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Option "C"

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Tuesday Night

 

“What do you think they’ll do?” Fred asked.

Cordelia had just finished explaining the options that Skip, the demon gatekeeper, had given her in the other dimension while she’d been lying in a coma here in this world – never meet Angel at the party, and therefore never receive the visions in the first place; become part demon; or “Option C”.

“I don’t know,” she replied. They were all sitting downstairs in the lobby, Cordelia leaning up against Angel on the couch with Fred pressed against her on the other side and Gunn next to Fred, Wesley in front on a chair he’d pulled around to join them. They all looked as protective of Cordelia as he felt, having seen her so fragile only a few hours before. She seemed fine now, however. “All Skip said was that Option C would involve a new soldier in the fight who could take the visions on instead of me – and then he said that it’s actually an ‘old one’,” she continued, air-quoting the last phrase.

“An old one,” Wesley mused. “Another vampire?”

“Angel’s the only one with a soul, remember?” Gunn replied.

“Or perhaps he just means a ‘soldier’ we’ve already seen? Faith, perhaps,” Wesley continued.

“I’d be okay with Faith getting the brain-splitting movie marathon for a while,” Cordelia answered. “She could call it in from prison.”

“Whatever it is,” Angel cut in, “And whenever it comes, if it means you’re going to be okay, it’ll be worth it.” Cordelia glanced up at him and smiled, and Angel felt a feeling that made him wish he had a beating heart so it could skip a beat – a pleasurable tension that had been subtly growing between them ever since Connor had been born.

And then there was a horrible sound, like too much electricity passing through a circuit. Upstairs, dimly, Angel heard Connor start to fuss and Lorne’s tenor responding in sing-song.

“What’s that?” Fred cried.

“Option C?” Wesley suggested, grim, turning in his seat.

The ceiling above them opened up into a gaping black hole. Angel could feel his hair standing on end as a terrible wind swept through the room, heavy with electric charge.

The wind picked up and Wesley’s chair started flying backwards, his body not following only because Angel managed to jump up and grab him by the lapel before they lost him, thrusting him stumbling past the others where Gunn managed to get hold of and steady him. Fred was clinging to Gunn’s other arm, her wide eyes glued to the pulsating hole in the ceiling.

The electric whine became a thunderous rumble, something he could feel as much as hear. Beside him, Cordelia was on her feet, screaming something. Even Angel couldn’t make out the words.

Then something began shooting out of the hole in a thin, laser-precise stream. Angel furrowed his brow as a heaping pile of ashy dust built up the middle of the room.

The hole shut abruptly. The wind stopped; papers that had been whirling around fluttered to the floor. The thunder cut off as the hole vanished, leaving an aching ring in Angel’s ears overtop an almost painful silence. Angel shook his head to clear it. The baby was screaming now and he could sense rather than hear Lorne’s footsteps, hesitant on the floor above. Angel glanced at the stairs, hoping the other man stayed up there with the child.

“Look,” said Fred, in a shaking voice, drawing his attention back to the scene before them.

The dust started to swirl, hardening.  The hardened dust took shape – bone, then bleeding muscle, and a face appeared. It howled in pain, a gagging, agonizing sound.

“Oh my god,” Cordelia gasped, choking on the words.

The muscle became skin, torn and blackened, and then it was whole and pink, and there was hair, and the screaming broke off into a sobbing moan and there was a man, naked, curled in on himself, lying before them, panting.

“Doyle.” Cordelia was crying.

“Doyle? The Doyle?” Gunn asked.

“Who’s Doyle?” Fred whispered. Angel heard Wesley stage-whispering back. He didn’t look over. He felt rooted to the spot. Dimly he heard footsteps receding, but he didn’t check to see who was leaving or to where. He couldn’t take his eyes off the man before him. It could not be.

Then the man found his knees and looked up. Wide green eyes met his. “Angel,” he rasped, the Irish lilt unmistakable. The voice broke him. Angel fell to his knees and pulled the other man to him. “Angel,” the man said again, heavy in his arms.

“It’s okay,” Angel whispered, staring over Doyle’s head to meet Cordelia’s wide, shocked eyes. “It’s okay, man, I’ve got you.”

There was a movement at his side and Angel realized that Fred had come up beside him, holding out a blanket. He took it and wrapped Doyle, giving the man some modesty.

“Thanks, man,” Doyle said, as though he’d said it every day for the last two years, and that unfroze Cordelia, who gave a little cry and fell to her knees beside them, pulling Doyle away from Angel and into a fierce hug, sobbing against his chest. Angel heard the other man’s sharp intake of breath and saw him flinch, but he held Cordelia gently enough. “Ah, hey now, Princess, don’t cry,” he said, awkwardly patting her back. He shifted to sit on his backside as she finally pulled away, wiping her eyes. Angel found his feet and hovered.

“I can’t believe you’re here,” Cordelia said. “How are you here?”

“I, uh, I don’t really know the answer to that question.” He looked past Cordelia to meet Angel’s eyes, bewildered, and then suddenly became aware of Wesley and Fred, standing off to one side, staring down at him. “Um… hi,” he said, pulling the blanket more tightly around his waist.

“Hi,” Fred said back, raising her hand in an awkward wave.

Wesley opened his mouth to speak, but Cordelia interrupted. “You’re option C.” She stated. “Aren’t you?”

“Option C?”

Angel’s shock had begun to subside and his enhanced senses were kicking back in; he saw now that the young man was trembling, sweat dampening his chest and forehead.

“Cordelia,” he said, meaning to rein her in a little, but she wasn’t listening.

“From my trip to bizzaro-land,” she continued, as if Doyle could have any idea what she was talking about. “To deal with the whole vision/brain damage thing.”

Comprehension lighted on Doyle’s face. “To make right what I did wrong,” he replied, touching her face. “Cordelia, I’m so sorry. The visions – I never meant to pass them on t’ ya. I didn’t know I could. If I’d have known… they weren’t meant for you to bear.” He leaned in and kissed her, softly.

Angel felt his jaw involuntarily tighten at the sight, but the kiss was thankfully short and chaste. Cordelia pulled away with a gasp.

“So that’s it?” she said. “You just take them back?”

“Take what back?” Gunn asked, appearing out of nowhere. 

“The visions,” Fred explained.

“Oh. Cool,” Gunn replied. “Here. I brought you some clothes.” He leaned in and handed Doyle a pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt.

“Thanks,” Doyle said, reaching up, brushing Gunn’s hand as he accepted them.  They both pulled back like they’d been electrocuted.

“Whoa,” Gunn said.

“I didn’t mean to hurt you,” Doyle said at the same time, raising the hand not holding the blanket self-defensively, the clothes tumbling from his fingers.

“What happened to your arm?” Cordelia cut in. Angel followed her gaze to a gash on Doyle’s arm that hadn’t been there the moment before.

“Whoa,” Fred echoed.  She was looking at Gunn’s arm, where he’d injured himself in training a few days prior. His cut had faded to nothing but a thin scar.

“You didn’t hurt me,” Gunn assured.

“You healed him,” Wesley finished, stepping up and examining Gunn’s arm.

Doyle looked at Gunn, and then up at Angel, clearly flummoxed.

“What the hell?” said Cordelia. They all looked back at her and followed her gaze to Doyle’s bleeding arm, which suddenly stopped bleeding. There was a brown scab where a wound had just been.

“That’s incredible,” Wesley said.  Before their eyes, the scab disappeared; leaving a matching scar to Gunn’s, and then that disappeared too.

“Angel, man, I don’t –” Doyle started, and Angel could see the panic building.

“Okay,” he said, stepping forward and pulling on Cordelia’s arm to raise her to her feet. “Let’s back off and give Doyle some room.” Cordelia protested so Angel added, in a quieter voice, “C’mon, Cordy, the man hasn’t even had a chance to put his pants on.”  She glanced down, then flushed, and stepped aside. Angel stooped to pick up the clothes and then hooked one arm under Doyle’s to help him stand. The younger man stumbled against him and Angel held on until he was steady.

“You can dress back here,” he explained, grasping Doyle by the shoulder and leading him back to his office. Behind them, the voices of his team rose in excited chatter and Angel’s heightened hearing picked up Lorne’s voice joining the fray just as he and Doyle crossed the threshold into the back room.

+++

 

Doyle was impossibly tense under his hand, like he was investing all of his energy in keeping upright. Which, as it turned out, he was – the moment Angel shut the office door Doyle’s knees buckled and his trembling became full-on shaking, the blanket falling out of his grip as he stumbled. Angel caught him before he hit the floor and guided him to the ground, wrapping him back up. Doyle clung to him and Angel let him, securing the blanket with his own arms, holding him.

They sat there, silent except for the occasional whimper or gasp that escaped Doyle’s lips, until his shaking slowly subsided.

“I don’t have any good scotch left,” Angel apologized, pulling back when he felt Doyle begin to regain control, “But I think there’s a bottle of Canadian whiskey.” Doyle laughed, but there were tears in his eyes.

“Angel, man…”

“It’s okay, Doyle. I’ve come back too. I know what it’s like.”

Doyle nodded.  “I don’t know what happened out there,” he said.

Angel shrugged. “Wesley’ll figure it out; he’s good with the books and the spells.”

“Which one’s Wesley? Is that the one I –?”

“No, that’s Gunn. And the girl who brought you the blanket is Fred.”

“Nice people,” he remarked. “Oh god,” he said suddenly after that, bringing his hands to his head, rocking.

“It’s going to be okay, Doyle, I promise,” Angel replied. He shifted onto his knees, intending to stand and retrieve the clothes he’d cast aside, but Doyle’s hand on his arm stopped him.

“Christ, don’t go,” the other man pleaded.

Angel sat back down, covering Doyle’s hand with his own. “I won’t,” he promised.  Doyle shuddered. “Are you – how are you feeling?” he asked. “Can I – what do you need?”

Doyle just shook his head. “I don’t know, I just… just talk to me about something. Anything. Tell me about Wesley and Gunn and the girl.”

“Fred.” Angel shifted, settling down, keeping his hand on Doyle’s. “Okay. Well, Fred’s a physicist,” he started.

“A physicist?”

“Very smart. A little weird,” Angel replied. He continued on, launching into a detailed explanation about Fred’s love of tacos. It was surreal, to be chatting up his friend as though they were catching up over coffee, but Doyle’s breathing was evening out, his body relaxing. His grip on Angel’s arm began to loosen.

Angel looked down on him, remembering the blur of pain and confusion that had been his first few days back; reflecting on what Buffy had told him when they’d met about her first moments back, too. He looked terrified; Angel remembered the fear well enough. Talking seemed to be helping, so he babbled on for a while longer before he realized that Doyle hadn’t just relaxed – he’d fallen asleep.

Slowly, Angel stood and lifted the other man – just as too-skinny as he’d always been – laying him down on the sofa. He gazed down on him, reluctant to leave, but he knew he had to touch base with the others. Doyle was back for a reason, and judging by Gunn’s arm it wasn’t just to retrieve the visions. They needed to know what was going on.

+++

 

He emerged to find his team in full research mode – or at least most of them. Cordelia wasn’t having any of it; she’d been waiting, and she jumped up the moment she saw him and marched over. “Where is he? Is he okay?”

“He’s alright. He’s sleeping. It’s… exhausting, coming back to life,” Angel replied.

“I want to see him,” Cordelia said, trying to step past him.

“Cordy, let him sleep. Please.”

“But it’s Doyle,” she replied, and Angel felt a pang at the tenderness in her voice. She loved him, Angel realized. All this time, she’d still been loving him.

“Leave him be,” he replied, rougher than he’d meant to, and the tone registered, judging by the hurt look on her face. He took a breath. “Cordy, please,” he tried again, careful of his inflection. “You saw how he came back in to the world.”

“Exact opposite of how he went out,” she replied. “I was there, you know.”

“Well, then you can imagine how he must be feeling. And here he is surrounded by a bunch of people he doesn’t know,” Angel waved at the team, who were valiantly pretending not to listen, “naked as the day he was born. He needs some space.”

“The naked thing is a big deal,” Fred commented from across the room, speaking with the authority of experience. Cordelia glanced her way and smiled, but only for a moment.

“Trust me,” Angel continued. “Cordy, it’s not personal. Just… let him rest, okay?”

She looked like she was going to protest for a moment longer, and then she relented. “Okay,” she said, “for now.”

Angel nodded, turning his attention to his team. “What have we got?” he asked as they rejoined the group.

“Not much, I’m afraid,” Wesley replied, peering at a densely scripted tome. “I’ve found a few passages in the Abalirien Chronicles that speak to the healing powers of higher beings, but there’s no record of them ever becoming mortal again.”

“Maybe he’s not mortal,” Gunn wondered. “I mean, just ‘cause he’s flesh and blood doesn’t mean he’s…”

“He has a heartbeat,” Angel replied. “The only other higher beings I ever met didn’t have that.”

“The oracles,” Wesley surmised, and Angel nodded.

“We think he might have come from an alternate dimension,” Fred said. “The energy from the portal was awfully similar to what we experienced in moving to and from Pylea.”

“And you should feed your son,” Lorne added from the corner, where he’d been comparing notes with Fred with the baby on his lap.

“Oh, Connor,” Cordelia exclaimed, rushing over to the baby. Angel’s concern about Doyle was momentarily displaced by a rush of warmth as he watched her pick up his child.

Great, he thought. Doyle’s back from the dead with a mysterious new ability to heal, which probably means we’re going to need it, and he’s not okay, clearly not okay… and I’m having feelings. “I’ll be right back,” he said, suddenly overwhelmed, and bolted for the basement.

+++

 

He took a good fifteen minutes to get himself sorted and return. Cordelia had taken the baby upstairs and Fred and Gunn were gone too. Wesley was absent to the world, immersed in his reading.  Lorne was nursing a drink at the front desk and nodded to Angel to pull up a slab of counter.

“Feeling better?” he asked as Angel settled in next to him.

