry. He knew now he wasn’t dying. Cordelia had given him something in the kiss and he felt whole for the first time since the Quintessa. That kiss, in particular, he wanted more time for. But like their first kiss, the rest of life was impatient. The demon was impatient, too and he ripped her from Doyle’s grasp. “Cordelia!” he screamed, or tried. His voice was still weak. But Lo’oran only laughed at him and lunged toward the spot where she’d fallen.
“Francis!” Harry shouted. “The spell!”
Doyle remembered some of it. The wind was ferocious now, and it whipped at his face and stung his eyes. “Ferun norim ka listona!” he yelled. He couldn’t even hear his own voice over the wind and the demon, which suddenly whirled around like a cyclone until its red eyes were facing him again.
“Resh irak,” Harry prompted, coming up behind him and taking Angel’s place. He leaned on her and she held him up, speaking the words into his ear.
“Resh irak ko naronor!” he repeated, finishing the line. The demon moved slowly, whipping about as it tried to reach him. “Li ar noral dokona syr en lit stiral ferik nadon!” Doyle had no idea what any of that meant, but it was having an effect on Lo’oran. It flailed bands of mist about like tentacles, still gaseous but changing. It screamed hideously, like something unearthly, which Doyle supposed it was. Harry continued the spell in his ear and he repeated what she said, faster now, because the demon was moving faster, too. Doyle thought he saw teeth. “Filnal lali palaya ta kiloram. Resh irak ko naronor!”
Definitely teeth. Big nasty ones that could easily take a limb off if they bit down. And arms with knife-like claws. Two of those and six tentacles with barbs all along their lengths. It looked almost liquid now, and it poured each step across the room. So close it could almost reach him. “Ki--“ he tried and his voice wouldn’t work. He couldn’t breathe. It would kill him. Tear him to shreds for daring to escape.
“It’s working, Francis!” Harry encouraged, but he could hear the tremor in her voice as well. “Ki lianoram linorok--“
Doyle tried again, though he didn’t feel encouraged. Solid could kill him faster than mist. “Ki lianoram linorok kilfal resh irak!”
Two more steps and it would have him. The first shook the floor when it hit, nearly knocking he and Harry to the floor. Legs the width of trees brought down clawed feet on the wooden floor with an impact that jarred the talismans in the corner and sent everyone reaching for a wall. “Tesh nirok Lo’oran fanoranor!”
Wasn't it Buffy's turn? Doyle thought as he finished the incantation and the demon grabbed his throat with one clawed hand. It lifted him easily though he could also feel Harry trying to hang on. The claws, wrapped all the way around his neck, started to cut into him as the demon squeezed. Doyle tried to lift his hands in a futile effort to release himself, but he could barely move his arms. Out of breath, and his vision blurring, Doyle imagined that he saw the demon dissolve, with little streams of black smoke lifting off its massive face. He felt a prick on his neck and then another, but he realized that it wasn't the claws and that it was burning. The demon was trying to change back.
"Again, Francis!" Harry yelled, and out of the corner of his eye Doyle saw a tentacle reach for her, and then he heard her scream.
He tried to form the words, but with the demon's still corporeal hand around his throat, he could barely move his jaw. He couldn't breathe at all. His arms were going numb, his head felt like a balloon filled with air as he saw a flash of dark metal, then heard a piercing, angry wail, and finally felt himself fall.
He coughed, unable to lift himself off the floor. He couldn't see who lifted him this time, but he recognized Giles' voice. "Three times," he said, shouting to be heard. "Say it again!"
Doyle saw Harry clutching her arm, blood dripping slowly from her fingers. Spike was helping her up, eyeing her injured arm, a predatory gleam in his eye. Catching the motion out of the corner of his eye, Harry ducked as Angel flew by both of them, his sword narrowly missing them as he knocked Spike down. Righting himself, Angel swung his sword at one of the demon's squirming tentacles, but it passed through it harmlessly, as if it was air.
"Ferun," Doyle began, but his voice was rough and he coughed again as Angel was once again thrown across the room, landing beside Cordelia's still unmoving form. Doyle took a breath and began again. "Ferun norim ka listona!"
The wind picked up, hotter than before, and roared as it swept around the four walls and rattled the doors, causing one of them to fly open, as a boy who was swept in by the wind, skidded to a stop in front of Harry. She touched him but the boy didn't move. A uniformed demon, covered in blood but smiling, stepped into the room raised his club to strike at Harry, not seeing Spike in the corner. The blond vampire leaping behind the demon, grabbed its head and twisted until he was rewarded with the snapping sound of its neck breaking. Flashing an icy grin at Harry, Spike then turned to the other demons entering through the doorway greeted by Lo’oran’s laughter.
Doyle kept up the spell, trying to remember the words now that Harry was distracted. "Li ar noral," he started. It was the third line, but what followed?
"Dokona syr," Giles prompted behind him.
"Dokona syr," Doyle went on, remembering the rest of the line and maybe the next, "en lit stiral ferik nadon!"
Giles passed Doyle off to Anya and Willow, grabbed a battle-ax, and joined the desperate fight. Doyle tried to concentrate on the only part he could control. "Filnal lali palaya ta kiloram." The next line was a repeat of the second. "Resh irak ko naronor! Ki lianoram linorok kilfal resh irak! Tesh nirok Lo'oran fanoranor."
The demon howled again and this time Angel’s sword cut into solid flesh, leaving one writhing tentacle on the floor. A murky substance gushed from the severed appendage and formed in a pool around it. Doyle started again, and Lo'oran barked something to one of the demons, which then carelessly tossed Xander aside. Then it turned towards Doyle and pulled Willow away. Doyle started to fall, but Anya locked her arms tight around his torso. "Finish it!" she yelled.
Doyle kept up the incantation as he watched the demon, which now had a knife in hand. His arm drew back, but before he could attack, Angel had skewered the demon with the sword. "Not today," Angel told the demon as he pulled the sword from its back, the blade coated with its blood, and turned his attention back to Lo'oran. "Where's Buffy?" he yelled. Beyond him, on the forward wall, the portal was growing smaller.
