Title: Fragments
Author: Dusk (dusk@goldserve.net)
Pairing: None (gen?) Doyle, Host
Rating: PG for mild language
Archive/repost: I'm not sure if my usual places will want this, since it doesn't have any particular pairing, but if you want it, let me know. Also, if anybody knows of any appropriate places to post this....
Disclaimer: Not mine. No profit made. Just telling a story.
Summary: Set before the start of season 1, Doyle receives some unexpected help with his new gift.
Comments: This idea came to me when I was watching some of the early episodes and at the same time was online, discussing the most recent ones. It could well be considered AU, I leave that up to the reader. I prefer to think of it as a 'maybe', since it doesn't actually contradict canon. I'd appreciate feedback on whether it works or not. Thanks to Cleo for the title :)
Posted: May '01


***

He walked quickly from the open doorway into the shadows cast by a neighbouring building, checking to be sure he was alone before he could relax. Too close. Just when he thought he finally had his demon form under control... but the moment he let his guard down, it started to surface. Must be the stress that was affecting him.

Was it too much to ask to have a drink in peace?

He walked along the streets aimlessly, keeping to the shadows. He couldn't even go into a bar... something odd about a figure passing him caught his eye and he watched it walk away. Not human, he was sure, though what it was that told him that, he couldn't say. How could people not see it? But then he never had, until... this. Never gave it a thought.

The figure disappeared into a doorway. Faint sounds of music could be heard and Doyle stood still for a moment, thinking. Making a decision, he crossed the street and walked through the doorway.

He nearly turned around again when he saw the inside. Loud music, crowded, humans and demons of more species than he could count. Not what he wanted. But then, what were his options? Where else could he get a beer and not have to worry about an accidental slip-up?

He made his way to the bar and seated himself, naming a brand of beer, only wondering afterwards if a place like this would even stock it.

The barman set the bottle in front of him. Obviously they did. He took a long swallow and did his best to look inconspicuous.

The feeling hit him again, the sense of something hiding under his skin, slipping it's leash, straining to be free. It was getting harder and harder to keep it in.

Doyle gripped his beer bottle and gave in. He shook his head, letting his face settle into demon form, then quickly looked around. Habit, of course, because here nobody even blinked. That was why he'd come here, wasn't it? Not so long ago that he hadn't even know places like this existed.

He took a reassuring swig from the bottle, glad that even a place like this would stock the good stuff; something familiar in the midst of the truly bizarre. Alcohol. Always a friend.

Somebody tapped him on the shoulder, and he ignored them.

"Nice shift there, Brakken. Haven't seen you here before."

"Doyle," Doyle muttered, not looking up. "Not Brakken."

"Doyle, then."

He glanced around at the tall figure behind him. Great. More demons.

"What do you want?" he said, turning back to his beer. Why couldn't people leave him alone?

The demon refused to leave. "A little bird told me you need help."

Doyle shook his head. "If you're talking to the birds, maybe you've had one too many, don't you think?"

"Specifically, it wasn't a bird, it was a vision."

That caught his attention and he turned around again. "Look, don't talk to me about visions, okay? I've had it up to here with visions. I really don't want to know. I just want a drink."

"You don't need a drink, my friend."

"I'm not your friend," Doyle said bitterly. "I don't even know you." And I don't want to, he thought. I don't want any of this. I don't even want to be here.

"Well, now you do," he was told. "I'm the Host and this is my bar."

Doyle shrugged. So what? "That's great. Could you maybe just leave me to get drunk in peace?"

The Host sat down on the barstool next to him. "And now with the hostility. Not best way to treat someone who's trying to help you."

Doyle slammed his nearly empty bottle down on the bar a little harder than he intended to, making himself jump. "Look, man, will you get it through your skull that I don't want your help?"

The Host raised one eyebrow. "Too bad. You need it."

"Oh, and why would that be? If you're going to give me the embrace-your-demon-side talk, don't bother."

"Actually, I was going to give you the living-as-a-psychic talk, but fine, if you want to be like that about it...."

Doyle stared at him. "The what? What do you know about that?"

"I'd say a ton more than you, sweetie." The Host gestured for the bartender to bring him a drink, and a glass was set in front of him. He picked it up. "It's like this," he said, apparently idly. "You are newly inflicted with very painful and confusing visions, and you have no clue what to do about it. Am I right?"

"Spot on," Doyle said uneasily.

The demon gave a slight smile. Doyle found himself increasingly irritated.

"Not so uncanny. We're different sides of the same metaphorical coin."

"You're psychic?"

"Give the man a prize," the Host said sarcastically.

"Is that a yes?"