“I’m fine,” Angel replied. “It’s Doyle that we need to worry about.”

“No argument there,” Lorne replied, having been filled in on the whole situation so far. “But if you’re fine then I’m purple.”

Angel sighed. “It’s… complicated.”

“Ain’t it always,” Lorne replied, toasting him.

Angel didn’t smile. “Doyle’s back – that means something.”

“It’s not all about the mission,” Lorne volleyed back. “Doyle’s return means something personal, too.”

Angel opened his mouth to retort, and then closed it. He nodded, staring at the back of the wall without really seeing it. “He was my friend,” he said. “My first friend in a long time. He – he used to harass me to come out, have drinks, have a good time. I used to refuse. But he always asked. Every Friday night.” Angel turned around to stare out at the lobby instead. “’Course, all he wanted was an excuse to convince Cordelia to come out – and she knew it, too. And then…”

“I understand that his return was pretty horrific,” Lorne cut in quietly.

“As bad as it was when he died,” Angel confirmed.

“That kind of thing, it changes a person – as you well know.”

Angel nodded, feeling heavy. He thought about Buffy; how she’d stuttered through her explanation, unable to look him in the eye, unable to even cry about it, trying to describe the loss of the warm, safe place she’d been in and barely able to articulate the loud, unbearable world she found herself in now. He’d been able to relate; when he’d gotten his soul back the second time and then landed in hell moments later, that’s how it had felt. Loud; unbearable; an unspeakable loss. He wondered what kind of haven Doyle had lost.

“He’s going to need you,” Lorne was saying now.

“Yeah,” Angel replied, with a sinking feeling. “And I think we’re going to need him.”

+++

 

Lorne left him shortly thereafter, Wesley following with his nose still in a book. Cordelia wandered down maybe half an hour later, the baby having been settled in his crib for the night. “Where’s Doyle?” she asked as she walked into the lobby.

“He’s still asleep,” Angel replied.

Cordelia hesitated, looking past him toward the office, and then sighed, coming to join him on the lobby couch instead of heading in. “It’s Doyle,” she said to him, looking up at him with wide, disbelieving eyes.

“I know,” Angel said softly, feeling feelings again.

“I didn’t know,” she said, as if she needed to assure him. He wondered what was showing in his expression. “I had no idea that this was what Skip meant by Option C.”

“I know,” he said again, and this time he put his arm around her. She leaned in, accepting the comfort. Her hair smelled like coconut.

“Angel… I’ve never heard a scream like that, not even in my worst vision. We have to take care of him.”

“We will.”

“Good. Especially because the visions, they always hurt him too. And we didn’t do enough back then, to take care of him.” Cordelia was clearly feeling her own feelings, regret seemingly at the top of the list.

Angel’s heart clenched. She was right. Back then, they’d just pick him up, get him back on his feet, and load up the car and go. Half the time, he’d been driving. Doyle did things Angel would never ask of Cordelia. Hell, most of the time when Cordelia had a vision, they didn’t even take her with them. Of course, now there were more people… it was different. He couldn’t compare one set of circumstances to another. But still… he hadn’t done well enough by his friend.

“We’ll do better this time,” he promised, and she nodded, the anxiety on her face releasing. They sat together for a long time, Angel just taking in the scent of her, the weight of her head against his chest, both lost in their thoughts, before she gave up and stumbled back upstairs to bed.

Angel contemplated his room, thinking he should really check on Connor. But Cordelia would do that before she slept, he knew, and he had the baby monitor on the front desk. He thought, too, about going back into the office and watching over Doyle – but he couldn’t seem to bring his feet to move.

Doyle was back. He was alive. Doyle could heal. Something was going on. Angel leaned his head back against the couch and sighed, closing his eyes.

Chapter Text

Wednesday

 

He started awake and it was light out, sunshine streaming into the corner of the lobby from the courtyard window. Groggy, he glanced around and located the source of his disturbance – Wesley was making coffee.

“Morning,” Angel said gruffly, rubbing his face.

“Good morning,” Wesley replied in that formal way of his. “Coffee?”

“Yes, please,” said another voice, and both men looked over to see Doyle totter cautiously into the room. He was dressed in Gunn’s clothes, the t-shirt fitting okay and the pants too baggy, and holding a shot glass in his hand. Angel huffed out a little laugh. Doyle’s first independent action upon returning to life had been to get dressed and pour a drink – or, more likely, pour a drink and get dressed. 

 “I’m Doyle,” he said, clearing his throat, his expression uncertain as he walked up to Wesley, who obligingly offered him a coffee cup, steam rising from the rim. Doyle dumped the alcohol in.

“I’m Wesley Wyndam-Price,” Wesley replied, doing a respectable job of not grimacing at the generosity of the whiskey shot.

Doyle held out his hand and Wesley shook it.

“English,” Doyle observed.

“Indeed,” Wesley replied dryly, and Doyle laughed.

“I guess you’re the books guy,” Doyle said. “Any luck finding out what’s wrong with me?”

“I – no. But I wouldn’t say ‘wrong with you’. Your gift is remarkable.”

Doyle made a face. “Don’t call it a gift, mate,” he warned, and Wesley subsided, unsure. “Sorry. Just a bit… I’m a bit off.”

“Of course,” Wesley replied. He opened his mouth to say more but Doyle had turned away. “I, uh, I suppose I’ll get back to my books then,” Wesley finished.

Doyle nodded, took a few steps toward Angel, and then turned back. “Hey, English,” he said, “If you find something, you’ll… you’ll let me know, yeah?”

“Immediately,” Wesley replied, and Doyle smiled, raising his mug as he turned again.

Angel met him in the middle of the room. “How are you feeling?” he asked, reaching out to lay a hand on Doyle’s arm.

Doyle pulled away. “Very much alive if that’s what you’re worried about,” he replied.

Angel put his hand down. “Sorry,” he muttered.

“It’s as much of a surprise to you as it is to me, I’m sure.”

“Do you – do you want to talk about it?”

“God no.” He shuffled past, landing on the circular sofa, holding the cup carefully between both hands.

Angel watched but didn’t follow. After a moment he became aware of a presence at his side. Wesley handed him his own cup of coffee. “Something on your mind, Wes?” he asked.

The smaller man gave a little nod. “You look unsure,” he said. “Are you sensing something?”

Angel shrugged. “Something just doesn’t feel right.”

“Do you think he’s an imposter?”

Angel considered. “No,” he decided. “He sounds like he always did. He smells like he always did… I think he’s himself. It’s something else. It’s just – I’ve always been given to understand that the whole raising the dead thing is, y’know, pretty rare…” Wesley just raised his eyebrows and tipped his chin in Angel’s direction. True - he’d come back. Darla. Buffy. Now Doyle. “Alright, fair enough,” he conceded the unspoken point. “But they could have just given the visions to someone else.”

Wesley’s face got pensive. “Well, he said he never meant to give Cordelia the visions in the first place. Perhaps sending him back was their way of giving him a chance to correct that mistake.”

“But why the healing powers?”

“I don’t know, Angel. I’ve read all of my best sources on Brachen demons and there’s no evidence whatsoever that they should have enhanced healing abilities of any kind, not even for themselves.” Wesley must have been up for a few hours already, Angel realized.

They watched Doyle down his drink; Angel didn’t miss the slight tremor in his hands.

“I just don’t think this was all to do with Cordy,” Angel admitted.

“I agree,” Wesley replied.

“You think something’s coming.”

“I think it’s a possibility. And to be frank, having someone on the team with healing abilities could be an incredible asset.”

“He’s a person, Wes, not an asset.”

“Of course,” Wes sounded chastised and Angel kicked himself mentally for forgetting how hard the young man always was on himself.

“You’re not wrong,” Angel rushed to continue, turning to give the other man his full attention, hoping Wesley would read between the lines and understand he wasn’t angry. “He might have been sent to us to help. But there’s just… I mean you saw it. That’s a horrible way to re-enter the world. We just have to – we just have to treat him with care.” He trailed off, realizing that he was echoing Cordelia’s words from the night before.

“Of course,” Wes said again, but the self-loathing tone was gone. “And may I suggest a lock on the liquor cabinet?” Angel followed his gaze to see Doyle had relocated to behind the front desk, where he’d gotten his hands on a nearly full bottle of wine.

“I doubt that would stop him,” Angel replied.

+++

 

Half an hour later, Doyle was still behind the desk working on the wine when Gunn appeared through the front door, sweaty from his morning jog. He threw a “what’s up” to Doyle, as if the Irish man had always been there, and poured what was left in the coffee pot into an oversized travel mug. Doyle tipped his bottle in reply as Gunn passed back in front of the desk, coffee in hand, on the way upstairs for a shower. He threw the same “what’s up” to Fred as he passed her on the stairs.

“Gunn drank all the coffee, didn’t he?” she remarked as she approached.

“You must be Fred, I guess?” Doyle said by way of reply, fishing out a coffee filter and handing it to her.

“I am,” she answered, turning and offering her hand. “It’s very nice to meet you, Mr. Doyle.”

Doyle smiled. “Just Doyle,” he replied, shaking her hand.

“Okay, just Doyle,” she said, laughing her silly laugh. “You made quite an entrance,” she continued, and Angel winced and headed toward them, hoping to shut her up before she did any damage.

Too late, though – Doyle had paled at the comment, and now Fred was back-pedalling, apologizing, reaching awkwardly for him to appease him and spilling coffee grounds everywhere in the process.

“It’s alright, love, it’s alright,” Doyle said, squeezing by, looking like he couldn’t breathe. He vanished down the hallway into Angel’s office, shutting the door behind him.

“Oh dear,” Fred said tearfully. “I said the wrong thing.”

“Nonsense,” said Wesley, hurrying over to her. “He’s just a bit sensitive.”

“Of course he is – I was too, I mean I know what it’s like to fall through a portal, it’s horrible, and there I went with my big mouth…”

Angel stopped listening to the woman babble, his eyes on the door Doyle had disappeared through. 

Then Cordelia came down with Connor in her arms. “Where’s Doyle?” she said eagerly, handing Angel his son.

“Back in the office,” he replied.

“It’s all my fault,” Fred added, launching into an explanation.  Cordelia turned on her with a dour expression.

“It’s alright, really,” said a voice from the hall. Doyle had reappeared, looking marginally less spooked. Angel could see droplets in his hair and surmised he’d gone through to the washroom to splash water on his face. Angel picked up the strong tang of sweat, probably barely noticeable to anyone else in the room. He stepped forward, wanting to protect his friend, but before he could approach Cordelia shouldered him out of the way.

“Doyle!” she squealed, rushing up to him and throwing her arms around his neck. Angel watched as Doyle stiffened, barely managing to return the hug.

“Cordy,” he replied, pulling back quickly and smiling at her, but Angel could see it didn’t reach his eyes. His worry started to grow. “It’s so good to see you.”

“It’s so good to see you, too,” she answered, a bit awkwardly, clearly wanting to say something else, but put off by his demeanor.

“Right,” he said, stepping back from her. “Well, I’m, I’m going to go take a shower. Any room’ll do, yeah?” he asked, looking to Angel.

“Yeah,” Angel answered, trying to make eye contact. Doyle managed to look slightly over his shoulder instead of meeting his gaze.

“The third and fourth floors have a separate water tank,” Fred offered, anxious to be helpful.

“Ta,” he replied, smiling at her. He sidestepped Cordelia and headed up the stairs. Angel watched as Cordelia’s face fell.

“Are you alright?” Angel asked as she trudged forward to meet him.

“Yeah, I guess,” she said. “I just, I guess I was expecting… but no. It’s not fair, is it, to have expectations of him?”

“We gotta just give him time, Cordy,” Angel promised, wanting to take the hurt off her face. “He’s only been back one night.”

“Yeah,” she said, nodding, but her eyes, watching the now-empty stairs, were clouded. “We’ll just give him time.”

+++

 

Doyle came back down accompanied by Lorne and spent the rest of the day moving from one new friend to another while Angel…lurked. By that evening, Doyle was doing a pretty good job of being normal, at least to the casual observer. Lorne in particular seemed to have been won over: Doyle clapped when he sang and told jokes that had Lorne in stitches. And matched him, drink for drink.

Angel caught Cordelia’s eye at one point and she raised an eyebrow at the drinking. He shrugged. Truth be told, Doyle’s reaction was pretty much consistent with how Doyle had always been – avoid talking and drink like a fish.

Angel hadn’t missed the fact that Doyle had mostly stayed away from Cordelia, smiling and calling her princess and obliging her in a group setting, but slipping away as soon as the possibility that they might be alone threatened.  The newly returned man had avoided Angel in a similar manner, his eyes cutting away any time their gazes happened to meet and his cheeks flushing. Angel counseled himself that this was to be expected – he’d lain naked in Angel’s arms the night before, shaking through the panic of being… reborn, for lack of a better word. That had to hit a man hard.

He was less clear on why the other man was so intent on avoiding Cordelia, but he seemed scared to be alone with her. Too much unfinished business, Angel supposed. He had watched her frustration mounting, but to her credit, she had kept it in check, except for one acerbic remark about being back on the bottle, which Doyle had ignored, just like old times.

In fact, Doyle drank Lorne to the other man’s tipping point until Angel had to intervene, directing Wesley to put the host to bed. Doyle watched with glittering eyes as the two of them made their slow way up the stairs. “So,” he said, once they were out of earshot. “That’s the new me, is it?”

The words were like a slap. “God, Doyle, no,” Angel protested. “It wasn’t like that at all.”

“Sorry,” Doyle mumbled, snapping his eyes away from the stairs and planting his gaze on the empty glass in his hands. “I don’t know why I’d even say that. Of course you moved on.  Why wouldn’t you? And Cordelia…You got this whole team; an’ you have a baby, Angel. Wes and Gunn told me about Darla and about Pylea - I missed everything.”