Buffy jogged, limping on her left foot and running her hand along the sticky, moist wall. She considered jogging a compromise between walking, which was too slow, and running, which was too dangerous. She'd tripped twice already, once on a skull and once on what she supposed was a femur. She'd almost gotten tangled up in an old piece of chain mail. Lo'oran had been around awhile.
She was in the long corridor, nearly at the end of it. Two rights and a left and she'd be back in the large room. She really didn't want to see Giles or Xander there. Right turn.
She didn't expect the arm that grabbed her from behind. "Well, what have we here?" a smarmy male voice asked. Then he answered his own question. "The Slayer."
He had his arm around her throat, which at least meant he couldn't bite without changing his grip. She wondered if dead vampires could even bite here. But then, his arm felt real enough and there were vampire bones on the ground--which was more than one got back in their own dimension. She decided not to chance it and gave him an elbow to the midsection, forcing the creature to let go. Spinning around to face him, she shined her flashlight in his eyes. "I thought we had a truce?"
He sneered at her. "Not here, Slayer. Your truce does nothing for me."
"I see you're no humanitarian," she quipped, then added, "or whatever the vampire equivalent is of that."
"Why should I care?" he asked. "For me, that battle is over. I'm dead. As are you."
"Me?" Buffy relaxed and let her hand fall into her pocket. "Either you're jumping the gun or you're jumping to conclusions. Either way, you should look before you leap. I walked in here all by myself. Besides, you were already dead."
"Undead," he corrected quickly, rolling his eyes.
Buffy didn't have time for this. "Well, you know what they say," she said, pulling her trusty stake from her pocket, "third time's a charm."
The vampire held up his hands and offered her a fangy smile. "Wait, if you know a way out--"
Buffy sighed. "Look, you're nothing but dust back there. Nothing to go back to. I see two choices. I stake you and put you out of your misery, or I leave you here and let you see if that really is blood on the walls. Think fast, I'm in a hurry."
Buffy guessed he either didn’t like her attitude or wanted to go down fighting because he lunged at her, growling and showing his teeth. She ducked his lunge and easily staked him. As his body collapsed into dust, she looked at the stake, and then, deciding to keep it in her hand, took off again, knowing that time was short.
She was surprised again when she hit the large room. There were a lot of people there. Maybe thirty-five. Mostly half-demons, some looked human. Not as strong as vampires, she guessed. But there were vampires, too. And one soldier. She knew him from her days--few as they were--in the Initiative. He stood in a circle of half-demons. They were probably protecting him from the vampires. “Buffy!” he called out, breaking through the crowd to reach her. “Am I glad to see you. What’s going on? Where are we?”
She did hate to be the bearer of bad news. She bit her lip but decided she didn’t have a lot of time to sugarcoat it. “Walters, I hate to be the one to tell you, but you’re dead. You’re in a place called the Nether.”
He looked at her in shock for a moment, mouth hanging open, eyes not blinking. “I was stabbed,” he finally said, quietly. “This isn’t what they told me in church.”
“This isn’t the usual afterlife, I’m guessing,” Buffy told him. “The Scourge, that’s the demon army, they send their victims here. There was another demon here, a big one, one that fed on the life-forces of these other people here. It’s not here now. It’s on Earth and I’ve got to go stop it.”
“Who--or what--are all these other people?” Walters asked, pointing to a few of the non-human-looking half-breeds.
“Good guys,” Buffy replied. “Half-demons. They’re on our side. So are the vampires. Tonight anyway.”
“Are you dead, too?”
Buffy had figured that one was coming though she’d hoped not. She really needed to get out of here. The demon was dangerous even as mist. She worried what he was like when he was solid. “I’m not dead. I came here on my own. I can leave the same way. I have to go.”
“I’ll go with you,” he suggested, still looking rather pale. It was a lot to take in all at once.
“I don’t know what good that will do,” she told him, honestly. “Your body is still there. I don’t know if you can go back.” A crowd of the others had joined them, listening with interest.
“It’s worth a try,” one of them said. “We’ve still got bodies back there.”
“What about us?” one of the vampires, a woman Buffy thought she recognized from town, returned. “We’re dust back there. What do we do?”
“I don’t know,” Buffy said. “But I know that there are going to be more and more people here if I don’t get out. I have to kill the demon. Follow me if you want. I can’t guarantee anything.” She pushed through the crowd, glancing off to the side where she had seen Doyle before. He was gone. No Xander, no Giles. They must be out already.
Walters saw her limp and offered her his arm. She put her weight on him and started jogging again, making better time now, but trailing an entourage behind her. The area where she had entered had been lit somewhat by the view through the portal, but now it was dark. A chill swept up Buffy’s spine quite independent of the temperature. What if it had closed? She ran ahead, faster now, letting go of Walters and putting her weight on her sore ankle. It didn’t matter.
She was somewhat relieved when she reached the end of the tunnel, which strangely now wasn’t an end at all. The portal before had been as wide as the tunnel, but now it was narrow, only two feet in diameter. Through it she saw the empty room of the train station, but around it was only more tunnel. And the portal was shrinking. She knew the others were on the other side, that when she jumped through, the room wouldn’t be empty anymore. But she also had no idea what she was jumping into. She couldn’t see the time as it was there. She could jump right into the mist or right into a sword. The portal collapsed about half a foot. No more time to ponder. Buffy took a deep breath and dove right through it.
Finally, they were getting some help, Angel thought. The half demons had come, staunching the flow of Scourge into the room. Willow and Anya managed to close one of the doors and they stood with their backs against it and their legs braced against the floor. That left a little less to worry about, though there was still a lot. Cordelia was still unconscious, and she'd narrowly missed being trampled several times. Doyle was sitting, leaning against the back wall where Anya had deposited him, too weak to move. Buffy was still inside the Nether as far as anyone knew, and in the brief, momentary glimpses he got of the portal, it had shrunk to less than a third of its previous size.
His other worries consisted of two big arms with claws like daggers and five intact tentacles, twice the length of the arms with sharply-barbed suckers from base to point. Each barb was tipped with red, as if it had already been dipped in blood, and even if a tentacle only glanced, it cut like a cheese grater against the skin.
