See chapter 1 for disclaimer.
The first thing I noticed when consciousness leaked back into my brain was the gentle touch of a woman's fingers on my face, followed by the smell of perfume.
Okay, so the next thing I noticed was the cold metal of a handcuff around my left wrist, but in what passed for my existence since Rayne and Mercer dragged me back from wherever I'd been to wherever I was now, that almost qualified as pleasant.
Fingertips, soft and tentative, were stroking their way down the side of my cheek, tracing the scratches left behind from my tumble out of the van. As light as the touch was, there was an odd sort of tingle that went along with it, as though some kind of faint current of energy were moving across my face along with the fingers. I could sense it even through the latest variation on the headache which seemed to have become the theme music of my life.
From a distance, I heard an uncomfortable-sounding throat-clearing noise that might have been the vampire. Then again, vampires don't need to clear their throats. Or do they?
"Cordelia." It was Wesley's voice. "You shouldn't get so close, it could be dangerous."
I'd been contemplating attempting to open my eyes, but now I lay still and listened, interested to know what they had to say about me. Their reactions before had been odd, to say the least.
"Heís still out like a light. Can you blame him? The poor guy got pancaked." She withdrew her light caress as she clapped her hands together to illustrate my latest Wile E. Coyote impression. Judging by the closeness of that breeze, she hadn't moved too far away.
"Don't get too attached. You said yourself that this is most likely a shape-shifter of some kind, and not Doyle at all."
"No, it's really Doyle. If he could change his shape, then by now he would have done some slimy thing and slipped right out of the handcuff, right? I mean, who wouldn't? Besides, there's... something. I can't explain it, but I can feel it now. Especially... well, when I touch him," the girl answered, in a voice full of wonder. "I just... know him. Maybe it's some kind of a vision thing, some kind of a connection, but I'm sure now."
"Or else you just want to believe." Wesley spoke gently, but he just couldn't keep that trace of mockery out of his voice.
"Very funny. No, I don't think anybody has been abducted by aliens, even if he does look like somebody stamped a map of the butt end of the next galaxy on his face. It's really Doyle. He's just got some weird kind of amnesia or something. Somebody has mixed up all his memories."
"He did have a strong smell of magic on him when he first came in," the vampire, Angel, agreed. "Of course, after the Cursak fell on him, there's nothing much left of any other smell on him but Cursak."
I made a decision and managed to open one eye partway. Saw the girl's face very close to mine. Despite the fading black eye, she was still amazingly beautiful.
Even more amazing was the expression on her face. She was looking at me like I was the most astonishing thing that she'd ever seen, and I had the distinct feeling that this girl had seen a lot... and not just in visions.
Funny thing, up until I ended up getting my molecules painfully disassembled, right in front of two of the very few people who actually cared about keeping them stuck together, it had never even occurred to me that anybody else in the world might ever have the same curse thrown on them as I did. I always figured that it had to be my very own private hell. What could this gorgeous girl have done to get the Powers mad enough to put her in the box they'd built especially for me?
"He's awake!" she exclaimed, with a brilliant smile, as I managed to get both eyes open.
"If you can call it that," I muttered.
"Maybe getting another knock on the head brought his memory back. You do remember me now, don't you, Doyle?" Cordelia coaxed.
It occurred to me that it might be wisest to go try getting along with these people, just for the moment. Among other things, even without one arm cuffed to the bed I was in no condition to do any fighting. Also, it seemed like the vampire and the girl, not to mention Wesley, might be my best chance of finding out what in the world was actually going on here.
Of course, until I knew a little more about the Doyle they thought I was, I couldn't exactly fake them out, but acting confused right now... well, I couldn't actually call it acting, either.
I settled for what you might call an equivocal answer.
"Well, more or less."
"He remembers me!" she crowed triumphantly.
"We just met. You work for the vampire," I said slowly, putting together what I could remember from the day just past. "You get the visions, same as I do."