“It’s hard,” Angel agreed, remembering. “The world goes on. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t think of you.” He shifted, finally catching Doyle’s eye, and smiled, trying to communicate the depth of his feeling. “I’m glad to see you, Doyle. I’ve spent the last two years regretting what happened every single day.”

“Two years,” Doyle echoed darkly, turning the glass over in his hands.

“It’s okay, Doyle,” Angel replied, laying a hand on the other man’s arm.

Doyle pulled away. “Angel, man, I’m not… I don’t…” The other man stuttered into silence, blinking rapidly.

“It’s okay. We don’t have to talk about it,” Angel assured him.

“Okay,” he replied, swallowing hard, staring out into the empty room.

“Let’s find you a bed,” Angel suggested, at a loss, trying to remember what Buffy had done for him. But he’d been on his own for the first few days, running naked through the woods like an animal. By the time Buffy had found him, he’d been somewhat acclimatized to the real world again; at least, he’d gotten used to the sounds and smells and sights around him. Doyle had only been here for a day – he’d still be trapped in the cacophony of barely remembered, now unfamiliar sensations...

Angel shook himself out of his thoughts. They’d been climbing the stairs together in silence and he felt bad for not staying focused, but Doyle hadn’t seemed to notice. Angel set him up in the room beside his own.

“I’ll be right next door,” he said, lingering as Doyle sat down heavily on the bed. Doyle nodded without looking up. “Okay. Good night, Doyle,” Angel finished, still getting no response. He repressed the desire to say more, or to reach out and touch the man, as he closed the door behind him. He stood in the hall for a long time, just listening, until finally he heard the rustling of sheets that suggested Doyle had lain down.

Angel thought back on his reunion with Buffy, her shame-faced confession of resentment toward her friends for bringing her back, her trauma at having been ripped from heaven. She’d had to claw her way out of a coffin. Doyle had to relive his death from the inside out. Angel’s hands balled into fists. It was one thing to be pulled back to earth by some well-meaning kids who didn’t really know what they were doing. But for the Powers that Be to do it? ‘Option C’ might have been a good deal for Cordelia, but for Doyle...  He was supposed to have atoned for his sins; that’s what the Oracles had said.

He crept back into his room, closing the door quietly so as not to wake the baby, and lay down on his own bed. He stared up at the ceiling, alternating between wondering why Doyle was back and feeling guilty, as though the question made him ungrateful to have his friend alive. 

+++

 

He must have fallen asleep at some point in the night, because a voice woke him. Angel shot up in bed, listening. The baby was still asleep. There was a moan, and it was near. Coming from Doyle’s room. Angel jumped to his feet, glancing over to make sure Connor was safe, and then crept out of his room. He eased the door next to his open just as Doyle moaned again. “S-stop,” the younger man pleaded, reaching out his hands. His eyes were shut; dreaming, Angel realized.

He closed the door and sat down on the bed, touching the other man’s arm. “Doyle. Doyle, wake up. You’re having a bad dream,” he said, giving Doyle a little shake.

“Stop!” Doyle shouted, bolting up in bed, demon form coming out on instinct. Angel flinched as the sharp spikes pierced the skin of his hand.

“Doyle, it’s okay,” Angel said, and Doyle stared up at him, wild eyed and uncomprehending, for a long time before he opened his mouth.

“Angel?”

“Yeah man, it’s me,” Angel assured.

“Where are we?”

“In your room in the hotel.”

“What hotel?”

“The Hyperion.”

“What’re we doing here?”

Angel cocked his head, worried. “What do you remember?” he countered.

“I – I don’t know,” Doyle breathed. “I dreamed that I – that I was burning and… oh, god.” Doyle took a shaky breath, rubbing his hand over his eyes. The demon form melted away as the adrenaline wore off, leaving Doyle looking even younger and smaller than he had before. “It wasn’t a dream, was it?” He finished now.

Angel looked down on his friend sorrowfully. “No,” he replied. “I’m sorry, Doyle, it wasn’t.”

“I died and they left me there,” he continued.

“Who left you where? Doyle?”

But whatever had shaken Doyle so badly, it was lessening now, and Angel watched as he composed himself, shutting down again.

“Angel, sorry – sorry for waking you, man. Ah, shit, look at your hand,” he said, grabbing Angel’s wrist carefully and turning his hand to face palm-up.

Angel glanced down at the puncture wounds in his palm.  As he watched, they started to close up. Angel caught the unique scent of Doyle’s half-human, half-demon blood. A small drop fell from one hand to the pristine white bedsheet and Angel caught the hand in his own, unthinkingly rubbing a thumb over Doyle’s palm as puncture wounds that mirrored his own closed and disappeared.

“That’s – how do you know how to do that?” he asked.

Doyle looked at him helplessly. “I don’t know how to do anything,” He answered. “I just saw you were bleeding.” He pulled his hand away, simultaneously releasing Angel’s arm.

Angel backed off, standing up to give the other man some space. “Doyle,” he started, not even sure what he wanted to say. 

“I think I just want to go back to sleep now, okay?” Doyle collapsed back against the pillow and let his eyes fall shut.

Angel sighed, reminding himself not to push. Doyle was already doing better than Angel had just by remembering his own name. And he’s already done right by Cordelia, he mused. His mistake righted, hardly five minutes in. 

Doyle’s breathing evened out unnaturally; he was pretending to be asleep. Angel played along, pulling the quilt up over the other man’s chest, not missing the way that Doyle flinched. He padded out silently into the hall and back into his room, where his child still lay sleeping, unperturbed.  A wave of exhaustion overtook him, and Angel tumbled into his own bed, letting sleep overtake him.

Chapter Text

Thursday

 

When he came down the next morning, Doyle was already up, coffee mug in hand, head bent, next to Wesley who was pointing out passages in the book. The whiskey bottle, almost half-empty now, stood on the counter, confirming Angel’s suspicion that Doyle’s coffee was once again ‘Irish’, as it were.

“I dunno, Wesley – I guess it could be a Brachen,” he said as Angel stepped into ear shot.

“I’m sure of it,” Wesley replied. “Look at the spikes and the eyes.”

“Yeah, but look at the horns,” Doyle returned.

“Well… perhaps your species will evolve horns,” Wesley replied, a bit lamely.

“What did you find?” Angel asked. Both men straightened abruptly, and Angel did not miss the flush on Doyle’s face as he slunk back from the books and moved behind the desk. Wesley watched him back off with his mouth open, but whatever impulse to speak may have held him dissipated in the next moment and he turned his attention back to Angel.

“I’ve been filling Doyle in on the Shanshu prophesy,” he explained. “I thought perhaps with a… an ability such as Doyle’s, it might be related. There wasn’t anything in the text, but I did make some enlarged photocopies of the illustrations. This one shows the end of days – the final battle. I think that might be Doyle,” he pointed to one character in the fuzzy image.

“It kind of looks like a cross between Doyle in his demon form and Lorne,” Angel replied, studying it.

From his safe distance on the other side of the desk, Doyle laughed despite himself. “I didn’t come back with that kind of ability,” he said, and Wesley grinned. Angel made a point of ‘considering’ the idea and Doyle rolled his eyes, and for a moment everything felt… good.

Then Cordelia appeared, determinedly cheerful, and inquired as to what they were looking at.

“Nothing much,” Doyle replied, taking the photocopies out of Wes’s hand and stuffing them between the pages of the book. Wesley’s brow furrowed, but he said nothing. “Think maybe I’ll soak up some sun, yeah?” And he was gone before anyone could react.

“Maybe I should go with him,” Cordelia said, dispiritedly, but she made no move to follow.

“He’ll come around, Cordelia,” Angel replied, trying to sound confident.

“He better! He can’t come back just to ignore me.” She was pouting  now, hands on her hips. Then, after a moment, she added, “plus he needs clothes. And who better to take him shopping than me?”

“Actually, that’s a good point,” Wesley joined the conversation. “He can’t wear Gunn’s old things forever. Maybe you should go shopping, buy him some basics? He’d be appreciative, I’m sure.”

“Come with me, Angel,” she said.

“It’s daylight,” he pointed out, one-part pleased that she had asked him, specifically, and one-part well aware of the special torture that was shopping with Cordelia.

“We’ll take the subway to the outlet mall. I can’t buy Doyle underwear,” she pleaded, wrinkling up her nose. “You have to do that part.”

“But Connor –”

“We can take him with us,” she replied, pulling on his hand. He glanced over at Wesley, who shrugged his assent, but Cordelia had already decided. “You have better taste. Now stop dragging your feet.” she scolded, and Angel gave way to her will.  Shopping trip it was, then.

+++

 

They were gone for a few hours and when they got back, Fred and Gunn were sparring in the lobby, practicing a few rolls and hold-breaks.

“Where’s Doyle?” Angel asked as they walked in.

Gunn gestured toward the courtyard. “Hanging out with Wesley,” he said.

“Lorne’s in the kitchen,” Fred added, taking advantage of the respite to try and catch her breath.

“I should go give him these,” Cordelia said, indicating the bags in her hands, but she didn’t move.

Connor was starting to fuss; he needed to be changed. “We can just leave them in his room,” Angel suggested, retrieving his son from the stroller. They’d – or rather, Cordelia had – talked about it incessantly on their way to the mall, during their shopping trip, and all the way back – Doyle was avoiding them and it wasn’t right, and one of them had to do something about it. But now that they were back, well –

“No, you go give him these, and I’ll take care of this one,” Cordelia decided, taking Connor from his hands.

“I can’t go out in the courtyard in the middle of the afternoon,” he said, but he was talking to her back. He sighed and picked up the bags.

Fred looked like she was going to say something, but Gunn intervened, saying, “C’mon, Fred, let’s try the choke hold again,” and she turned away.

Left with no other distraction, Angel made his way toward the courtyard, staying in the shadows. He could hear Wesley and Doyle talking and even though he knew he shouldn’t, he found himself pausing, hidden by a large planter, to listen.

“It speaks of the one with the powerful touch,” Wesley was saying.

Doyle scoffed. “That could mean anything. That could just be another reference to Angel, or Lorne – he’s got psychic powers, yeah?” Clearly, Wesley had filled Doyle in about Lorne’s particular talents.

“But not healing powers,” Wesley reminded.

“It might not even be about healing. Could just be some guy with really big fists.”

“That’s true. But you said you wanted me to tell you if I found anything.”

There was a pause. “Not that I don’t appreciate it,” Doyle said then, “But I was kind of hoping you’d find something that was more like, subheading: message for Doyle; first paragraph: oh hey, by the way, here’s why you can heal now.”

Wesley laughed. “Sorry, I don’t seem to have come across that particular chapter yet.”

“You’ll let me know, though, aye?”

“Immediately.” There was warmth in Wesley’s voice – in both their voices, actually. Angel pushed down a tiny stab of resentment that they should get on so well so quickly. It was probably a good thing, given the acidic comment Doyle had made the night before about his ‘replacement’. 

“So tell me, man… tell me about Cordelia. Did she handle the visions alright?” Of course, Doyle would want to know about Cordelia, Angel thought, and there was that tiny stab again.

Wesley sighed. “There were some rough patches,” he admitted. Angel suppressed a snort – rough patches, indeed. “But on the whole, yes. She rose to the challenge.”

“That shoulda never happened to her,” Doyle said, his voice laced with regret. “Every time I see her face I just… I feel so bad.”

“Is that why you’ve been avoiding her?” Wesley asked, point blank.  At least someone in the office has some courage, Angel thought. There was a long silence. Angel wished he could get close enough to read Doyle’s expression. It couldn’t have been anger, or Wesley would have been backing down by now…

“I suppose that’s part of it,” Doyle finally answered, and his voice was soft. “The other part is… I mean with you, I don’t know you and you don’t know me. It’s just two blokes getting to know each other, yeah? But with her, and with Angel…”

“All that history.” Wesley’s voice was sympathetic. Doyle didn’t respond and after a moment Wesley said, “They don’t mean to put any pressure on you, Doyle. They care for you.”

“I know.” Doyle’s voice was getting dark. “I just – I don’t know if I’ve got what it takes to care back, y’know?”

“I do,” Wesley replied, his voice betraying the bit of darkness Angel knew was always lurking in there. He suddenly felt bad, like he was sharing in an intimate moment he had no business being part of. Quietly, he backed away, coming back into the lobby, where he turned and found himself nose-to-nose with Cordelia.

“Chicken,” she accused, even though she’d been the one to run away first. She thrust his baby at him and relieved him of his shopping bag burden. “Hey Doyle!” she called, striding out into the sun. “Guess what I got you?”

+++

 

Cordelia had done quite well as far as sizing and he seemed marginally more relaxed in clothes that fit well and that he could call his own. From his hiding spot, he’d watched Doyle accept the gifts with appreciation and give Cordelia a genuine embrace – the hug she’d been looking for that morning. The gesture had clearly gone a long way.

The only thing she hadn’t gotten quite right was the shoes – the ones she’d bought were a size too small – and Doyle had even joked about her secretly not wanting him to be able to get away.  Then they’d stared at each other awkwardly, and it was like the very beginning again, when the two of them were getting closer and neither of them knew what to do about it. Angel had forgotten how irritating the tension between the two of them had been.

Wesley had broken the tension, whether deliberately or by accident, Angel couldn’t tell, and they’d all come back inside so that Cordelia could show her newly-dressed Doyle doll off to Fred. As they passed, Doyle glanced over and met Angel’s eyes, and they shared a moment of silent commiseration in the face of the force that was Cordelia and fashion.

An hour later, Angel was sitting in his office with the lights off, thinking, when Doyle walked in, alone.

“Doyle,” Angel said stupidly, standing up. He instinctively reached out to his friend, but Doyle was too far away to touch.

“Angel,” Doyle replied, wandering in and scanning the shelves.

“That was the only bottle I had,” Angel blurted, and Doyle laughed.

He turned back and made eye contact with Angel for the first time all day. “Thank you,” he said. “For the clothes and for – well, I dunno what I’d do or where I’d have gone if... “ He shrugged. “I have nothing, y’know?”