And then there was also the wind. It was like standing in a convection oven, almost like standing in fire. It disoriented him, confused his senses.
Still he'd managed a few good hits, which left streams of bright crimson running between the black scales that covered Lo'oran's skin. It reacted to pain, but it never seemed to weaken. It didn't help that its wounds were only in the extremities. Angel had twice had an opening to strike the demon's heart, but there was always a tentacle to spare and the blade would be diverted to some less vital part of its anatomy.
Angel and Spike, knowing that they had to put aside their differences, worked together, taking turns distracting it with diversionary attacks while the other aimed for something vital, but without success. As Spike was attempting to distract the demon, Angel fell, losing his grip on the sword. As he struggled to his feet, he tried to grasp the blade, but it was just out of reach. Then he shouted in pain as five little mouths bit into his right leg; a tentacle yanked him down once again in front of the shrinking portal. He twisted, ready to fight with his bare hands, determined to go down struggling to the last as he saw the creature’s gaping mouth and dagger-like teeth. The mouth alone was about half the size of its head, and big enough to cover Angel’s whole face.
Something solid and black suddenly flew between the gaping mouth and his body, distracting them both, causing the tentacle around Angel’s leg to release its grip. It hit the floor and rolled, and Angel realized it was Buffy. She'd jumped from the portal and landed right by the sword. Picking up the sword and hefting the blade, she quipped, "Anyone miss me?” giving Angel precious seconds to scramble away.
They stared each other down for a moment, taking each other’s measure until Lo'oran made the first move, swinging one of its long tentacles at her as if to test the waters. Slashing down with the sword so fast that Angel couldn’t see the blade, Buffy severed another of the demon’s appendages, being rewarded by its screeching howls, so loud that everyone in the room was forced to cover their ears.
Buffy held her ground, both hands on the sword's hilt while Doyle flinched and tried to raise his arms, screaming as the chains hanging from his wrist glowed like metal in a blacksmith's forge. Feeling the increased heat, Willow flinched away from the doorknob while Spike dropped his sword and put his hand under his arm to smother the flames. Only the sword of Lo’oran, now in Buffy’s hands, remained cool to the touch, protected by its eldritch magics. Buffy swung her blade while the demon howled its rage at her impertinence, neither one willing to give quarter to the other as Angel, realizing that she had to fight this battle on her own, turned his back to her so that he could see to the screaming Doyle.
Doyle, finding strength through all the pain, brought his wrists down on to the floor in an effort to try and break the shackles while Angel punched a hole in the wall just over his shoulder, tearing away a sliver of wood a few inches thick. Holding Doyle's wrist to the floor, the vampire tried to pry the shackle off, cutting into his skin with the jagged wood, using it to pull apart the hot, pliable metal far enough apart so that Angel could pull Doyle’s hand free.
Barely able to see straight because of the wind and sound, Angel fought down an instinctual need to cover his ears and cringe until it stopped, knowing that he still had to free Doyle from the remaining shackle burning him. As he slid over to get at the other wrist and started to pry the bolt loose, the sound stopped and Doyle's arm relaxed as Doyle's whole body went limp, his head hanging forward over his chest, his eyes closed. As Angel placed his hand under the chin of his friend to raise his head, his eyes opened suddenly, causing Angel to instinctively jerk his hand back. Doyle lifted his head in an unnatural, smooth, even movement, his eyes glowing red like Lo'oran's.
Doyle had wanted to get out of that room. He couldn't breathe because the air was so hot. And the sound was so loud that he was sure that he'd be deaf if he survived at all. But that was all gone now. Now he felt like he was drowning in oil, that new clear stuff, not the black. It was thick like that but he could see. Everything seemed distant, even Angel and his own legs. "Doyle?" Angel asked. Doyle heard it like one would hear through water. And it seemed almost in slow motion as he saw Angel thrown backwards into Buffy, realizing in surprise that he had done it, though he couldn't figure out how or why. Doyle then felt himself rise up, though he couldn't feel his legs picking him up. Must be a dream, he thought.
Buffy had jumped up quickly, and Doyle took the sword from her hand without even touching it or moving from his place at the back wall. He then pushed her toward Lo'oran, who swung his big arm at her; knocking her to the ground, blood trickling from her lip. But she got back up. Doyle wanted her back up. He wanted her to get the sword again. But then he pushed her again.
"Doyle!" Angel yelled again. Doyle wanted to listen to him, but he was too far away, even though Angel was touching his shoulders. Maybe he wasn't dreaming. He wanted to ask Angel what was going on, but instead he threw him away again, all the way to the door, just missing Harry as Lo'oran hit Buffy again, knocking her down near her sword. Getting up, she cut into Lo’oran’s arm, causing Doyle to scream out in pain as he threw Buffy again, sending the sword flying across the room to lodge itself into the wall near his arm.
"Just kill the soddin’ mick and be done with it," Spike suggested. "He's doing it." Doyle then pushed him towards Lo'oran, but the vampire ducked quickly and scooted between Lo’oran’s legs. The demon turned, and reaching back with his hand, only succeeded in grasping at empty air as Giles grabbed Spike’s collar and hauled him out of reach.
"It's controlling him," he explained. "We've got to wake him up."
"Francis," Harry called. She stepped closer. "Francis, don't let him do this!"
Doyle pulled the door open behind her and threw her and Xander, who was standing right next to her, out of it. He then pulled Willow and Anya away from the door they were holding, and then opening it, pushed them out again.
Harry. She was out with the demons. She was unarmed. Anya and Willow. God, what had he done?
As the four of them scrambled to their feet, they saw that they had been thrown into the midst of a raging battle between the half demons and vampires on the one hand and the Scourge on the other. “Any ideas?” Xander turned to Harry. He was not looking forward to getting involved in the savage battle they were witnessing. He saw Willow and Anya stumble into view and dragged Harry over toward them. Willow had to turn away in horror as she saw one of the Scourge demons literally rip the head off of a half demon and throw it at another.