"Well, duh, of course I do. You gave them to me. And you work for Angel, too, or at least you did."
"No," I protested feebly. "First of all, I never met you before today, or maybe it was yesterday, Iím not sure any more. And if I could get rid of the damned visions, true enough, I'd do it in a minute and be glad - but they're not something you can give away."
"Well, you found a way," she said, her voice very soft. "I'll never forgive you for it, either."
I had a feeling that I didn't want to know what she was going to say next.
"You kissed me... just before you... died... like this."
Before I had a chance to wonder which one she was going to demonstrate, the kissing or the dying, her lips closed over mine.
Ever heard people talk about getting a tingle when they kiss somebody? They don't mean it, not really. It's just a pretty expression.
This one wasn't. I actually felt a jolt when Cordelia kissed me.
She pulled back sharply. "What was that?"
"I have no idea," I answered honestly. "Want to try it again?"
Cordelia grinned triumphantly. "You see, it is Doyle! I told you so!"
"Actually," Wes began, "You originally said-" Then he broke off with a sigh.
She bent down again to kiss me, and I didn't mind that having one arm cuffed to the bed gave me a perfect excuse not to resist. Once again, there was a shock, a little crackle of energy. She pulled back reluctantly, and stared at me with a puzzled expression.
"What is this? Are you really android-Doyle or something? You never had an electric charge before."
"Perhaps it has something to do with the visions?" Wesley suggested. "I don't know if there are any recorded cases of two seers coming into close physical contact with one another."
Close physical contact? With an effort, I stopped the images that idea brought to mind... better not to go there, not if Faith was still alive somewhere. I wrestled my uncooperative mind away from that thought.
"And another thing," I said irritably. "I have never worked for a vampire."
Cordelia stared at me, with a wounded expression.
"Doyle, come on, you have to remember. You worked for Angel, and then you passed the visions along to me, which was just so unfair, because you know how much they hurt."
"Yeah, right, sure. Sorry." Even though I didn't believe a word of it, for some reason, I actually found myself feeling guilty as she gazed at me with that soulful look, with her lower lip trembling slightly. "But youíll never get me to buy that one, not after what happened to my wife."
Now the girl just looked confused. "What do you mean? Did something happen to Harry?"
"You knew Harry?"
"Well, duh, you introduced me to her yourself, just a little while before you... you know."
Wesley supplied helpfully, "Died."
"Thanks, Wes," I snapped. "You at least should know me well enough to know that I never worked for a vampire. I still can't believe that you ever would."
"I'm afraid that I don't know you at all," Wesley responded. "I know of you by reputation only. We never actually met."
"Now who's the one with amnesia?" I complained, even more frustrated, and getting angry.
"You are," Cordelia announced brightly, apparently delighted to get a question that she could answer. "You've forgotten all about working for Angel, and meeting me. But it'll be all right. It will all come back to you."
"Not likely. How many times do I have to tell you this? I never worked for your Angel."
"You didn't just work for him, Doyle," Cordelia said softly, her fingers brushing against my hand lightly, almost reverently, with that little buzz of energy trailing a tickle of sensation everywhere we made contact. "You died for him."
That one left me speechless. I looked at Wesley, noticing once again, now that my sight was clearing somewhat, that he looked almost as much the worse for wear as I was. He seemed to have nothing to say on that subject, either, and he was very busily looking everywhere in the room except at me.
Cordelia turned toward Angel. "Do you think we should get in touch with Harry? If this is really Doyle, she'd want to know."
"Does everyone in this godforsaken place like to play at seances?" I asked bitterly. "Maybe you should have your own talk show."
"What are you talking about?" She looked at me with blank incomprehension.
Angel said quietly, "He thinks Harry is dead."
I looked at the vampire, who seemed to be the only one in the group doing more listening than talking. The expression on his face stunned me. I'd never seen a look that carried so much pain on the face of a human before, let alone a vampire.