“You were dead, Doyle, it kind of comes with the territory,” Angel replied, then immediately regretted it as the other man’s expression closed off. “What I mean is – you shouldn’t feel bad about that. Plus I think Harry kept some of the things from your apartment.”

“Oh god, Harry,” Doyle breathed. “I hadn’t even thought of her. Or my ma – Angel, I don’t even know if my ma’s still living!”

“She is,” Angel hurried to assure him. “She sends Cordelia a card at Christmas.”

Doyle let out a little laugh. “Aye, that’s ma,” he acknowledged. He lowered himself down onto the couch opposite of Angel’s desk and sighed. “There’s so much,” he admitted. “There’s just so much to think about. I mean, I’m talking to Wesley about prophesies and I’m trying not to touch anybody and I’m worrying that I don’t even have shoes or a bag to put things in… and now I’ve got to call my ma and what do you even say?”

“You don’t have to figure it all out right now, Doyle,” Angel replied. Trying not to touch anybody, he’d said – Doyle’s new powers were scaring the young man even more than he had realized.  “And you don’t have to figure it out alone –”

Doyle turned away at that last statement, his discomfort plain, and rushed to continue instead of responding to what Angel had said.  “And meanwhile there’s new people and babies to wrap my head around, and… aauggh!”

Doyle thrashed back against the couch, his hands flying to his temples. Angel stood in shock for a moment before he realized what was going on; it had been a long time since he’d seen this acted out on Doyle’s face instead of Cordelia’s. He dashed around his desk and wrapped one hand around Doyle’s neck, the other on his shoulder, holding him steady as Doyle rocked, whimpering, through the vision.

“Cordelia!” he shouted toward the door, and was rewarded with the sound of running footsteps, followed by Cordelia and Wesley’s faces peering in.

“I’ll get the codeine,” Wesley said.

“Nah,” Doyle replied, his voice rough. He waved one hand in Wesley’s direction, eyes still squeezed shut, “Just a dram o’ the good stuff, please, Wesley.” Wesley hesitated but Angel nodded and he turned away from the door.

“What did you see?” Angel asked.

“Wolfram and Hart,” Doyle replied, pulling away.

“What about them?” Cordelia asked, coming into the room.

“I’m not sure – a brunette and an Asian guy. Reviewing footage of the hotel.”

“Lilah Morgan and Gavin Park.” Cordelia snorted. Doyle looked up at her, confused.

“They bugged the hotel a while back,” Angel explained. “We found them all.”

“She has a scroll,” Doyle continued.

“The Nyazian prophesies, yes,” Wesley answered, coming back in and handing Doyle his whiskey. “We’d surmised that Wolfram and Hart had taken it.”

“Not just taken. Translated. They know something… something important. You have to get it back.”

“We will,” Angel assured him, but Doyle wasn’t looking at him.

“Wesley – it’s important. You have to get the original. Not the… not the scholarly commentaries.”

Wesley blinked at him. “I was just thinking of checking to see if there were any,” he admitted.

“The vision thing,” Cordelia commented, coming to sit beside Doyle. She rested a hand on his thigh and he didn’t pull away. “It’s spooky like that.” Doyle smiled at her, leaning back to rest his head on her shoulder.

“Indeed,” Wesley replied, and then launched into an explanation of something or other. Angel wasn’t paying attention. He was staring at Doyle’s head, resting against Cordelia, her hair brushing against his.

“Angel?”

“Hmmm?” He glanced up and happened to catch Doyle’s gaze just as the other man opened his eyes. Doyle’s eyes widened and he pulled away from Cordelia like he’d been scalded. Angel forced himself to focus on Wesley, but out of the corner of his eye, he caught Cordelia’s reaction – she was not happy.

“Right,” he said to Wesley, not having a clue what the other man had said to him. “Let’s go do that.” He turned and fled.

Moments later, a hand landed on his arm and spun him around with surprising force. “What the hell was that about?” Cordelia hissed.

“What?” Angel defended. “Wesley said we needed to…”

“You have no idea what Wesley said. You weren’t paying the slightest bit of attention. You were too busy staring at Doyle like he was the scum on the side of your shoe.”

“I was not!”

“And after we just talked about how we needed to treat him better after a vision!” She continued, barreling over his protest. “What is the matter with you?”

“Nothing,” Angel replied. Cordelia just glared. “It’s…” he couldn’t bring himself to express it, and he saw the moment when she understood anyway by the slight softening of her gaze. But Cordelia wasn’t one to let anyone off the hook too easily.

“He’s been back for all of two days and we both know he’s not okay. He needs our love and support, not… he’s our friend, Angel.”

“I know.”

“Well, good. Then act like it.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I’m not the one you glared at,” she reminded him.

“I’ll go apologize to Doyle,” he promised, and at last she relented. He opened his mouth to say something else – he wasn’t even sure what – but she just shook her head and stepped away, hair swinging behind her as she marched around the corner.

+++

 

When Angel got back to the office, Doyle wasn’t there.

“He went up to his room,” Wesley said. He, Gunn, and Fred were poring over a binder full of notes, all the scraps of information they’d compiled about Wolfram and Hart.

“Okay,” Angel replied, feeling stupid. “I’ll go check on him.”

“He’s fine,” Fred said. “We made sure.”

Angel nodded, but his feet were still pointed at the door. “I’ll just –”

“Angel, man, take the hint. He doesn’t want to see you.” Gunn finally explained, blunt as ever.

“Help us figure out where they’re likely to be housing the scrolls,” Wesley offered, making room for Angel to squeeze in by the desk. Reluctantly, Angel complied.

+++

 

Doyle didn’t come down to dinner that night. It was an uncomfortable affair; Wesley, Fred, and Gunn ate at the desk, still poring over blueprints, looking things up on the internet, and drawing complicated maps on bits of scrap paper. Lorne served dinner, but as he sat down he overheard Cordelia sing-songing to Connor as she fed him, gave a ‘hell, no’ look to Angel, and vanished back into the kitchen. Cordelia ate and fawned over the baby and refused to look at Angel at all.

“So Wes thinks they have a way in to Wolfram and Hart,” he tried, hoping to draw her out. She hesitated and for a moment he thought she was going to ignore him completely, but then she sighed and turned toward him.

“Have you talked to Doyle yet?” she asked.

“Fred – Gunn – they told me to leave him alone,” Angel answered uncertainly. He braced himself for her anger, but she just sighed again.

"They told me the same thing,” she admitted. “It’s weird, right? They don’t even know him. He’s our friend – and they’re protecting him from us?”

Angel relaxed fractionally. She was still angry, but they were on to the stage where her anger was directed to pretty much everyone in general. He knew it was selfish, but he preferred this part. He hated having her angry at him. “They’re good people, Cordy,” he replied. “We should be grateful they care about him so much already.”

She nodded. “I am,” she said. “I mean, I’m trying to be. It’s just… I missed him so much, Angel. I think about him all the time. I cry every time Mary sends me a card. And now he’s back and he’ll barely stay in the same room as me. I don’t understand it.”

“He’s scared, Cordelia. He’s…”

“Traumatized, yeah, I know. Who isn’t?” she grumbled, but he could see the softness of compassion in her eyes. She picked up the spoon and made airplane noises toward his son, prompting the boy to open his lips and accept a mushy mouthful of pureed something or other. “And he was never really touchy-feely, except after a vision.”

“Yeah,” Angel sighed heavily.

“Yeah,” Cordelia agreed, acknowledging what Angel hadn’t actually said – you screwed up, big time. That was exactly the wrong time to act like a jealous jerk. Especially ‘cause we haven’t actually had that conversation yet.

“I’ll go check on him,” he offered.

“That’s a good idea,” she replied, giving him a smile. “After dinner,” she added as he went to stand. “Come help me with Connor – I don’t know how I ended up doing all the work of looking after your baby!” He smiled at the teasing tone and joined her, taking up the spoon. “He likes airplane noises,” she prompted.

“I’m not making airplane noises, Cordelia,” Angel protested.

“Well good luck getting him to eat then,” she laughed.

“Oh, I’ve got something better,” he replied, and morphed into his vampire face.

Cordelia and Connor both squealed with laughter and Angel felt emotion swell in him as he guided the spoon to his son’s mouth. They felt like… a family.

+++

 

They decided to go together to check on Doyle, but he wasn’t in his room. “He’s gone for a walk with Lorne,” Fred informed them, meeting them on the stairs. There wasn’t much to do but trail after her and rejoin the team in the office, where dirty dishes now served to weigh down the corners of maps and spell-scrolls.

“Fred’s our best bet,” Wesley was saying to Gunn as the others entered. “She’s the least recognizable of all of us.”

“They’ve seen her on the tape,” Gunn argued back. “I’ll go. We all look the same, right?”

Wesley gave him a dirty look but Gunn just shrugged.

“What can I do?” Angel broke in, but Wesley quickly shook his head.

“I don’t think we can get past the vampire detectors this time, Angel,” he apologized. “I still think Fred’s the best bet.”

“I can do it,” she answered, looking up at Gunn to reassure him. He did not look reassured.

“What about Doyle?” Gunn replied. “They haven’t seen his face.”

“And they’re not going to,” Angel answered, with a harshness that surprised even him. Gunn looked angry. Wesley merely raised an eyebrow. He glanced down to Cordelia at his side and was relieved to see that she had a determined look on her face that matched how he felt. “We’re not letting them get their hands on him.”

Gunn was about to argue, but Wesley cut in. “I agree. Doyle’s barely had a chance to adjust to being alive again. We can’t count on him to be able to read the room well. We can’t risk putting his new powers in the hands of Wolfram and Hart. And…”

“It just wouldn’t be fair,” Cordelia finished. Wesley nodded.

“Alright,” Gunn relented. “Agreed. But we still haven’t solved our distraction problem. We need fresh faces.”

“Maybe we don’t,” Cordelia said. Angel turned his attention back to her, intuitively not liking whatever it was she was about to say.

“Cordelia,” he tried, but she shushed him with a shake of her head.

“They don’t know Doyle’s back, right? I mean, we’re bug free and he hasn’t left the hotel except for with Lorne. If they’re watching us –”

“They’re watching us,” Gunn interjected flatly.

“Okay, well, they’re going to assume he’s an old customer of Lorne’s. They haven’t seen him with any of the rest of us. Lorne’s had half a dozen people in here since Caritas was destroyed. And even if they don’t, they’ll assume client, right? Not raised-from-the-dead conduit to the Powers that Be.”

“It is Wolfram and Hart,” Fred equivocated.

“My point,” Cordelia replied, getting impatient, “Is that the chances are good they’re going to assume I still have the visions. And, not being stupid, they know those visions are going to make me sick.”

“Very true,” Wesley said. He’d caught on and Angel hadn’t yet, which always left Angel feeling frustrated and, well, dumb. He bit his tongue and waited for Cordelia to finish her explanation.

“So, I’m only 21. Just a kid, really,” Cordelia was saying now. “Maybe I’m scared. Maybe Angel can’t help. Maybe… maybe I’m ready to just leave it all behind. I mean, that was one of the options Skip gave me.”

“So how does that help us?” Gunn asked.

“It helps because if it were true, Cordelia wouldn’t have a lot of options,” Angel answered, finally putting the pieces together.

“But there’s a certain high-powered lawyer that she’s bonded with before over…” Wesley couldn’t finish the sentence, but Fred could.

“Billy,” she said, giving him a sympathetic smile that he quickly looked away from.

“Exactly,” Cordelia said, smiling triumphantly. “So I go to the only other ‘Queen B’ Bitch I know and sniff around for what she could maybe do for me.”

“Lilah Morgan,” Angel named, nodding.

“That might actually work,” Gunn acknowledged.

“Good,” Wesley said. “We have our distraction. And in the meantime, Gunn, you and I will…” Angel tuned out the finer points of the plan, knowing there was nothing he could contribute unless things went horribly wrong and they had to risk setting off the vampire detectors so that he could break in and extract his friends. Cordelia seemed happy to have an active role. He tamped down on the worry in his gut, knowing that he’d have to trust her – have to trust them all – if they were going to find out what they needed to know.

But knowing didn’t mean he had to like it.

+++

 

Doyle was distant when he and Lorne returned 45 minutes later, carrying two bottles of scotch between them, one opened and one not. He said hello to everyone as he passed them but did not join the group who were still huddled around plans and books. Instead he thanked Gunn for the runners, toeing them off at the foot of the stairs, and then headed straight up. 

Angel turned to go after him and Lorne grabbed his arm. “I need to apologize,” Angel told him, but Lorne shook his head.

“He’s not ready,” Lorne replied. “Angel, you know how this feels. Everything’s coming at him from all directions and he can only deal with a fraction of it at any given time. He’s running scared – and he should be.”

“He sang for you,” Angel commented.

Lorne shrugged. “He sang,” he confirmed. “But I don’t think he even realized he was doing it.”

“What did you see?”

Lorne glanced over at the group, and Angel thought that his gaze lingered on Cordelia, pressed close against Wesley, poring over a static image capture of Wolfram and Hart’s lobby doors. “Nothing that helps with the big picture,” Lorne assured. “It wasn’t future-destiny kind of stuff, just stuff he already knows. Internal, personal stuff that is no one else’s business.”

Angel sighed. He knew Lorne was as good as his word when he said he was going to keep a secret. “I should still go talk to him,” he said.

“Tonight he’s dealing with a different slice of the pie,” Lorne replied. Angel looked at him, frustrated, and Lorne relented. “He’s calling his mother, Angel, and Harry. Leave him be.”

+++

 

Doyle appeared again two hours later, just as everyone was packing it in. Cordelia, seeing him arrive at the bottom of the stairs, immediately took charge of checking on Connor, who’d been put to bed three hours prior, shooting Angel a meaningful look as she walked by. Doyle sucked his body in as she passed, but she was careful not to even brush his arm as she passed, although she did murmur goodnight.