Picking up a sword lying on the ground, Harry turned to Xander with a grim expression. “Yeah. One. Get the hell outta here and to the soldier boys without getting ourselves killed in the process.”
“Sounds like a plan to me," Xander said, matching Harry’s expression with one of his own as he picked up a sword lying on the ground next to a dead half demon and gave it to Anya, and then picked up a club for himself.
With Harry taking the lead and Xander bringing up the rear, the foursome skirted around the edges of the battle as they made their way to the sound of the gunfire that marked the Initiative’s position. Once, they attracted the attention of two Scourge troopers who, with a howl of rage, fell upon them. Harry, stepping up to one of the demons, dodged its clumsy strike with its club and stepping in, struck true with her sword, delivering a fatal blow to the stomach. While Harry was dispatching her opponent, Xander and Anya were having a little more trouble with theirs. The demon, having pushed Anya to the ground, had brought his club over his head and was prepared to bring it down on to the former demon’s head, when Xander, yelling his fury, struck first, splitting the head of the demon like a melon. Holding in his nausea, Xander then bent down to help Anya to her feet. “Ok, let’s get the hell out of here!”
They were all, those who were left except Buffy, looking at him. That’s what he wanted. They wouldn’t hurt him. They would try to stop him, but they wouldn’t hurt him. They thought he was the only threat. He was just a tool. He’d kill them easily enough once he was done with Buffy.
He had had her in the Nether and let her go, not realizing her importance. But Doyle knew who she was. She was the Slayer. Human and not human at the same time. She would suffice now that he’d lost the Promised One. He was just another half-demon. But she was the Slayer. He could have her. All he had to do was kill her. And then he could have them all.
The foursome led by Harry finally managed to make it out of the station and reached Riley’s position, fortunately with nothing more serious than cuts and bruises, although Xander thought that Anya might have a concussion. Seeing them, Riley quickly signaled for a medic, who, responding quickly, saw to Anya first at Xander’s urging. Nodding his head, the medic confirmed Xander’s diagnosis. “She’s got a mild concussion, but she should be okay.” He then turned to the rest of the party and after a cursory examination, bandaged the most serious cuts and then nodding his head at Riley, returned to the fighting.
“How’s it going in there?” Riley asked. “We’re holding here, but only just, and we’re running low on ammo. If Buffy and the others don’t end this soon, we're screwed!” To punctuate his meaning, Xander looked up quickly as he saw one of the soldiers fire point blank into the face of a Scourge demon that had almost breeched their position.
“I don’t know.” Xander answered, “But Buffy'll come through. I just know it.” Looking around and not wanting to feel useless, Xander then asked, “You got another rifle or something?” With a grim smile, Riley gave him his, and pulling out the Beretta in his holster, joined Xander on the firing line.
She was quick and strong. Gliding in underneath the tentacles, she ducked the arms of the enraged demon. As she hit and kicked at Lo’oran, Doyle also felt her blows. She couldn’t evade Doyle, though. There was nothing to evade. Nothing to fight. Doyle knocked her to the ground and held her there, pushing her down when she tried to rise.
Doyle begged her to get up even though he knew he was pushing her down. Lo’oran then brought his foot down on her back, causing her to cry out in pain. She couldn’t die. His lips moved, his voice. . . “Buffy.” His wrists hurt. They burned.
I’ve had enough of you, Lo’oran screamed in Doyle’s mind. It felt like a fire in his brain. You cannot fight me. You can only fight for me.
“Doyle!” Angel yelled. He must have heard. He stood in front of Doyle. Blocked his view of Buffy. “You’re stronger than this! You outlasted him. You beat him. You’re stronger than he is!”
Kill him, Lo’oran ordered, and Doyle pulled the sword from the wall. Angel was his friend. He had died to save him. Or tried. Kill him!
“I won’t kill him,” Doyle said aloud. Buffy was up again. The sword fell. Buffy flew backwards into Giles.
“I’m getting tired of this,” she muttered, standing up. Reaching for the sword again, Doyle let her take it. But, as she tried to go back to Lo’oran, Doyle, trying vainly to fight Lo’oran’s control, held her there, pointing the sword towards Angel. She let go of the sword, but it didn’t fall. Instead, it hovered in midair and then moved forward until it touched Angel’s neck. Doyle tried to fight it but he couldn’t stop it.
Angel didn’t move away or even look at the sword after the first glance. He just spoke, looking into Doyle’s eyes. Doyle couldn’t even hear him over the escalating howl of the wind, but he saw what he was saying. “You’re stronger.”
I’m stonger, Doyle thought and he wanted to believe. He could believe. There was a part of him he hadn’t tapped into yet. Doyle closed his eyes and changed. He still felt Lo’oran but he felt more of himself. He felt the fatigue, the burning in his wrists. But he felt stronger, too. Lo’oran tried to move the sword, but Doyle held it as he pushed Angel away to the side and threw Buffy forward on the ground at Lo’oran’s feet, surprising the demon. Doyle then took the sword and plunged it forward into Lo’oran’s chest before Buffy could rise.
Angel smiled when he saw Doyle change, but he frowned again when he felt the energy hit him. Giles was just getting up as Angel fell into him again, followed soon by Buffy as she was sent flying over them, causing Angel to doubt Doyle’s ability to fight Lo’oran’s control.
But the sword was just behind Buffy, and he saw Lo’oran double over as it hit him, releasing energy that Angel could almost swear was visible. It hit Doyle, pushing him backwards and driving him through the wall until his motion was stopped by a bench in the room beyond.
Disentangling himself from Giles, Angel turned and saw Buffy rise; gripping the sword with both hands as she pulled it free. She then snapped a kick at Lo’oran’s knee, bringing the demon down. Raising the sword, Buffy then struck the final blow, plunging it straight down through the back of its neck. The wind picked up as Giles and Angel helped each other off the floor. Buffy then put an end to the threat of Lo’oran once and for all as she put her weight on the sword and slashing down, lobbed off the demon’s head.
For just a moment, all air was sucked out of the room and then it exploded outward again. Angel felt himself propelled through the air as a brilliant white burst of light emanated from the demon's body.