"What the hell do you mean?" I asked him. "'He thinks Harry is dead?' Thinks? I saw it happen. I saw them kill her... Your kind."
He looked straight back at me, with infinite sadness.
"You're not from here at all, are you?" he asked, and his voice was heavy with meaning. "You're not the Doyle we knew. You come from a different place altogether - if 'place' is even the right word."
Cordelia glared at him with an astonished anger that it was wrenching to witness. She looked as though she might start to cry - or, alternatively, start to trash furniture. "What do you mean?"
"Do you remember the other Willow?"
She hesitated for a moment, then grimaced with distaste. "The vampire Willow, the one that Anya brought by mistake?"
"Thatís the one. Remember how she came from a different version of Sunnydale? Where things were, well, just different. I think this Doyle may be from another one of those ... alternative worlds, I guess you'd call them."
I couldn't help some reaction to the mention of the Hellmouth; the vampire caught it, although the others didn't, maybe because he was the only one still looking at me. He didn't let on to them that he had noticed. If anything, that made me even more uneasy.
"Of course!" Wesley exclaimed. "An alternate reality? What a fascinating idea! It would make sense, given the facts we have..."
Sense? I was trapped with a mad vampire and two humans who seemed to be just as crazy as he was. Of course, they would think this all made perfect sense. Hell, maybe it did on their side of the looking-glass.
"Not a chance," Cordelia protested, echoing my indignation. "I mean, vampire-Willow was like the opposite of real Willow, right? This isn't mirror-Doyle, this is our Doyle. He looks like our Doyle, and, okay, so the action-Doyle stuff was a bit weird but he saved you, right? Just like before. He's for real, Angel - he even smells like our Doyle, right? Because you should know."
Wesley cast a pained look at the possessive way Cordelia's hand had settled on my good arm, but otherwise he seemed to dismiss her. Angel followed his gaze, and then after another brief glance at me, looked away quickly, as if he had been splashed with holy water.
"Yes. Alternate realities," Wesley went on, with one of his knowing nods. "I've heard about this sort of thing before. You're right. I don't know why I didn't think of it myself."
I couldn't follow all they were talking about, but... a world in which my Harry was still alive? I couldn't even allow myself to think about that idea, or I would end up drooling right next to this lot.
Looking down at the floor and just about everywhere else but at me, Angel went on: "He really doesn't remember. To him, I'm just another vampire."
"But if he's not from our own reality," Wesley continued, and his voice grew hard, "Why would he ask about Faith?"
This time I didn't even try to hide it. One thing I learned awhile ago - if you know somebody's on to you, you change the game, and I decided right then that I was changing this one. I straightened up at the mention of Faith's name, and the cuff jerked against my arm, holding me back. "Where is Faith? Is she still alive?"
"She was very much alive last week, " Wesley answered drily. "I am carrying the marks to prove it, as is Cordelia."
I turned too quickly toward Cordelia, and was rewarded by a stab of pain. "Faith did that to you? Why? Where is she?"
Cordelia asked angrily, "Why should you care? You never even met Faith."
"Not here," Angel reminded her. "Apparently things are different wherever he comes from."
"Or just in whatever screwed-up hallucinations he's been having since his memory got fried. Maybe he decided he was entitled to a Slayer of his very own," Cordelia snapped persistently, with an angry glare at Angel. Angel directed a look back at her, and it wasn't lacking in compassion, which surprised me considering the source, but its message was plain enough - not now - and she hmmphed and fell into a sullen silence, arms crossed huffily over her chest.
"Wherever he's from, it can't be that different," Wesley put in. "You might notice that the idea of Faith carving her initials into me didn't surprise the man too much."
Cordelia whirled, as though struck by a sudden thought. "Do you think Wolfram and Hart sent him here, like Faith? I mean, they've got some pretty tight connections in the demonic social circles in this city, and we know they're out to get us. Maybe zapping Doyle back from the dead - or wherever - could be part of some twisted plan of theirs..."