Through some unspoken understanding, Doyle and Angel waited while everyone else drifted off, exchanging good nights with the rest of the team and slowly working their way toward the desk – toward the bottles. Doyle walked as if drawn against his will and Angel tried to match the pace, lingering with Wesley long enough that Doyle could get there first and slip behind the desk, into his safe space, before Angel was alone with him.

Finally, he closed the distance, resting one elbow on the counter top and angling his body just enough to face the other man. “How’d it go?” he asked quietly.

“Ma cried. Harry yelled and then cried,” Doyle replied. He was very pale. “She wants to come over. Ma wants me to come back to Ireland.”

Angel nodded, waiting, but Doyle said nothing more, just reached for the bottle. Angel shifted his weight. “Doyle,” he said, awkward. “I’m – I’m sorry about this morning. I –”

“You don’t owe me an explanation,” Doyle replied. “I’ve been gone. Things have changed.”

“Not that much. I was disrespectful.”

“You should tell her how you feel,” Doyle said, “speaking as one who knows.”

“She knows,” Angel replied. “There’s just, you know…”

“The small matter of your curse, aye.” Doyle took a long swig from the scotch bottle. “If I kissed ya now, do you think we could trade? You can have the visions and the freaky Doctor Do-Right act, and I’ll take the curse against ever havin’ sex again. Don’t imagine I’m going to be anyway.”

“Doyle,” Angel said, disturbed at the bitterness in the other man’s tone, “you’re not cursed.”

Doyle laughed, still bitter. “Not exactly a blessing though."

“I’m – do you want to talk about it?” Angel winced at the embarrassment in his voice.

“No,” Doyle replied, letting him off the hook. “I just want to drink and forget and hope it goes away.”

“Doyle –”

“Harry’s comin’ tomorrow,” the other man said abruptly, cutting Angel off. “She’s picking me up around 10 and we’re going… out. Somewhere neutral, yeah? Maybe the beach.  So I’m not going to be around, okay?” Doyle finally made eye contact and Angel realized the other man was pleading with him not to press.

“Okay,” he replied, and Doyle relaxed. Angel thought he could see a little gratitude reflected in the other’s eyes.

“Think I’ll take my scotch and head to bed,” Doyle finished, picking up the bottle. He navigated around the desk and headed toward the stairs. When he was a safe distance away, he turned back. “Good night, Angel,” he offered. He was trying, Angel realized, really trying to be normal.

“Good night, Doyle,” he offered back, and the younger man walked away.

Chapter Text

Friday

 

The next day was surreal. Cordelia, Wesley, Fred and Gunn all set out early in the morning to put their plan to steal the scroll back from Wolfram and Hart and Lorne had made himself scarce like he often did. Doyle came down around 9 while Angel was feeding Connor; he was showered, dressed, and for once completely sober. Angel tried not to be resentful of the fact that Doyle was willing not to drink for Harry, but not for him or Cordelia. They exchanged good mornings as Doyle hunted down Gunn’s runners, and then a horn outside was honking and Doyle took a deep breath, flashed Angel a scared look and smiled shakily at his offer of good luck, and plunged into the sun-soaked courtyard.

Angel and Connor were alone. After all the activity since Doyle had returned, it was shockingly silent. Connor cooed and gurgled and Angel occupied himself entertaining the boy for a while, had something to eat, and wandered around flipping through all of Wesley’s carefully marked notes. He glanced up at the clock and it wasn’t even noon.

He put Connor down for his afternoon nap, had a lie down himself, but couldn’t sleep. He wandered downstairs to the basement, baby monitor in hand, and went through the motions of his tai chi exercises in the cool darkness. It helped a little. He went back up and checked on Connor, who was sleeping soundly. At least he didn’t have to deal with a colicky baby, he thought. It was quarter after one.

Around 2pm Doyle returned. Angel heard his voice and Harry’s answering soprano and went to the head of the stairs, hesitating for a moment to listen.

“You sure you don’t want to stick around?” Doyle was asking. “I really think you’d get on with Wesley if you met him.” Angel smiled at this; from what he remembered of Harriet Doyle, she and Wesley would make perfect companions. She might even get Wesley’s mind off of Fred.

“No,” Harry replied. “I’ve got a plane to catch. Besides…”

“Yeah,” Doyle said, his voice sad, and Angel wondered what had gone unspoken there.

“You know I will always be here for you, Francis,” Harry said now. “If you ever change your mind, you just give me a call. I’ll be at the door in a heartbeat.”

“I know,” he replied. “I love you, Harry.”

“I love you too.”

Silence followed, and then Angel heard her say goodbye, footsteps fading into quiet. There was a clink of glass – Doyle at the bottle again. Angel figured it was safe to come down.

The Irishman was behind the desk, in his safe space, when Angel hit the bottom of the stairs. Doyle gave him a nod and Angel came over. “How’d it go?” he asked.

Doyle shrugged. “As well as could be expected,” he replied. “She wants me to come stay with her. Thinks I should go back home to my ma.” He sipped his whiskey. “She doesn’t understand why I’d stay here with you.”

“She was very angry with me when you died,” Angel recalled. “I can’t say I’m surprised.”

Doyle nodded. “Yeah, she didn’t have much nice to say about you, that’s true. But I also didn’t tell her about… about the visions and the other stuff. I – she’s interested in the demon world and such but only so she can study it. When it comes to prophesies and destinies or what-have-you, she thinks they’re all just ‘cultural stories’. She doesn’t really get it.”

Angel said nothing, but nodded sympathetically.

Doyle took another drink, then sighed. “Anyway, it’s done. The others aren’t back yet?”

“No, not yet,” Angel replied.

“Well,” Doyle said, finishing his drink. “Expect I should go call ma before Harry does then.” He set his glass down and crept around the side of the desk, giving Angel and wide berth as he headed for the stairs, and was up and out of sight before Angel could think of an intelligent thing to say.

On the baby monitor, Connor started to cry, shaking Angel from his stupor. At least he had something to occupy himself with, he thought as he trudged up the stairs. Who knew getting your best friend back could be so damn awkward?

+++

 

It was dark by the time the rest of them returned, but they returned triumphant. “Cordelia was brilliant!” Wesley crowed, and Fred cheered while Cordelia blushed. Soon Angel was swept into the story of it, smiling and laughing along as they each recounted their part, voices cutting over each other in their excitement, culminating in Cordelia proclaiming that she ought to get an Oscar for that particular performance.

Gunn poured them all a drink while Wesley bustled around hiding away not just the scrolls but a pile of translated notes as well. Fred hurried to help, which of course prompted Gunn to help… and suddenly, blessedly, Angel and Cordelia were alone.

“You did great,” he said, and she smiled, flushing under his praise.

“Thanks,” she replied, and they held each other’s eyes for a long, beautiful moment. Then she looked away and sighed. “It was… it was great, but they’ll be coming for us.”

“They always are,” Angel reminded.

“Yeah, but… now we have something to lose. More than one something, actually.” Connor and Doyle, Angel reflected, knowing without her needing to say.

“We’ll handle it,” he assured her. “We have to.”

She nodded. “Where is he?” she asked after a moment.

“Up in his room. He went out with Harry today. She wants him to come home with her. It… didn’t sit well with him.”

Cordelia nodded, understanding. “How is he?” she asked.

“The same.”

She sighed. “Angel, what are we going to do?”

He reached over and took her hand, giving it a squeeze. “I don’t know, Cordy. But… we just can’t rush him. When… when I came back… everything sounded wrong. It smelled wrong. It was too loud, and too fast, and I could barely make any sense of it. I didn’t remember Sunnydale, I didn’t remember any of the people… Doyle’s already doing better than that.”

“Yeah,” she acknowledged. “I just… it hurts me to see him shut himself off like that. The Doyle I remember talked to me. He wanted to be around me.”  She gave a little, sad laugh. “God, I sound so selfish.”

“It’s okay, Cordy,” Angel assured. “I feel the same way. He was my friend and he feels like a stranger. I’m worried about him too.”

She squeezed his hand back. “Thanks, Angel,” she said. Their eyes met again and that electric feeling suddenly arose again; Angel could practically feel the energy racing along his skin from the contact point of their fingers. Her brown eyes were locked with his. She opened her mouth; Angel’s heart would have quickened in anticipation if it were still beating.

Then a shout from behind the desk erupted, Wesley, crying, “My god! It’s all changed!” – and Cordelia looked abruptly away, her hand falling loose from Angel’s as she stood and moved to join the rest of the gang. The moment was gone.

Angel dawdled on his way over to the desk, nursing his wounds a little bit. Every time they got close, it seemed, something got in the way, and he was getting more than a little tired of it. Finally, he pushed the feeling aside and turned his attention to the young Brit, who was going back and forth between two texts, running his hands along them line by line and muttering to himself.

“What’s all changed?” Cordelia prompted as Angel settled in beside her.

“The prophesies! Look. Here’s an excerpt of the original prophesy – see, there’s the bit about the purification and ruination of mankind, followed by the bits about Connor’s birth. This is in Wolfram and Hart’s notes too – no birth, only death. But the actual scroll doesn’t say any of that anymore.”

“What do you mean?” Angel craned his neck to look, as though he’d be able to read any of it anyway.

“It’s all changed,” Wesley replied. “The scroll doesn’t match the scholarly commentaries anymore. It doesn’t match Wolfram and Hart’s own translations.”

“Maybe we got the wrong one,” Fred wondered.

Wesley shook his head. “Absolutely not,” he replied. “This is most definitely the original scroll, the one that Gunn and I acquired.”

“Stole,” Gunn corrected.

“Yes, well…”

“What does it say now?” Angel hurried to ask.

“It says… the one sired by the vampire with a soul will grow to manhood,” Wesley read. “And there’s a few words here that I’m not sure of… kill, definitely. And… Sahjhan? I don’t know what that is.”

“Maybe it’s a ‘who’,” Fred suggested. “Maybe Connor’s going to kill someone when he grows up.”

“A chip off the old block, eh?” Gunn said, punching Angel in the arm.

Angel grimaced. “I was kind of hoping he wouldn’t have to do stuff like that. I was thinking maybe he could be, you know, a doctor or something.”

“He’s the son of a vampire, Angel,” Wesley replied. “I’m afraid there’s very little chance of him having a normal life. In fact, I rather think he’s going to succeed you as champion.” He pointed to a bunch of squiggles on the original scroll. “Here it says, ‘the ruination of Sahjhan will rise and the vampire with a soul will shanshu.’” He pushed his glasses up on his nose. “Presuming that Sahjhan is a person, or demon, and that Connor is his ruination, that sounds to me like the Shansu prophesy will come true when Connor grows up and fulfills his own destiny.”

“That’s amazing,” Cordelia said. “It’ll be in our lifetime.” Her voice held the promise of all that could possibly mean for them. Angel felt a little weak in the knees.

“There’s so much to study here,” Wesley was carrying on, as if his pronouncement was no big deal. “I still don’t understand why the prophesy has changed. What could have possibly changed it?”

“Well, gee, Wes, what’s the latest weirdness to enter our lives?” Cordelia asked sarcastically. They all looked at her and she rolled her eyes. “Hello?” she said, “Doyle? Ring any bells?”

“What about me?” A quiet voice said, and they all jumped. Doyle was standing at the edge of the circular sofa, his arms crossed protectively in front of his chest.

“Doyle,” Cordelia said, with so much affection in her voice it made Angel want to wince. “We did it! We got the scrolls back just like you told us to from your vision. And there’s loads of important stuff in there that Wes is going to figure out.”

“That’s good,” Doyle replied, sounding a bit unsure.

“It is,” she promised, moving toward him but stopping a respectful distance away. “And we have you to thank. You really helped.”

It seemed to be the right thing to say. Doyle relaxed and smiled genuinely, ducking his head.

“Would you care to join us?” Wesley offered. As if on cue, Fred and Gunn both took a step back to clear a path around the desk, but Doyle just waved them off.

“No, thanks. Never was much for the books, myself. I think I’ll take a walk; clear my head. Maybe head over to Caritas and see if Lorne needs some help.” He waved his goodbyes and headed out, but Angel was relieved to see that his body language was far less tense.

Connor’s squawking echoed over the baby monitor and Angel turned toward the stairs, Cordelia joining him without a second thought. “How did you know that saying that would make Doyle feel better?” he asked her as the ascended.

She shrugged. “It’s what I always wanted to know when I had a vision,” she replied, and Angel was struck again by the depth of her emotional understanding.

“You’re a good friend, Cordy,” he told her, in place of the words he really wanted to say. By her smile and the way she brushed her fingers along the back of his arm, she seemed to understand.

Chapter Text

Saturday

 

Angel came down early the next morning with Connor on his hip – the baby had been restless and he’d finally concluded that more sleep was not to be had – and discovered Wesley hard at work with the scrolls, coffee in hand.

“Did you even go home last night?” he asked.

“No,” Wesley replied distractedly. The man looked exhausted.

“Wesley, take a break,” Angel said.

Wesley sighed, turning away from the scrolls and picking up his coffee. “You’re right, of course,” he said, but in that tone that meant he didn’t care in the least what Angel thought, actually. “It’s just so fascinating. The Nyazian prophesies seem to be converging with the Shanshu prophesies – the two texts agree on multiple points now – but not one of the scholarly studies of the Nyazian prophesies suggests there should be any kind of connection. And the text has been substantially altered. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Divine intervention,” Angel replied, tongue-in-cheek.

“Indeed,” Wesley continued, missing or ignoring the joke. “Undoubtedly such things have happened before – the intervention of the Powers that Be, I mean – but yet no one’s ever recorded these kinds of discrepancies. Perhaps they just never experienced it in real time like this. It’s remarkable.” He set his coffee mug down carefully and took his glasses off, rubbing the lenses against a corner of his shirt. “I wish that I still had privileges at the Council library. If anyone knows about changing prophesies, it would be them.”