The air that poured from the room was cool and welcome against Doyle’s skin. He could see, from where he was lying, the white light that flared from Lo’oran’s corpse. He thought he heard voices. He saw a face and then more. Thousands of faces, millions, and they spread themselves in every direction, passing through the walls and away to whatever lay beyond. One came close to him. Spiked like his own face, he recognized it. Lucas. Lucas who had come to him for help. Lucas whom he’d turned away.
Lucas smiled and touched Doyle’s arm. The shackle on his wrist turned cold. Then he was gone and Doyle knew he’d been forgiven.
Angel opened his eyes and put his hand to his head. It was quiet and dark around him, and it took him a moment to recall where he was. He ached everywhere. Doyle! He had to find Doyle. He stood and felt a wave of dizziness, but he held onto what was left of the wall and kept going. He ducked through the splintered hole and stepped into the station’s waiting area. It was quiet out here, too.
Doyle was lying awkwardly at the base of a broken bench. Angel didn’t like the position of his head, but he noticed the green color of Doyle’s hand. Still in demon form. There was a chance. He stepped over him and pushed the next bench out of the way so he could kneel down. Doyle’s eyes opened when he did.
“Angel?” he whispered. He didn’t sound good. And he didn’t move.
“I’m here,” Angel told him.
“I can’t move,” Doyle said, and Angel thought maybe he’d broken his neck. But his fingers moved, just not his arms. “Too heavy,” he added, changing back to his human face.
Angel smiled. Not broken, just weak. “You don't have to,” he replied. He pulled off his jacket and wrapped it around his friend as he raised him from the floor. Doyle groaned a bit and Angel held him until the pain passed.
“Cordelia?” Doyle asked.
With the walls broken, Angel could see into the room. Cordelia was getting up. She held her head and swayed on her feet, but she stood. “She’s okay,” Angel reported, still smiling. “She’s getting up.”
“And Harry?” Angel heard the guilt in that question.
Angel peered around the benches. He saw Willow and Anya being pulled up from between some benches by some soldiers. Riley was one of them. He looked the other way and saw Xander hack something on the floor. Demon leftover, Angel guessed. Harry was with him. “She's okay, too.”
Angel smiled. He’d ask about every one of them in turn. So Angel called them off. Buffy was kicking a toe at the demon’s remains. “Buffy, Giles, Xander, Willow, Anya. They’re all fine.”
“You forgot Spike.”
“No, I didn’t,” Angel replied. But Spike was up too, and he gave the demon a much more vicious kick.
Cordelia pushed past him and came Angel’s side. She had blood in her hair and bruises on her arms. But she smiled and touched Doyle’s face. “So are we ever going to get that dinner?” she asked.
Doyle smiled. “Anything, if it involves food.”
Giles was next out the hole. “How is he?”
Angel just smiled. “Hungry.”
“We have something in the car,” Giles replied. “Riley says the demons retreated just before the explosion. We’ve won. We should go before the vampires decide to celebrate.”
Angel nodded, and Giles helped Cordelia up again. Angel slipped his other hand under Doyle’s knees and lifted him from the floor. He caught a glimpse of Buffy with Riley but decided he’d rather be happy about having Doyle back. He ignored them and followed Giles to the back of the train station. As they left the building, they could see what remained of the battle. Bodies littered the grounds. Many wore uniforms. Many didn’t. But then the survivors were walking among them. Half-demons, and Angel saw Rieff among them. Rieff raised his sword in salute and Angel nodded back to him. And then all the half-breeds knelt as he passed them, or rather, as Doyle passed them.
Cordelia sighed heavily. “Like that’s not going to go to his head!”
Angel laughed. Fortunately, Doyle was asleep.
Harry finished buttoning the top to the pajamas Giles had donated to Doyle's wardrobe. At present, the pajamas were the only clothes he owned. As Cordelia had surmised, the clothes he had been wearing were soaked through with blood and they now resided in a plastic garbage bag beside the bed. Well, except for the brown leather jacket. She and Angel had decided to have it cleaned.
Harry wrung out the washcloth and stood to dump the water. It still didn't seem real somehow. All that blood and there was hardly a cut on him. He had a few scratches from the wall he'd been thrown through and the burns on his wrists. Otherwise he was just extremely thin and tired. And weak enough that he couldn't so much as raise an arm to help her change his clothes. He was embarrassed at first but they'd both reasoned that there was nothing she hadn't already seen. He'd fallen asleep as soon as she'd gotten his shoes off.
He was asleep now and Harry wondered if he still had nightmares of the Nether and Lo'oran. If he did, it didn't show. He looked peaceful, like he had looked when they were both younger. She hated to wake him, but she knew he wouldn't mind. He was as hungry as he was exhausted.
Harry shook the can, poured the other half of it into a glass and set them both on the nightstand. The nutrition shake was Giles' idea. Francis had already had half in the car. Then she touched his face. "Francis," she said softly. "Time to eat."
He hadn't woken no matter how she turned or moved him to get him cleaned and changed, but now his eyelids snapped open. Not that they didn't droop or threaten to close again. Harry smiled. "I see you have your priorities in order," she teased as she propped a pillow behind his head. She put a straw in the glass and held it for him while he drank.
"It's not a steak," he said, when he stopped for a breath, "but it'll do."
"I don't think your stomach could take a steak just yet," she told him.
"A man can dream," he replied. "At least it's vanilla."
Harry smiled and replaced the empty glass on the table. "I remembered," she said. "you never liked the 'melty' part of chocolate ice cream."
"And those things," he flicked a finger in the direction of the glass, "are all melty."
Harry laughed and lowered him back down again. He kept his eyes open, watching her, but his brow creased. He looked so serious now, vulnerable. "Harry?" he whispered. "You think we could maybe forgive and forget, you know, all the bad stuff?"
She took his hand, careful not to touch his wrist. "I did that months ago."
His fingers squeezed hers lightly. "So we can maybe be friends again?"
Harry shook her head. "Oh, Francis, we can never be just friends." She gave him a light smile. "We're family. Maybe not the same roles we used to have. But we're still family."