The Host rolled his eyes to the ceiling. "It is. Now, ordinarily, I'd have to hear you sing to get anything useful, but fortunately for you, this time, I don't need to. You're sending out some major vibes just being here and frankly, it's giving me a headache."

"Sing?" Doyle asked, putting a handful of small notes on the bar. The bartender took them and his empty bottle was replaced with a full one. The bar may be full of demons, but the service wasn't bad.

Shame about the proprieter.

"Do you even know where you are?" the Host asked in disbelief. "People come here for readings. They sing. I read. I advise."

"Actually, I didn't know that. I was just looking for a bar that wouldn't freak out if I went unexpectedly spiney." He gestured to his face.

"Well, you found it. You got me thrown into the bargain. Think that was an accident? Nuh uh. The guys on high have their eyes on you."

"So you get the visions too, huh? What did you do wrong, or shouldn't I ask?"

This made the demon smile for real. "Oh, mine's in the blood. We're not the same, but I'm the closest you'll find to someone who understands. See, me, I can control it. Mostly. You don't have that luxury, but that's because of the hand you've been dealt."

Doyle looked down at his beer, finding himself drawn into conversation in spite of himself. Maybe this guy did understand. Maybe talking would help. Probably not, but he'd try anything. The beer just wasn't helping as much as it should.

"It's killing me," he said quietly. "Not just the skull-splitting pain... seeing it all. What the hell am I meant to do about it? Spend the rest of my life watching people suffer, feeling their pain? No thanks."

"Oh, you know what you have to do. You just have to accept it," the Host told him, sipping his drink as casually as if they were discussing the weather.

"What do I know? I don't know anything," Doyle insisted.

"You do, because you've been told already. Interpreting these visions is something you'll just have to learn to do, because without that, all they'll be is what you've got now - senseless, continuous pain. You don't want that."

"Damn right I don't," Doyle told him sharply. "I don't want any of this."

"Well, drinking yourself through the pain may sound fun, but it won't help you in the long term. You have to stop trying to forget them. You're being sent them for a reason."

Doyle snorted his opinion of that. "Oh, you've just appointed yourself my counseller now? My demon therapist?"

The Host looked at him as though wondering just what the hell he was doing even talking to him. Doyle found himself wondering the same thing.

"Look, buddy," the Host said, suddenly irritated, "I'm getting that you don't like me loud and clear, and to be honest, you're not really doing much for me either, but don't let that stop you from hearing what I say. I don't even know where you're going, but I do know that it is *very* important, and not just to you. To everyone."

"You think so?" Doyle asked skeptically.

"I know so," the Host said seriously.

Doyle looked down again at the bottle in his hands. "Fine," he said quietly. "Tell me whatever words of wisdom you have to tell me."

The Host shook his head. "It ain't that simple, honey. I can't tell you what to do."

Doyle looked at him. "Then, not to be rude or anything, but... what can you do?"

"I can clear a few things up for you. One being that you know why you were handed this particular bundle of fun."

Doyle almost smiled. Okay. Whatever. He took another swig of beer. "Why is it, then, if you know so much?"

"I didn't say *I* know, I said you do. You also know what you have to do. If I can get you to understand that, my work is done and you never have to see me again. It's all up here, ready for you to notice." The demon reached over and tapped Doyle's head as he said it. Doyle shied away from his hand.

The Host laughed. "Oh, get over yourself, will you? You are so far from being my type it isn't even an issue."

"Stop that!" Doyle demanded. "Stop knowing what I'm thinking!"

"No. It's what I do. Fortunately for everyone, it's not what you do."

"What *do* I do?" he said, plaintively.

The Host gave a kind of one-shouldered shrug. "As I understand it, you see images of people suffering."

Doyle nodded slowly. The beer was losing it's taste; he put the bottle down and pushed it away, half-finished. "Yeah, and a real treat that is. Fat lot of good it does anyone."

"The essential point here, my spiney friend, is that they're *visions*. They see through time as well as space."

Doyle turned this over in his mind. "You mean I'm not just seeing what's happening... I'm seeing what's going to happen?" he ventured.

The Host nodded. "Precisely. And if you know what's going to happen, who it's going to happen to, and where it's going to happen...."

"... I can stop it from happening," Doyle finished. He was silent for a moment. "But I don't know, man, I'm just not the hero type."

"You're not, are you?" the Host agreed, looking him over. "I don't think that'll be a problem, though."

"No?"

"You're going to have to think back over your visions," the demon said, instead of answering him. "Piece together hints and clues. The answer's there if you can find it."

"What am I looking for?"