The young man looked troubled, and Angel suspected he was drifting into rumination about his failed career as a Watcher. “What have you found so far, Wesley?” Angel redirected.

“Right, well – you remember a few weeks ago I mentioned a second account of the Shanshu prophesy.”

“Sure,” Angel said. He remembered no such thing, and Wesley’s face plainly told him he knew it, but he was warming up to having an audience to explain things to, and carried on.

“Well, I located a copy of the Nthir Mortuil at a used bookstore in Portland, Oregon, and had it shipped here.”

“What does it say?”

“It says that the vampire with a soul will be accompanied by a host who will guide and protect him on his mission,” Wesley pushed his glasses up on his nose. “And now, in the Nyazian prophesies, a similar host is mentioned as protecting the Ruination of Sahjhen – whom I am most certain is Connor. “ He picked up a text and read from it. “The name of the song; the provider of truths; the child gone to war. The hero barred from the gate and this one, here, the healer of vision.”

“The healer of vision,” Angel repeated. “That could be Doyle.”

“It very well could be,” Wesley agreed.

“You found something,” a new voice said, and they turned to see Doyle standing in the doorway.

“Uh, yes, as a matter of fact,” Wesley replied. “Something potentially quite important, actually.”

Doyled nodded. “The oracles, yeah?” he asked, looking at Angel.

“Not exactly, not anymore” Angel replied. “Now it’s a conduit.”

“Same difference. Loan me some shoes.”

+++

 

Wesley quickly called Gunn and half an hour later, with Doyle decked out in Wesley’s loafers, all four men headed off into the sewer. Angel hadn’t been able to keep any of them back. He was shocked at how quickly Gunn and Wesley had taken to Doyle, and he guessed he was grateful, although it was off-putting, like they were encroaching on his territory. He had to remind himself he didn’t own Doyle.

They wound their way through the parking garage where the entrance to the conduit was. “Well,” Angel said, pointing at spot 162, “This is it.”

“We just jump into the parking stall?” Gunn asked.

Angel shrugged. “Pretty much, yeah.”

“Okay.” Before Angel could take a step, Doyle crossed the threshold and disappeared.

“Damn it, Doyle!” Angel yelled.  He stepped over the line to go after him… and nothing happened.

“What’s wrong?” Gunn asked.

“Perhaps we can only go in one at a time,” Wesley suggested. He stuck a foot carefully into the stall and then stepped beside Angel. “It’s just concrete now,” he continued, stamping for emphasis.

“Damn it,” Angel swore again. “Why’d he do that?”

“Who needs answers more than he?” Wesley responded. Angel looked up. Both Gunn and Wes had puzzled looks on their faces. Angel suddenly realized that he was the one acting out of sorts.

“Right,” he said, acknowledging the truth. “I just… we just got him back. I don’t like this.”

“It’s okay, Angel,” Gunn answered. “We get it.”

They retreated out of the parking stall and stood in awkward silence. Minutes ticked by. Half an hour. Forty five.

Finally, Doyle reappeared, standing in the centre of the stall like he’d been there all along. His face was ashen and he had sweat on his brow.

“Doyle?” Angel said, taking a cautious step forward. Doyle tracked his movements without showing recognition, and then suddenly looked up to meet Angel’s gaze. Angel watched closely and saw the exact moment he was recognized. He took another step forward, reaching for the other man’s arm. “You alright?”

“Yeah,” Doyle replied, but he didn’t sound alright. His voice was low and tight. “Let’s go back to the hotel,” he suggested, stepping out of Angel’s grasp.

“You wanna tell me what happened?” Angel pursued him, Wes and Gunn falling into place at his heels.

“I got my answer,” Doyle replied. “The healing thing – it’s a gift from the Powers that Be. My chance to make a more fulsome contribution to the cause.”

“That’s… good, right?” Gunn asked hesitantly.

Doyle carried on as though the other man hadn’t spoken. “I made my mistake right, and they made theirs right.”

“Their mistake?” Angel repeated.

“I don’t want to talk about it.” He stalked away, not waiting for the others to catch up.

Angel exchanged a glance with Wes and Gunn. “We’ll walk him home,” Gunn said.

“And then hit the books,” Wes added.

“I’ll be in there,” Angel finished. He jumped into the parking stall and fell away.

+++

 

Why are you here? Your answers have been given.

“I need to know.”

Then ask the one who knows.

“He won’t tell me.”

It is his to tell or not tell. Your answers have been given.

“Just tell me – is he – is he going to be alright?”

Everything that is mortal eventually diminishes.

Your answers have been given.

You have all that you need.

“Just tell me what I need to know.”

It is not ours to tell.

+++

 

Angel wanted to scream in frustration as he resurfaced. He’d half expected Doyle to be waiting for him, like he had been in the hallway, but no one was there. There wasn’t a heart beating in the whole parking garage.

It wasn’t theirs to tell, and Doyle sure wasn’t talking… Angel sighed. He was pushing too hard. It had only been a few nights. Doyle needed more time. But the nagging feeling that something wasn’t right wouldn’t go away and he felt powerless against it. Angel wondered if this was how Buffy had felt, when she’d helped him – confused and afraid and impatient and constantly worried that whatever was happening wasn’t a normal part of the process but some sign he should be interpreting differently, a call to action he should be responding to. How could he possibly tell? The conduit wasn’t talking; Doyle wasn’t talking… how the hell was he supposed to figure it all out?

+++

 

He came back to an empty hotel, save Cordelia, pacing back and forth by the sewer entrance, tears on her face. “What did you do?” She shrieked when he came up, the metal plate clanging back into place behind him.

“What do you mean?” He asked.

“Doyle came back and he wouldn’t talk to anybody, he wouldn’t even look at me, and he was so upset! He just ran into his room and banged a lot of things around and then came out and took off.”

“Doyle’s out there alone?” Angel repeated.

“What do you think we are, stupid?” Cordelia shot back. “I sent Gunn after him. Fred talks too much and Wesley needs to research and Lorne can’t just waltz down any street he chooses and well, it was pretty clear he wasn’t going to be okay with me.” The last word came out thick and her anger crumpled into tears.

“I’m sorry, Cordy,” Angel said, rushing to pull her close. “We went to the conduit. He jumped in before I could stop him and when he came out, he was white as a ghost.”

“You let him go in there by himself?”

“I didn’t have a choice!” he protested.

“You know the PTB dumped him back here with his skin all burned off and you just let him go in to their lair without any back up!” She carried on, punching him in the arm, not even hearing his response. Angel gave up and just let her punch him until she tired of it and fell back into his embrace.

“Oh god, Angel, you should have seen his face. I’ve never seen anyone look so scared before.”

“We’ll figure this out, we always do,” he assured her, walking her up the stairs to the lobby with his arm around her shoulders. “Let’s just start by regrouping. Where is everybody?”

“Fred took Connor to the park. Lorne’s back at the club – still trying to salvage whatever he can. Wesley’s upstairs taking a nap – he was up all night, you know.”

“Hey, a little help here,” said a new voice, and they turned to see Gunn entering the room, supporting a stumbling Doyle.

“What the hell happened?” Cordelia demanded. “Was he drinking?”

“Nuh-uh, not this time,” Gunn replied. “This is all vision.”

Angel crossed to their side and helped take up some of Doyle’s weight. Two visions in as many days was never a good sign, he thought as, together, they dragged him to the couch and sat him down.

“Whiskey,” Doyle pleaded, one hand pressed to his temple.

“Got it,” Gunn replied.

“What did you see, Doyle?” Angel asked, repressing a strong feeling of déjà vu.

“The past,” he slurred.  Gunn pressed the drink into his hand and he downed it in one gulp.

“It was Holtz,” Gunn supplied. “He said his name.”

“His plan is unravelling,” Doyle said. “It’s like Wesley said - my coming here has changed something. Holtz knows it. He’s stepping up his game. Angel, where’s the boy?”

“Oh my god, Fred,” Cordelia gasped. Gunn turned to her. “She took Connor to the park.”

“I can’t go!” Angel exclaimed.  It was 1:30 in the afternoon.

“I’ll go,” Doyle said, lurching to his feet.

“You can barely walk,” Cordelia protested, and Angel winced, remembering his promise to that they’d take better care of him. 

Doyle shook his head at her concern. “Gunn and I can handle it,” he promised. “We better hurry,” he said to Gunn, who was already pulling down weapons.

+++

 

Cordelia woke Wesley who came down to join them in the wait. It seemed like a lifetime later that the others reappeared. Gunn was carrying Connor and Doyle, in full demon mode, was carrying Fred.

Cordelia gave a little cry, echoed by a sharp intake of breath from Wesley.

“What happened?” Angel demanded. Doyle didn’t even look up, just carried Fred over to the couch and lay her down.

“We found them safe enough,” Gunn filled in, out of breath, handing the baby over to Cordelia.  “On our way back we were ambushed. Holtz has a new crew; they’re human as far as we could tell. With guns. They shot Fred.”

“Oh my god,” Cordelia gasped, moving closer to the couch.

“Doyle, please,” Wesley whispered, trailing after her. Doyle hesitated a moment, then lifted Fred’s shirt and laid his hand across her belly. Beneath his hand, Angel could see the bloody exit wound of a bullet that had been shot through her back.

“Shot him too,” Gunn continued. “But he went all spikey face and it didn’t seem to slow him down.”

Angel glanced over and saw the blood leaking out of Doyle’s shoulder. That explained why he hadn’t gone back to human form. He was stronger in his demon visage, more able to manage the pain.

“It’s working,” Cordelia said just then, and Angel’s eyes snapped up to Fred. As they watched, the wound on her stomach began to close, sealing, scabbing, and scarring in the time it took for Wesley to let out a long, worried breath.

“Doyle?” Angel asked, as the man dropped back, his hand coming to his stomach. “You okay?”

“Apparently my magic powers don’t apply to me,” he grunted.

“Okay, let’s get you cleaned up then,” he said, reaching out for him, just as Fred’s eyes fluttered open.

“What happened?” She said. Gunn, Cordelia and Wesley’s voices clamoured out, trying to answer, and Doyle groaned.

“Come on,” Angel whispered, urging him away from the fray. He led him back to the office and tugged off the shirt. The sympathetic wound on his stomach was already fading into a scar, but the wound on his shoulder continued to bleed. Knowing from experience that faster was better, Angel dug the bullet out of the muscle quickly and smoothly. Doyle cried out anyway.

“It looks okay,” Angel soothed, checking the bullet hole.

“Great,” Doyle muttered in reply. “Where’s my scotch?”

Angel just smiled, cleaning the wound as quickly as he could. Doyle grimaced and shuddered, his demon form dissipating. He was tense under Angel’s touch. “There, just a bandage…” Angel narrated to try and calm the other man’s nerves, and then covered the wound, “And you’re all set.”

Doyle nodded and Angel moved back, giving the other man some space. “Doyle,” he said. “Thanks.”

“I guess that’s what I’m here for,” he commented back. “Angel – we need to talk.”

“Yeah?” Angel would have held his breath, if he was still breathing. Finally, he thought.

“About Holtz. I didn’t understand the vision. If Gunn hadn’t been there… I need to know what’s going on.”

“Oh, right. Of course,” Angel sat down beside him, swallowing his disappointment. “Okay, well… so back in the late 1700s…”

+++

 

Fred was waiting for them when they emerged. “Thank you, Doyle,” she said, reaching up and planting a kiss on his cheek. He backed away from the touch, but smiled.

“Do you think he’s here because of Holtz?” Cordelia asked, stepping up to Angel quietly.

“I don’t know,” Angel replied honestly. “With the whole Nyazian thing…it feels bigger than that.”

“Well, I’m glad he’s here, regardless,” she answered.

“Me too,” Angel said. He felt a little tightening in his chest, though, watching Doyle shuffle in embarrassment under the praise that Wesley was now heaping on him. An idle part of his mind noted that while Gunn kept trying to pat Doyle on the back, Wesley never touched him. Part of the reason that Doyle preferred Wesley’s company, perhaps. That, and if anyone was going to find answers, it would be Wes.

Angel sighed. Answers were in short supply, but he had no end of worries. If the Powers that Be had sent Doyle to protect his team, then they were cleaning up Angel’s mess, and the other man was suffering for it. Holtz was his fault.

Your answers have been given, he thought, recalling the conduit’s words. You have everything you need. Angel folded his arms, his brow furrowed. He was more and more certain that he wasn’t going to like the answers when he finally worked them out.

+++

 

After a while the furor seemed to die down and everyone started to settle. Gunn took Fred up to her room to rest. Wesley watched them with a twisted look of self-loathing and regret on his face which he quickly schooled into indifference when Cordelia walked over to ask him how the research was going. As Angel looked on, Cordelia rubbed Wesley’s arm sympathetically, and he once again reflected on how empathetic she’d become in the few short years since he’d first met her.

“She’s something, isn’t she?” A quiet voice said beside him, and he looked over to see Doyle standing nearby. He was still pale; his injured arm hung in a makeshift sling and his good hand was wrapped around one of the bottles he’d brought home with Lorne.

“She is,” Angel replied, sighing.

“I’m sorry, man,” Doyle said, genuinely, and Angel knew exactly what he meant – I’m sorry you had to fall in love again; I’m sorry you can never have what you want.

“It won’t be forever,” Angel replied. “Not if what Wes says is true.” It’ll be in our lifetime, Cordelia had said. Angel felt hope blooming in his heart.

“Right.” Doyle’s voice was flat and Angel shook himself out of his daydream, turning to look fully at his friend.

“Doyle,” he started, not sure what to say. “Believe me, I know how hard it is to be a… overshadowed by some great big destiny.”

Doyle rolled his eyes and started to turn away. Desperate not to lose the moment of connection, Angel grabbed his good arm, trying to pull him gently back.

“Get off me!” Doyle exclaimed, yanking his arm away so hard that he made himself stumble. Angel stared at him in shock. “Sorry,” Doyle added, meeting Angel’s gaze, face tight. “Sorry – I just – I – please don’t touch me right now.”