Doyle relaxed into the pillow. Harry brushed a stray bit of hair off his forehead. "I'm leaving, Francis. I have to take Gherosha back."
"I know," Harry laughed, "I guess he thought it a more dramatic exit. Anyway, I wanted to tell you how glad I am to see you again." Her throat hurt, but she didn't want to cry. Not now. "And I wanted to tell you to stop punishing yourself. You don't deserve it, Francis. You never did."
He looked away for a moment, taking a deep breath. "Old habits," he said, leaving it at that.
He couldn't promise. She knew that. She tucked the blanket around him and leaned forward to kiss him softly on the forehead.
"I still love you, Harry," he whispered. "I always will."
She stood. "Me, too, Francis."
He closed his eyes. He waited until she got to the door before he spoke again. "But do you think you could call me Doyle now?"
Harry laughed and shook her head. She called back over her shoulder. "You'll always be Francis to me, Francis."
Doyle struggled to lift his eyelids and then lifted an arm to rub at his eyes. The latter was now easier than the former. Every time he woke, he found himself stronger, though it still felt like lifting weights just to move his own body. And each time he'd been relieved to find he wasn't alone. Harry had been there the first time, another time it was Giles, changing the bandages on his wrists.
But usually it was Angel, and he just sat in the chair beside the bed pretending to read a book. In the short intervals of Doyle's wakefulness, he filled Doyle in on what he missed while he was asleep. Harry had borrowed Angel's car to take Gherosha back to his clan. Buffy and Willow had returned to campus and to classes, while Xander and Anya had left to "celebrate." Spike had simply left, which was good considering he was still a danger to Angel, if not Doyle as well.
Cordelia had been taken to the hospital and diagnosed with a mild concussion. She now slept beside him on the bed, an afghan carefully tucked in around her and a bandage on her forehead. She had no make-up on and her hair was tangled around her head. She was beautiful.
When Angel didn't say anything, Doyle looked and found him also sleeping. His head rested on an arm slung over the back of the chair. Doyle was thirsty--and hungry, but he was always hungry--and the glass beside the bed was empty. But he didn't want to wake either of them. He wasn't sure how long he'd been sleeping, but he figured they'd probably been awake for most of it. He had to get up sometime, and lying down was becoming uncomfortable.
He was still weak and it took a lot of effort to sit up. He went slowly, backing himself into the headboard until he was sitting. He felt a little dizzy and had to close his eyes until that passed. He almost fell asleep again, but he forced his eyes open and looked around the room from this new vantage point.
He'd figured he was still at Giles', but he'd never seen this room before. He'd never seen the bed he was sitting on. He smiled. He was upstairs. And he was sitting on a bed, leaning on a headboard. He was real and whole and alive.
But he was still thirsty and uncomfortable, and now he was determined to walk himself down the stairs that he would have fallen through the day before--at least he guessed it had been a day. He just wished he didn't have to walk down there in pajamas.
Careful not to make any noise or jar the bed too much, Doyle let his legs fall over the side. He used the bedside table for support and stood. His body felt a lot like it had on the way to the station, rubbery and weak, and the floor moved like waves beneath his feet. Doyle had to sit down again, but he was too determined to give up. The foot of the bed was close to a dresser. He could hold on to that until he reached the door.
He slid himself to the end of the bed and stood again, reaching out for the dresser with his eyes closed against the dizziness he felt. It passed and he opened them, surprised to find a nicely folded stack of clothes right next to his hand. The shirt on top looked a lot like the shirt he had been wearing all this time, but it was still crisp and new. Someone had bought him some clothes.
It took nearly twenty minutes to dress, but he managed, only standing when he had to get the pants over his hips. He checked over his shoulder to make sure Cordelia was still sleeping, and then stood again, using the dresser for support.
The dizziness subsided, though it didn't go away completely. He kept one hand and a good amount of his weight on first the wall and then the banister and concentrated simply on moving one foot in front of the other. He wanted to sit and rest on the steps but he wouldn't allow himself to stop. He felt he needed to get downstairs. Downstairs was life. And food.
Giles saw him when the stepped onto the landing. "Oh dear," he said, coming to the foot of the stairs. "Let me help you."
Doyle stopped, both hands on the banister to steady himself. "Thanks," he replied, "but I think I can make it." He kept both hands on the banister, locking his arms to support his weight, and stepped down again. "Who do I get to thank for the wardrobe?" he asked, trying not to sound as strained and fatigued as he felt.
"Riley," Giles replied, not moving from the end of the banister. "He and Buffy went shopping this afternoon. They weren't certain of the sizes."
Two more steps. Doyle felt like he'd run a marathon already. "I'm not sure of the sizes," he quipped back. The clothes were a bit big, but he was still a bit small from the ordeal. He spotted his target behind Giles. The table. Then he hesitated, one step left to go. There was nothing but open space between the bannister and the table.
Giles rightly read his hesitation as doubt. "Are you sure you can make it?"
The man had played a large part in saving his life, Doyle reasoned. He'd seen Doyle at a weaker state than this. This was an improvement. Nothing to be ashamed of. Still his cheeks flushed a bit. "No," he replied, "I'm not sure at all."
Giles nodded and offered his arms. "You do the work, and I'll see that you don't fall."
Doyle smiled. "Sounds like a good deal to me." With Giles holding him up, Doyle walked, slowly, to the table. Giles pulled out a chair, and Doyle dropped himself into it, resting his arms on the table top.
Giles moved toward the kitchen. "I was just abut to have some tea. Can I get you some?"
"I'd like that," Doyle answered, allowing himself the small wonder of running his fingers over the solidity of the wooden tabletop. "But I'd really like something more substantial than tea."
"Perhaps a sandwich?" Giles offered from the kitchen. "You should probably avoid anything too heavy for the time being."
Doyle nodded, remembering the sandwich Willow had tried to give him. "That would be great, thank you."
Giles returned after a few minutes with a sandwich and two cups of tea. He pulled over a chair opposite Doyle. "Really," Doyle added once Giles was seated, "thank you."