"Wolfram and Hart?" I blurted out, and all three of them turned toward me.
"That does mean something to you, doesn't it?" Angel confirmed.
"Sure does. But first, tell me what the hell you are talking about. What do Wolfram and Hart have to do with Faith?"
Cordelia looked doubtfully at Angel. "Should we tell him? I mean, does he even know which side he's supposed to be on?"
"I think we should. This may not be our own Doyle, but he's still Doyle. If he's here, then it's for a reason."
"Fine then, find a reason. Wesley can look it up in his books. I'll settle for finding Doyle. Our Doyle. Any Doyle." Her tone was dangerous.
Wesley cautioned, tritely, "Even so, one person's reason may be another's excuse for murder and mayhem. Remember, the other Willow was evil."
Seemed like some things about Wesley hadn't changed.
"The other Willow was a vampire, standard package, soul and other valuable options not included," Cordelia retorted. She and Wesley exchanged a quick glance, and he tossed something in her direction. She grabbed it out of the air - the gal had decent reflexes for a normal human - and laughed out loud when she saw what it was.
"If it makes you feel better," she said dismissively, and with a condescending look back at him, she pressed a small wooden cross lightly against my abused cheek. "See? No smoke, no burn, no problem. Ta-da! We now return you to your regularly scheduled universe."
Angel frowned. "Cordelia. Wesley. He's not a vampire."
"I'm glad to know that I'm in such perceptive company," I snapped impatiently. "So, are you going to tell me about Faith, or are you all plannin' to keep me shackled here all night for your personal entertainment?"
Cordelia favored me with an aggrieved glare. "You wish. Back from the dead and Faith is the only thing you want to know about? Death must do a weird number on your priorities, not to mention scrambling your mind." Then she relented and snapped, "Wolfram and Hart sent Faith to kill Angel."
"Is she still alive?" Remembering how well Angel fought, I had a sinking feeling that the answer would be 'no,' but he surprised me.
"She's alive," Angel said. "She's in prison right now, but she's there by her own choice. There isn't a jail built that could hold her, if she didn't want to stay."
"You got that right," I threw back at him, feeling an idiotic grin of relief spread across my face, but unable to stop it, even in the glare of Cordelia's concentrated scowl. I hadn't fully realized quite how worried I'd been about Faith until that moment. A few minutes seriously contemplating a world without her slammed it home to me... Man, was I ever in too deep. "But why would Wolfram and Hart send a Slayer after a vampire? Sure, it's the usual way of things and all that, but knowin' those creeps I'd expect it to be the other way around."
It was Wesley who answered. "This Slayer is a rogue, and this vampire has a soul."
I stared at him. "What is it you're trying to sell me, Wes? That somehow everything is switched around, evil Slayer and good vampire? Black is white and white is black? Is that supposed to be the deal?"
"In this particular case, and to my own discredit, yes." Wesley sighed. "I must take my share of the responsibility for Faith, and she has been more than eager to remind me of that fact. If you claim that you know me, or at least some counterpart of me, then you should be aware that I would not work for any ordinary vampire." He straightened himself slightly, wincing as he did, and a look of something like pride, and more, came over his face.
"Angel does, indeed, possess a soul. He now works on the side of good. There would be no other reason for me to ally myself with him."
I was feeling the strangest prickle at the back of my neck as I looked at Wesley. He was gazing at Angel as he spoke to me, with a sad little smile, and it was giving me a weird sensation, because Wesley's expression as he looked at Angel was warm with admiration and affection. Friendship, certainly, but more. It was something I'd never seen on Wesley's face before, a look that was close to hero-worship.
But that wasn't the strangest part of all. There was a similar expression on Angel's face, but it wasn't directed toward Wesley. The vampire didn't even seem to notice Wesley.
It was directed at me.