“Why?” Angel asked before he could stop himself.

“I can’t – I can’t deal with it, okay? Please, Angel. It’s just too much.”

“I know you’re scared about your new power, Doyle. I can only imagine how confusing it must be.” He took a cautious step toward his friend, stopping when Doyle stumbled back.

“You don’t understand!” Doyle exclaimed. “It’s not just healing… it’s feeling, Angel. I can feel what you’re feeling when I touch you. Not just when someone is hurt. Anytime someone touches me, I can feel it. And it’s… it’s too much right now. I was – for a long time, I was…” He trailed off, took a breath, and tried again. “I need to be able to figure out my own stuff.”

Angel felt almost sick with sympathy. “I’m sorry,” he said softly. “I didn’t know.”

“I mean with Gunn and Fred and Wes – they have feelings, yeah, but they aren’t personal. It’s not so heavy. With you and Cordelia…”

“It’s overwhelming,” Angel summarized.

“I’m… I feel like I’m barely here already.” Doyle shuddered.

“You feel like you’re losing yourself.”

Doyle nodded, his anxiety plain on his face. “Please, Angel, I don’t want to leave. I don’t want to have to go. Please tell me you can accept this. I don’t know where I’d go.”

Angel’s eyes widened. “Doyle!” he exclaimed, his hands automatically coming to reach for his friend. He quickly pulled back and tucked them in his pockets. “Nothing you could do would make you unwelcome. Hell, Fred hid in her room for three months straight, and she’s still here. I swear. No matter what it takes for you to feel safe – if you spend the rest of your life on the other side of the room, I don’t care. You are never going to be forced out. I can’t believe you’d even think that.”

“It’s your home, Angel. Your family.”

“Our home, I promise. I promise, Doyle.”

“Okay.” The other man looked away, cheeks flushed, and Angel stepped back to give him a bit of breathing space.

He settled himself down on the couch, and after a moment, Doyle slid down beside him. They passed the bottle back and forth for a while. “You should tell Cordy,” he said after a while.

“I will,” Doyle promised. “Just… not yet. She’d try to change the way she acts and I just… I need my feet under me a little more before we do all that. Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Angel assured, handing the bottle over.

Chapter Text

Sunday

 

Doyle had been surprisingly compliant when Angel decided it was time to stop drinking and go to bed, letting the vampire steer him into the bedroom and pull the covers over him after he collapsed upon the mattress. Reflecting on it the next morning as he surreptitiously listened to Doyle’s gentle breathing through the door, Angel decided that finally spilling his secret must have allowed him to let go a little, to trust that Angel was looking out for him. He resolved to let the man sleep for a year if that’s what he needed, and crept down the stairs, jiggling Connor up and down to keep him quiet.

Cordelia met him in the lobby. “How is he today?” she asked anxiously.

“Better,” he replied. “I think he’s better. He’s still sleeping. We… talked last night.”

“At least he’s talking to one of us,” she grumbled.

“I’m sorry,” he said sympathetically, touching her arm. “He’s dealing with a lot and he’s really overwhelmed. I think he just wants to feel a bit more grounded before he does the big heart to heart, you know?”

She sighed, but nodded. “I get it,” she answered. “I do. I just... all I want to do is give him a really big hug, you know? And tell him I love him.”

“Right, of course.” Angel dropped his hand from her arm.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, looking up.

He quickly schooled his expression into something he hoped was neutral. “Nothing,” he lied. “I just – you know, we were up all night talking, I’m just really bushed. Would you mind taking Connor for a few hours so I can rest?”

He handed her the baby before she could really react and turned on his heel, heading down to the basement, into the cool darkness that he knew so well. If he’d had a heartbeat, he knew it would be hammering right now. Cordelia loved Doyle – and Doyle would know it the second they touched – and that would be the end of everything…

That’s not fair, he scolded himself. Doyle needs us both right now. Stop acting like you’re in high school. His body eased into his tai chi routine and he did the moves over and over and over again, until his brain finally shut up and he was just there, in the flow, one move at a time.

+++

 

He resurfaced around noon, much calmer, and fed his son while Cordelia and Fred chattered away around him about nothing much of substance. He put Connor down for a nap and checked in on Doyle, who was still, or again, asleep. Looking down at the troubled young man, he felt all vestiges of anger drain away. Doyle was nothing more than a helpless soul that needed his help, he thought. He watched him sleep for a while before heading back down.

“Maybe we should wake him up,” Cordelia suggested.

“Just let him be,” Wesley replied before Angel could, sparing him the need to get between Cordelia and Doyle yet again. “He’s been through a horrific ordeal and he’s bound to be exhausted. Hell, we all are – it’s quite a week we’ve had.” Wesley still had the dark circles under his eyes to prove it.

“I know,” she said. “I just – I don’t even know what to do with myself.” Fred echoed her agreement.

“Well!” Wesley said in his take-charge voice. “In that case, I may be able to be of some assistance. If I recall correctly, we still have two clients from last month who haven’t paid their bills. Perhaps now might be a good time to make some telephone calls. And Fred, I believe you had planned to cross-reference Bristow’s Demon Index with Fassad’s Guide this week?”

“Yes, I did say I’d do that,” Fred agreed reluctantly.

“And we haven’t sharpened those axes in quite some time,” Wesley continued.

“On it,” Gunn sighed.

“And don’t think I’ve forgotten about you, Angel. I’ve a whole list of magical supplies that we’re running low on, and I believe there’s a direct line in the sewer from here to Korea Town.”

Angel took the proffered list, but hesitated. “Don’t worry,” Wesley said. “We’ll all be here, hard at work, if anything happens with Connor – or Doyle.”

“You run a tight ship, Wesley,” Angel replied, sticking the list in his pocket.

+++

 

Truth be told, it was kind of nice to have something to do, and Angel had forgotten how much he liked the demons down in Korea Town. He shopped and gossiped and accepted congratulations on his newborn son. A few demons seemed to know about Holtz, more or less, and one even acknowledged that the name Sahjhen was familiar, though it couldn’t remember from what context, and Angel remembered how important it was to get out there and mingle from time to time.

Stopping at the Lotus Spa was the highlight of his time out. He hadn’t seen Geong Hye since a few days after Doyle had died, when he and Wesley had tracked the Kongai demon to her facility, and she seemed happy to see him. With characteristic mystery and simplicity, she congratulated him on the birth of his son and the return of his brother, and then sent him away before he could ask how on earth she knew about Doyle.

He was kind of excited to get back and share the bits and pieces he’d picked up while he’d been gone. The sun was already going down when he left the Lotus Spa, and he hurried toward home, not having realized how long he’d been gone.

Raised voices greeted him when he walked into the Hyperion.

“I don’t understand what I did!” Cordelia was saying, her voice loud and pleading.

“It’s not you, love, I promise,” Angel heard Doyle reply. “Please – I just –”

“Don’t walk away from me, Doyle, please.”

“Leave him alone, Cordelia,” Gunn’s voice cut in just as Angel crossed into the lobby. He arrived in time to see Cordy wheel on Gunn and demand he keep his nose out of it.

“He’s just trying to help,” Fred said, but subsided quickly as Cordelia whirled around on her.

“What’s going on?” Angel asked Wesley, who was hovering off to the side.

“Doyle finally came down, and Cordelia, well, she… I suppose the word is ‘launched’ herself at him, to embrace him. He didn’t take it well.”

Angel’s heart sank. Cordelia, having put Fred in her place, was advancing on Doyle, who was backed against the wall across from the sofa. 

“Doyle, I’m not trying to hurt you. I just want to know what’s going on.” She was not going to let up. Doyle shifted uneasily to the left, but Cordy moved fast when she wanted to. “Oh no, you don’t, Mister,” she said, grabbing his good arm.

“Get off!” Doyle roared, surprising everyone. His spikes burst through as he changed into his demon form and he shoved Cordelia away from him, hard, sending her flying back into the couch. Cordelia immediately burst into tears. Doyle’s demon face faded as quickly as it had come; he looked absolutely stricken.

“Doyle, please,” Angel said, reaching out to his friend before he could stop himself. Doyle pulled away with a savagery Angel didn’t think he’d ever see on the other man’s face.

“Leave it alone!” He countered, voice rising. Angel could hear the other man’s heart racing.

“Okay, please, just stop and talk to me,” Angel tried again. “Look, I know – when Buffy came back, she told me how hard it was…”

“Buffy?” Doyle spat. “I am nothing like Buffy.”

“I know – that’s not what I meant, Doyle, I just meant I can only imagine what it must have been like to… to go through that, after having been in heaven, with the jumble of everyone’s feelings on top of it all–”

Doyle laughed, a cruel, humourless sound. “Demons don’t go to heaven, Angel,” he interrupted darkly.

Angel felt like a sledgehammer had hit him. “Demons don’t…” he repeated stupidly.

“Oh, God,” Cordelia breathed.

“The hero barred from the gate,” Wesley echoed behind her, lowering his head in shame. “Of course.”

“Right in one, English,” Doyle answered. Angel could smell the pain and rage pouring off the other man.

“Doyle,” Cordelia said, coming off the couch. She stopped in her tracks when Doyle stepped back, raising his hands instinctively against her.

“Where were you?” Angel asked.

Doyle looked over at him balefully. “Where d’you think I was?” he sneered. Angel couldn’t find words. Doyle shook his head, swallowing hard, and turned on his heel, storming off into the courtyard and beyond into the darkened street.

“Doyle!” Cordelia said again, her voice breaking. She started after him but Angel caught her arm.

“Give him a second,” he said.

“Angel,” Wesley spoke up, “As much as I agree with the instinct to give him space, Holtz is still out there… no one should be going off alone.”

“Wesley’s right,” Cordelia affirmed, and Gunn and Fred were both nodding their assent.

“He can’t heal himself, remember?” Fred added for good measure.

“I’m not going to leave him alone,” Angel assured them. “I’m just going to give him a head start. He needs that before I go after him.”

“Before we go,” Cordelia corrected, and her tone brooked no argument.

+++

 

She was much less certain when they were in the actual car, though. “How are we going to find him?” she moaned. “He knows LA way better than we do.”

Angel glanced at her worried face. “I think I know where he went,” he replied.

“You do? How?”

“It’s where I would have gone.”

“And that would be?” Angel didn’t answer for a moment and, as he suspected, Cordelia reached the same conclusion a moment later. “He went back to the docks, didn’t he?”

“That’s what I’m thinking.”

Cordelia sniffled and out of the corner of his eye Angel could see her forcing back tears. “He’s going to be okay, Cordy,” he said, reaching out to hold her hand without even thinking about it.

“You don’t know that,” she replied, but she grabbed his hand and held on tight anyway.

“I was,” Angel answered. “Fred is. Buffy is… getting there.”

“None of those are the same thing,” Cordelia sniffed. Then she collapsed back on her seat and sighed. “I am 21 years old,” she announced. “Don’t you think it’s kind of wrong that I know four people who have returned from an alternate dimension? And three of them aren’t even on the hellmouth.”

“Well, technically…”

“Shut up, Angel.”

Angel shut up. They pulled into the empty lot and parked, heading toward the eastern berths where the Quintessa had anchored over two years ago… where Doyle had died. A different boat was docked tonight and a lone figure stood on the catwalk, staring out at it sightlessly. He didn’t turn when Angel and Cordelia made their way over, but he didn’t leave, either. They all stood in silence for a moment.

Angel braced for an argument, but Doyle didn’t seem to have any energy left. “I don’t know what I thought I’d see here,” the younger man said finally, his voice soft and flat. “It’s been…two years, yeah?” Angel nodded. “Two years. Of course the damn thing wouldn’t be here anymore.”

“There was nothing left of it after…” Angel started. He couldn’t bring himself to say it.

Doyle’s face twisted into an ugly grimace. “After I died,” he finished for the other man, his tone bitter.

“Doyle,” Cordelia breathed. He glanced at her and then looked away, his expression hardly changing.

“I keep going over it,” he explained, leaning on the catwalk, pressing his face against the heavy chains. “What they told me. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.”

“Humans aren’t strong enough to carry the visions,” Cordelia said.

Doyle shook his head. “Not just that,” he said. “None of it. They were supposed to get on the boat and sail away before the Scourge made it to the dock. It was that stupid kid.”

Cordelia looked back at him, totally confused, but Angel suddenly understood. “Free will,” he said.

“Exactly,” Doyle replied, turning away from the boat to lean his back against the catwalk, facing the other two. His voice was rising, the accent stronger as he gained steam. “The kid responded to our appearance by exercising his free will to get t’hell out of there. Everything got delayed and the only alternative was…”

“Your sacrifice.”

“Which entailed giving Cordelia the visions, I mean someone had to take ‘em, man, or your mission…”

Angel shook that thought away with a wave of his hand. Cordelia was holding very still beside him.

“But they weren’t ready,” Doyle continued after a moment, bitterness back in his tone. “See, there are rules you gotta follow. There are deals they gotta make. They weren’t ready for a demon hero. So I… I…” He choked and looked away. “The healing thing was their apology. Makes me good so that…so that next time…”

Cordelia reached for him, finally, and he startled at her touch but didn’t pull away. He let her put one hand on his arm, one hand sliding up to his back in a half embrace. Angel moved in, closing the space on the other side. Doyle watched him move, his eyes darting back and forth between the two of them as he saw his escape route narrowing. Angel could hear his breath quicken; could see the pulse pounding in his throat.

“Please tell us, Doyle,” Cordelia whispered. “You can tell us.”

He looked down at her, anguished, and shook his head.

“Where were you?” Angel asked, drawing on Cordelia’s strength, determined not to give in this time.

Doyle tore his eyes away, looking hopelessly up at the sky, and then finally looked back. “I can’t, Angel. Just… let it be.”