"You're more than welcome," the Englishman replied. "I could thank you as well. You did your part, and a bit more, the other night. The world is safe for the next day or two. Now dig in, and try not to eat too fast."
Doyle smiled at both Giles and the sandwich before him. The bread was soft when he picked it up. It was simple enough. Just soft white bread, a few thin slices of ham, and a touch of mustard. Still, it tasted like the stuff of heaven when he took his first bite. He couldn't help but take the second as soon as the first was gone. The sandwich was half-gone before he stopped for a breath.
"How long have I been out?" Doyle asked.
Giles took a sip of his tea. "It's Wednesday afternoon."
"Wednesday," Doyle repeated, a bit surprised. Nearly two whole days.
Giles offered a smile and raised his teacup in salute. "Welcome back."
Doyle finished the last bite of sandwich and raised his own cup in return. "It's good to be back." His hand shook, so he lowered it again quickly. The tea had cooled while he was eating, so he drank half of it down at once before it could get cold.
"Rieff came by to see you yesterday," Giles told him. "He wanted to say good-bye. He was going to return to his family on Briole."
Doyle let out a sigh of relief. "He's alright then?" He'd been worried about Rieff and the others.
"A little haggard, perhaps, and sore," Giles replied. "But he appeared uninjured."
Doyle finished his tea while he tried to decide how to word his next question. "How many," he finally asked, "died, on our side?"
Giles put down his own glass and steepled his fingers. "Sixty-three," he answered.
Doyle felt his heart drop in his chest. So many. More than he'd saved that night on the Quintessa.
"I met some of them," Giles went on, "in the Nether. They gave their lives. They knew you were the one to stop the Scourge. Try to think of all those who will live now that Lo'oran is gone."
Doyle nodded, but such things were always easier said than done. He was tired again. His vision blurred, and he felt dizzy. Then his skull seemed to contract around his brain in a familiar and completely unwelcome manner. A spasm hit him with the vision and his head dropped painfully to the table. His right hand clenched the teacup and squeezed so hard that it broke.
Doyle wasn't aware of Giles jumping up from the table. He didn't hear the man call for Angel. He could not even make himself breathe. His hand gripped the broken glass, driving shards through his palm. But that was nothing compared to the pain in his head.
Angel was awake and down the stairs before the vision was over. Doyle's body relaxed and he distantly felt someone open his fist and remove the glass. Doyle just concentrated on breathing and trying to open his eyes so he could tell what he saw before he forgot.
Strong arms gripped his waist and half-carried, half-dragged him to the couch. "Doyle?" Angel asked, as he placed a cool cloth on his forehead. He was worried.
Doyle still couldn't get his eyes to open. But he could talk. "Goldfingers," he whispered. "Vampires. We have to go home." He didn't hear Angel's reply.
Someone woke him later. Cordelia. She helped Doyle to sit up. "Sun's down," she said, smiling. "Time to go home."
Angel helped to haul him to his feet. "I guess, since you made it all the way down the stairs I won't have to carry you."
"Harry has your car," was all Doyle could manage, remembering that she'd left soon after the battle was over.
"We're taking the train," Angel answered. "Put this on."
He held up Doyle's familiar leather jacket and helped him get his arms in. Giles and Angel helped him to the car. Doyle managed to stay awake for the ride, and he was even able to stand on his own when they arrived at the train station.
He was a little surprised to see the rather large crowd that had gathered to see them off. Buffy, Riley, Willow--everyone but Spike. "We had a pool in your honor," Xander announced. "The one who guesses farthest from your actual wake-up time has to make dinner for everyone else."
"I lost," Riley said with a grin and an extended his hand. Doyle smiled back, glancing at his own right hand now bandaged and swore. He offered his left hand instead and the two of them shook hands. "I was hoping to meet you when Buffy and I dropped off the clothes." Riley added.
"That was you?" Cordelia began before Doyle could thank him. "You bought the same thing he always wears. The man literally has no clothes. It was a prime opportunity for upgrade."
Doyle grasped Riley's hand with both of his own and shook it again. "Thank you," he said, exaggerating his sincerity.
Xander was next in line with Anya and Doyle shook hands with each, thanking them. Giles shook hands too, and Doyle apologized for the nearly week-long invasion of his house. Then there was Willow. "I believe I owe you a kiss," Doyle told her, throwing a glance at Cordelia. She didn't look happy.
Willow rescued him from that predicament. "I saw what happened to Cordelia after one of your kisses, so I think I'll settle for a hug."
She had a little girl quality about her that Doyle liked. She was cute. But Cordy was gorgeous. "Deal," he replied, letting her pull him into a brief embrace.
Doyle had purposely saved Buffy for last. He owed his life to each of them, but nothing they did would have been possible without Buffy. Doyle took a step toward her and pulled her into the strongest hug he could manage. "Thank you," he whispered in her ear, "for seeing me."
Her arms, much stronger than his, wrapped around him in return. "I'd like to see you again someday," she told him, then held him back. "Just leave the apocalypse in L.A. next time." She was smiling. "I have something for you."
She turned to Riley, who held a gym bag out to her. Doyle could tell by the way it hung that there was something long and thin inside it. She unzipped the bag and pulled out the dark sword that had killed Lo'oran. She held it with one hand under the hilt, the other under the blade. "You earned it," she said, presenting it to him.
Doyle didn't know that he wanted that sword. "You defeated him," he whispered back, wishing now that they were alone.
"Not without you," she returned, whispering also. "We Ones have to stick together." She leaned in and gave him a kiss on the cheek and placed the sword in his hands.
When she let go, they weight of it nearly pulled him over. So he let go and it clamored to the pavement. Buffy chuckled and Doyle just shrugged, amused himself. It was a good feeling.
Angel retrieved the sword. "Why don't I carry this for you?"
"We're going to miss our train," Cordelia stated, taking Doyle's arm. She smiled at the others the same way she had when Buffy came to visit, a mixture of annoyance and jealousy, with just a touch of affection hidden under pride. She was complicated, and he let her turn him away towards the station. "Bye, everyone!" she called back.