The Host smiled again. "You'll know when you find it."

"Oh, thank you, that's really helpful," Doyle muttered.

"Actually, it is. Go on."

"Now? You want me to go over them now? Did you not get that I'm doing my damnest to forget them?"

"Did *you* not get that that just isn't an option?" the Host asked, exasperated. "Just do as you're told."

Doyle closed his eyes, wincing a little as he sorted through the fragments of memory. His eyes opened. "You know, you may be.... OW, shit! Holy shit!" He gripped his head tightly as another vision hit him without warning. The Host wordlessly slipped an arm around his shoulder, holding him upright, resting the other hand on his arm.

After a few seconds, Doyle opened his eyes, the trembling under control.

"Uh, thanks," he said uncomfortably, and the Host let him go.

"Are you clearer now?"

Doyle closed his eyes again for a moment. "One of the people I saw... it's different. He's not about to get beaten up or killed, or raped or torn apart by demons. He's in danger, but... it's from himself."

"Suicide?" the Host asked curiously. Doyle shook his head, wincing slightly. God, for an aspirin....

"No. No, that's not it. He's trying to do something, but he can't, not on his own. I have to help him, that's what I got just now. He's putting himself in danger to help people but... he doesn't care enough to keep himself alive. He's got nothing to make him care. Yeesh, what a history...." he trailed off as the impact of what he was saying hit him.

"I'd say you've just got the answer you were looking for, sweetie," the Host told him cheerfully. He leaned across the bar, reaching under the counter and retrieving a small brown bottle, which he handed to Doyle. "And I should add that you can't expect a follow-up in future. The Powers That Be were throwing you a bone. You have to pay attention the *first* time."

Doyle looked at the bottle. Aspirin. He shook out a couple and took them with a swig of beer. Not good practice, maybe, but he wasn't prepared to wait until the alcohol was out of his system.

"So, what?" he asked, rhetorically. "I just go up to this half-crazed, very tall, incredibly strong *vampire* and announce that he's got a new sidekick? Yeah, I bet he'll just love that."

The Host looked at him with narrowed red eyes. "Woah, back up. Are you sure you're reading that right? You're being sent to a vampire?"

"Oh, I'm sure alright. Very painfully sure," Doyle said sourly.

"A vampire that's on the side of good? Huh. That's a new one on me," the demon mused.

"He's... he's got a soul. I just got handed his entire life story." Doyle rubbed his head, wishing that the painkillers didn't take so bloody long to start working. "Woulda been just as effective and a lot easier in book form, you know?"

"Not for you the easy path," the Host sympathised.

"Guess not."

There was a long moment of relative silence while Doyle picked up his beer and, shrugging to himself, finished it off.

"You're welcome. Any time," the Host said, apparently to himself.

Doyle looked at him. "Thanks," he said, reluctantly.

The demon grinned. "Ooh, that really hurt, didn't it? I'll try not to take it personally."

"No, man. It's just...."

"It's bad enough that you gotta deal with all this demon business without one you don't even like being right?" he suggested.

"Well, yeah," Doyle admitted.

"Get over it," the Host said breezily. "And I'd kinda prefer that you get a handle on this thing before you come back here. You're fogging up the airwaves. Too many chefs, you know?"

"Don't worry. The price you charge for a good beer, I doubt I'll be back in a hurry."

"Putting aside our intense mutual dislike for a few seconds... you may find you need a sympathetic ear, a little advice on dealing with it all. You have to keep yourself separated from what you see, and for you... whoo, that is *not* gonna be easy. On a professional level, I could well be the closest thing you've got to an expert. Remember that."

Doyle looked down. "Yeah... I will," he said, almost inaudibly. After a moment, he got to his feet. "I'll..." he trailed off, and settled for nodding in the direction of the door.

The Host nodded. "Yeah, you go talk to your vampire. Oh, might be an idea to..." he gestured to his own face, and Doyle realised his Brakken side was still showing. He shook his head and forced the spines back into hiding. With any luck, he'd be able to keep a hold on it.

The Host turned back to the bartender. "It's always so nice to be appreciated," he said sarcastically.

The bartender grinned. "Think he'll take your advice?"

"Think he'll have to. And if the vampire doesn't kill him on sight, he might even have a good thing going. Man, I'm good, aren't I?" He smiled and stood up, turning his attention to the singer stepping up to the microphone.

Outside, braced by the cool night air, Doyle took a deep breath and, remembering the demon's words, called the vision to mind. There was a building, in an area of town he recognised.

So somebody had a plan for him. One fraught with dangers, it looked like, but what else did he have to do?

He turned and walked off down the street.

[end]



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