“No,” Cordelia responded before Angel could, surprising both men. “No, you can’t keep avoiding this. Doyle – we love you. Do you know that? We love you. Talk to us.” She peered up into his face desperately, and he swallowed hard and looked away.

When he raised his head again, there were tears in his eyes. He looked slightly down at Angel’s chin, unable to quite make eye contact. “Burning,” he whispered. “I was just… burning, the whole time.”

“Oh god,” Cordelia said, pressing into him, embracing him. Doyle stiffened against the touch for a moment and then seemed to break, sagging against her. He rested his head on hers, his good arm coming up around her back, and looked over her at Angel.

“They told me, they told me that I wasn’t supposed to be finished yet. That I was an important part of your mission. They told me that they had to correct their mistake. But their mistake, it was, it wasn’t…”

“It was you dying, not… not where you went. That was just a by-product.”

Doyle nodded, his expression twisting in misery, and Angel stepped in closer, pushing Cordelia along with him so he could wrap his arms around them both. Doyle’s hand came up to cling to Angel’s coat. He pushed his face into Angel’s shoulder. “They put me on hold,” Doyle finally finished, and the tears were falling. “They left me there because they didn’t know how to fix it so they just left me there, in my last moments, dying. Angel, man, they left me there.”

Cordelia was crying too, weeping into Doyle’s shoulder just as he was crying into Angel’s. Doyle shuddered in Angel’s grip, his breath catching.

“And I thought… the whole time I thought… I guess I don’t get a – a hero’s ending. Barred from the gate, like Wesley said. I thought, well, a half-breed saving half-breeds, what’s that even worth? I’m just stupid and worthless and that’s why they left me.”

“No!” Cordelia said with vehemence. She pushed back against Angel so that she could look up at Doyle, grabbing his chin to make him look her. “Don’t you ever say that,” she told him. “You are not stupid and you are not worthless.” Doyle lowered his eyes. “You’re not worthless to me,” she continued.  “Doyle, we love you. Angel and I love you. Fred and Wesley and Gunn, they’re going to love you. Pretty sure Lorne already loves you.”

Doyle managed a little laugh, nodding. Angel pulled them both back in, holding close, blinking back his tears.

+++

 

The ride home was nearly silent. Angel drove with Doyle smushed unfairly in the middle and Cordelia plastered to him on the other side. Cordelia was still crying and Doyle’s eyes leaked from time to time. They pulled up in front of the Hyperion and clambered out, Cordelia only letting go of Doyle’s hand long enough for him to push himself to his feet. Angel found himself walking close on Doyle’s other side, his hand on his friend’s back. For the first time since the night he’d arrived, Doyle didn’t seem to mind.

They stood outside for a moment. Doyle was trembling under his hand. “Take your time,” Angel murmured, but Doyle squared his shoulders, taking a deep breath.

“Not like they’ve never witnessed a total breakdown before, yeah?”

Cordelia laughed. “One or two,” she confirmed. Doyle led them forward.

They walked in to find Fred, Wesley, Gunn, and even Lorne all studiously reading. “I didn’t know you spoke Sloggoth,” Doyle remarked, and Angel followed the other man’s gaze to see that Gunn’s book wasn’t in English.

“I, yeah, I just like looking at the pictures,” Gunn replied, shrugging. Doyle smirked and Gunn smirked back.

“All good, English?” Doyle said, looking past him to Wesley, who actually did appear to be reading.

“I’ve found nine new references to Brachen demon evolution, if you’d care to take a look. This one suggests they may one day grow horns.”

Fred couldn’t contain her laughter.

“Maybe tomorrow,” Doyle replied, his smile expanding. Angel felt something loosen around his heart. “Hey Lorne, save me any?”

Lorne looked guiltily at the empty glass by his hand. “Sorry, sweets,” he replied. “We’re down to O-positive and formula here.”

“We’ll go shopping tomorrow,” Cordelia promised, and Doyle nodded.

“Okay. I think I want to lie down,” Doyle answered, and Cordelia started to pull away. “No, uh, Princess…um…” Angel watched him struggle and realized he didn’t want to be alone.

“I’ll walk you up,” she offered, figuring it out. He stepped away so they could get by, and tracked them as they made their way up the stairs.

“How’s he doing?” Wesley had come up beside him.

“Not great,” Angel replied. “But better. He was… he spent the last two years stuck in the moment of his death.”

“That’s horrible,” Fred shuddered.

“Yeah. But at least he told us.”

“It’s the hardest part,” she agreed, and Angel glanced up to see her knowing look. Fred knew. Hell, they all knew about getting through something awful. Doyle was in good company.

“He’s gonna be okay,” Gunn affirmed.

“Of course,” Wesley said. “We’ll see to it.”

+++

 

Cordelia didn’t come back down, even after everyone else had drifted home or to bed. Fred had put the baby to bed while they were out retrieving Doyle, and Angel could hear his soft breathing on the monitor. He listened to it for a while, letting it soothe him, a balm for an emotionally wringing day.

After a while, though, it bothered him that Cordelia hadn’t come back down. He knew it wasn’t fair – knew Doyle was the more important man to attend to – but… that little stab of envy returned. He climbed the stairs, telling himself to go be with his son, but as soon as he reached the floor he knew he’d be walking right past his own room and into Doyle’s.

He paused at the door and listened, but couldn’t hear anything but breathing. Two heartbeats, and breathing. They were asleep. Together.  His hand rested on the door handle, but he couldn’t bring himself to open it.

It made sense, he thought. Doyle needed someone to love him. God knows, Cordelia deserved someone who could love her back. The right thing to do would be to get the hell out of the way.

Angel turned away, mindlessly intent on slipping away into the darkness, when Connor stirred and murmured. The sound froze him in place. He couldn’t just run away this time, like he’d done with – to – Buffy two years’ prior. He had a child. It wouldn’t be fair to Connor, or Cordelia, to separate them – and, when he reflected on it seriously, it would be dangerous. Connor was safer surrounded by the friends he’d collected since he’d come to LA.

The name of the song; the provider of truths; the child gone to war; the hero barred from the gate and the healer of vision. That’s what Wesley had said – the host who would be fighting at his side when he became mortal; the host that would protect the ‘ruination of Sahjhen’. He couldn’t take Connor away from them. And he could never abandon his son.

That only left one option: he’d just have to live with it. For Cordelia, for Doyle, for Connor… he’d have to find a way.

Angel slunk into his room and laid down on his bed, throwing a hand over his eyes. He could do it. He could cut himself off from his feelings for her… he could lose her to Doyle.

He’d have to.

Chapter Text

Monday

 

He woke late in the morning from a dead, dreamless sleep that he couldn’t recall falling into. His heart ached as he changed, fed, and dressed his son and then dressed himself and headed down the stairs. What would they be doing? He imagined them together, Cordelia leaning against Doyle’s wiry frame, his arm around her, them gazing into each other’s eyes…

They were nowhere to be seen.

Wesley was once again nose-deep in books. Lorne’s singing floated through the lobby, distant – in the kitchen, Angel guessed. Fred and Gunn were also absent. The office door was closed.

“Cordelia and Doyle are in there and asked not to be disturbed,” Wes said, not looking up, as Angel headed for his office.

“I want coffee,” Angel tried.

“The pot has always been out here,” Wesley replied, pointing it out on the front desk.

“Oh. Well, I need my – ”

“You need nothing, and you know it,” Wesley countered. “Cordelia told me she wanted some time alone with Doyle. So we’re going to leave them alone.”

“Right.” Angel fussed with the coffee pot, edging closer to the hall.

“Don’t even think about it, Mister,” a new voice said. He looked up to see Fred sitting in a chair outside his office, feet curled underneath her and book in hand.

“I’m not going in,” he said defensively.

“Sure, no,” Fred replied. “You were just going to stand in the hall and eavesdrop.”

“Isn’t that what you’re doing?”

“No,” Fred countered. “I’m on guard duty. To prevent certain vampires with supernatural hearing from listening in on conversations that are none of their business.”

“Cordy asked you to stand watch?”

“You got it,” said a third voice. Gunn had come up the hall, carrying a couple of axes. He leaned on one now. “And she asked me to distract you. So come on, let’s spar, and leave them two alone.”

Angel opened up his mouth to protest, and then imagined the look that Cordelia would give him if he ignored the less-than-subtle command to stay away. “Spar, right,” he mumbled. Fred reached up and took the baby from him, and he followed Gunn away. They didn’t spar, of course. It was all a ruse that everyone was in on. But he stayed obediently with Gunn until he heard her soft footfalls entering the room. Connor was in her arms now, like he was her own.

“See ya,” Gunn said, half-jogging out of the room.

“Are you – are you okay?” he asked.

She nodded. “We had a good talk,” She said. “He finally told me, about the whole touching-feeling thing. I think we’re going to be okay.”

“That’s good.”

“I’m so happy she’s back,” she continued.

He nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

“Oh my god, would you get over yourself?” she finished up.

“Huh?” He looked up and saw that her smile had faded into a look of pure annoyance that only Cordelia could really manage.

“Stop sulking already!” She strode over to him. “We’re a family, Angel. Doyle knows it.”

“But you and he – you kissed, and…”

“To give the visions back, duh.”

“No, before that, before he… died.” Angel fumbled over the words.

Cordelia rolled her eyes. “That was two years ago,” she huffed. “And with what he was going through… I wasn’t top of mind, okay?” He heard the undercurrent of pain.  Connor squawked her arms.

“Okay,” Angel said, standing up to take the baby, brushing her shoulders before he did so. “I’m sorry. I’m glad you had a good talk.” Connor squirmed and spit.

“Oh, give him to me,” Cordelia replied, reaching back for the baby. “All this broodiness makes Connor cranky. Just… we’re fine, Angel. And Doyle’s good. He’s just looking to find his place again. He just needs his friends.”  She stressed the last word, looking at him pointedly, and he felt like kicking himself. They were just friends. She must have seen something change in his expression because suddenly she smiled, that big, sunny, Cordelia smile that made everything seem okay.

“Okay,” he said, goofily smiling back. Holtz was still out there. The big thing was still coming. But Doyle was better and Cordy was smiling; his son was healthy and his friends were safe. “Okay,” he said again, reaching out for her.

“Let’s go shopping,” she said. “Doyle needs shoes and Connor’s already growing out of these onesies.” She cooed at the baby, tickling his feet.

“It’s 10 in the morning,” he argued.

“We can take the subway to the outlet mall.”

+++

 

They returned to the lobby arm in arm a few hours later, Connor tucked against Angel’s chest on one side and Cordelia’s hand warm against his elbow on the other. It had been a crazy week. They deserved a rest, he thought, and opened his mouth to tell Fred, Gunn, and Wesley as much as they approached them. But Fred cut him off, speaking first. “We have a problem,” she said.

Angel’s heart fell. He glanced around wildly as though he’d be able to spot it. “What happened?” he asked. “Is there something in the scrolls?”

Fred shook her head impatiently. “They,” she replied, pointing, “spent all our petty cash.” He followed her finger to the edge of the courtyard, where Doyle and Lorne were huddled, giggling, bottles in hand. “On booze,” Fred added unnecessarily.

Cordelia clicked her tongue against her teeth. “Okay, next mission, get Doyle into demon detox,” she declared. Angel laughed, but Wesley just cast a worried look in Doyle’s direction and Gunn crossed his arms.

“The electric bill just came in,” Gunn said. “We were gonna use that money to keep the lights on.”

“Well, we’ll just have to dip into our operational funds,” Angel said. Wesley pinched the bridge of his nose, the way he always did when Angel blundered into the business affairs as though he were still in charge. “If that makes sense to you, Wesley,” Angel hastened to add.

“It would, if we had any operational funds,” Wesley replied. “We haven’t had a paying job in quite some time.” All three of them cast meaningful looks at the baby in Angel’s arms.

“Right.” He cast his mind back toward his collection, wondering whether he had any antiques left worth selling.

“Why all the long faces?” a new voice asked. Doyle and Lorne had sensed a group meeting was going on and wandered over.

“You drank all our petty cash!” Fred exclaimed.

Doyle grinned. “Aye – but I also won ya $400 at the craps table,” he answered, pulling a wad of cash out of his pocket.

“I’ll take that,” Gunn said, snatching up the money. “We have bills to pay, you know.”

Doyle raised a hand in apology. “I’m almost done with the bender, I promise,” he said, but he was speaking to Angel. Angel nodded his understanding. “Thanks, man,” Doyle added, quietly. Louder, to the rest of the group, he said, “Y’know, if you want to make some money in this gig, you’ve really got to advertise.”

“Oh my god,” Cordelia said, “I’ve been saying that for years!”

“That’s because you’re smarter than the rest of us, princess,” Doyle replied with a wink.

“Advertise how?” Fred asked.

“Build a website; put up some flyers. Get t’ word out, you know?”

“That’s not a bad idea,” said Wesley.

“Well, I’m not just a pretty face,” Doyle said, and then sneezed, his face darkening and exploding into spikes. In Angel’s arms, Connor squealed in delight.

“Let’s get started, then,” Angel said. “Connor’s college fund isn’t going to build itself.”

“College fund?” Cordelia asked.

“That’s right,” Angel replied. “He can be a doctor that brings about the ruination of Sahjhan. Or a lawyer.” He got universal dirty looks from all his friends. “Okay, maybe not a lawyer,” he amended.

“He could be a teacher,” Doyle offered.

“Or an actor!” Gunn said, smirking at Cordelia.

“Club owner,” Fred offered, pointing at Lorne.

“Physicist,” Lorne shot back.

“Rogue demon hunter!” Cordelia and Wesley said together, bursting into laughter.

Angel grinned and jiggled the baby on his hip. “Good day to be not-dead, yeah?” Doyle said quietly, suddenly at his side.

He looked over at his friend and deliberately reached out to touch his arm, concentrating on the warmth and love and gratitude he felt. Doyle’s eyes widened and misted over, but he smiled.

“Sure is,” Angel murmured back, and Doyle didn’t move away.