Angel lagged a moment behind but it wasn't hard to catch up. He slipped one arm around Doyle's back and the walking became easier. Still, to one so weak, the distance to the gate and the waiting train was long. They found an empty compartment and Doyle laid across the seats on one side. He was asleep again before the train left the station.
Wesley covered a yawn as he entered the concourse. It was still relatively early as far as LA nights went, and the station held a fair crowd. He found the information booth and the gate for the train from Sunnydale. He also noted that, while he was early, so was the train. It had arrived five minutes ago.
Wesley scanned the crowd for Angel's face and dark coat as he strode toward the gate. The gate's doors were closed, the train having already discharged all its passengers. A few likely candidates still milled about, but most had either headed for the exit or the benches where they could rest to wait for friends who weren't expecting them for another ten minutes.
Angel was fairly tall and his dark countenance was generally noticeable. And Cordelia always managed to stand out in a crowd. But Wesley could see neither of them. Of course, they wouldn't have expected him to be here so soon, but he'd been anxious to hear how things turned out.
They might simply have wandered off for a snack, Wesley reasoned. Well, a snack for Cordelia at any rate. He could have them paged, which would undoubtedly annoy one or the other of them, or he could wait for them to return. But they might not think to return to the gate. They might head for the concourse or expect to meet him at the curb. They could be there now, waiting for him while he was at the gate waiting for them. And if they were outside, they might not even hear a page.
Wesley turned, trying not to look too obvious in case the unfamiliar, accented voice had been speaking to some other Wesley. A sickly-looking young man was watching him, though his eyes wandered frequently to a man across the aisle who was trying to coax his child into eating a graham cracker without success. Wesley could have been the boy's name. He turned away again, and went back to scanning the crowd.
Wesley spun again and this time the young man was watching him intently. He was more than sickly. He seemed poured onto the bench, uncomfortable but not inclined--or unable--to sit up. He spoke again, quieter, but with the same light brogue, "Former slayer watcher and rogue demon hunter."
Wesley stepped closer, darting his eyes to see if anyone had heard. Closer, but not too close. "How do you know that?" he asked, whispering.
The man's mouth turned up into a small grin. He whispered back, "You work for a vampire named Angel."
Wesley grew alarmed, though he tried not to show it. "Do I know you?" he asked, hoping he sounded authoritative.
The man's smile widened. "No, I don't suppose you do. They didn't talk about me much. But I know you."
Talk about him? Who was 'they'? He'd only mentioned Angel. "Who are you?"
The man held out a shaky left hand, and Wesley noted the right one was bandaged. Actually the left was too, but only at the wrist. Incapable seemed more the reason for his posture. "Doyle," the man said.
Wesley's eyebrows lifted, and his heart sped up in his chest. "Doyle who?"
"Who Doyle, more rightly," the man corrected, dropping his hand wearily to his lap. "But I think you'll figure it out."
Wesley felt a chill. "The one . . . who is . . . is--" he stammered, knowing but unable to put the word out.
"Dead," Doyle finished for him, sounding a little too amused for Wesley's taste. "Yeah, that's me."
"But--" Wesley didn't know how to finish. He'd never knowingly talked with a ghost before. No wonder he looked sickly. But that didn't make sense. Wesley hadn't heard much but he knew that Doyle had died suddenly and heroically, not of illness. And why would a ghost be bandaged?
Wesley spun around again, still unsure how to proceed. Cordelia waved. She and Angel were still a few yards away.
"You're early," Angel said in greeting as they neared. "Good. I've got to work tonight."
They weren't aware. Maybe he wasn't visible to them. Maybe he wasn't Doyle at all, but an imposter who knew Wesley wouldn't know the difference. And why was Angel carrying a chocolate chip cookie and a small carton of milk?
"I got you a present," Angel added, walking right past Wesley to the man . . . ghost . . . whatever . . . seated on the bench. "I had one of these that day I was human."
What day as a human? Perhaps things hadn't gone as well in Sunnydale as Wesley had hoped.
The man watched the cookie more than Angel who handed it to him. Cordelia sat beside him and opened the milk. Wesley now noticed the bandage on her forehead. That could explain her acceptance. But Angel?
"Have a seat, Wesley," Angel encouraged. "You look like you've seen a ghost."
Wesley stared down at him, still unable to form a word.
Doyle, or whoever he was, laughed. And nearly choked. Angel helped him sit up, while Cordelia patted his back. "Okay, let's wait a few weeks before we try laughing while eating again."
Doyle could only nod since he was too busy coughing. Cordelia helped him with the milk, but Angel just furrowed his prominent brow at Wesley. "You didn't think. . . . You knew he wasn't dead."
Wesley knew no such thing. "Then where has he been all these months? And the grieving and moping?"
"He always mopes," Doyle offered, apparently thinking he was being helpful.
"He's unusually talented at it," Cordelia added.
Angel wasn't as entertained. "You called us. You knew about the N'thirae demon. You gave us the way into the Nether so we could get him out."
Him? Wesley shook his head. "Buffy," he replied, not at all sure anymore. "Buffy was in the Nether."
Doyle finished the rest of his cookie and reached for the milk. "He's got his adjectives all confused," he said, clearly thinking he'd explained it all.
Angel apparently agreed. "Buffy's the Chosen One, Wesley. The Promised," he indicated Doyle, "One was in the Nether."
Wesley still didn't understand, but he realized he wasn't going to win. "Doyle--your Doyle, the dead one--is the Promised One?" He dropped to the bench beside Cordelia.
"Not dead," Cordelia corrected. She leaned forward to address Angel on the other side of Doyle. "We should have talked more about how he died."
Angel just shrugged, standing and held out his hand to Doyle who stood with visible effort. "We'll explain it in the car," he offered Wesley.
Wesley stood up, too and took up Doyle's other side. It already made some sense. And if Doyle had spent the last few months with the N'thirae demon, he had good reason to be too weak.
"Wesley," Cordelia said, putting a bag over his other shoulder and clapping his back, "meet Doyle." And Wesley didn't think he'd ever seen her happier.
©copyright 2000 Gabrielle Lawson