See chapter 1 for disclaimer.
by Roseveare and Ellen
We made an apathetic, bruised, scratched and in Angel's case faintly scorched duo as we worked our way back to where we'd left Cordelia, Wesley and Miriam.
Along the way, Angel related in brief, subdued bursts how he'd come to meet, fall in, and fall out with Kate, and I listened with churning insides to the twisted history of my best friend in a universe a step removed from my own.
There were parts of it that hit a little too close to home, sending painful hitches through my circulatory system.
At one point, Angel slowed his steps and all but stopped on a largely empty street passed innocuously mid-chase, staring across the expanse of a wasteland of docks to an empty berth and a dilapidated series of warehouse blocks. A distant expression on his face, as he lingered, before he caught my arm and with a sudden determination that brooked no argument moved us on.
I really didn't want to ask. So I didn't.
Instead, having been intrigued by the story of the sexually transmitted demon and the whack-job lawyers helping Angel and Kate get in touch with their warm and fuzzy sides, I cajoled out of Angel a few more tales of his fighting of the Good Fight in LA.
Funny thing, once you talked your way past the stick up his ass, the vampire turned out to have an enthusiasm that was almost funny when it came to spinning out a yarn. I got fights hand-puppeted blow-by-blow and everything.
It took about half an hour to make our way back - that had been some serious sprinting for an out of shape half-demon on too much injury time, too little sleep, and a regular diet of beer, cigarettes and pizza even when it wasn't reduced to the last few days' irregular fare.
My faint worries about having left Cordy and Wes to manage the Miriam situation without any fighting muscle ready on hand quickly evaporated when we arrived back in the street where we'd left them. Angel doubtfully picked out the house he remembered her giving the address of and somehow turned out right. We tapped on the door to be shouted inside - where we found the three of them sitting drinking hot chocolate on worn but expansively comfy chairs that made my whole body sigh and go limp just looking at them.
Both chairs, unfortunately, were taken, and Miriam was sprawled out so as to leave no room on the couch.
"I see you've been having a tough time of it," I observed sarcastically, leaning on the door jamb and trying not to fall over. Now that we were in more or less safe surroundings, my energy seemed to have left me and I felt the weight of my battered body, redoubled from the chase and the fight, once again.
Wesley smiled smugly with a mouth smudged at the edges with chocolate drink only barely discernable from the smudges of his bruises. "Indeed."
"Yup," Cordelia said. "Oh, hey - we'd make you some, but we used the last. Sorry." Angel huffed and she gave him a funny look. "Like you'd count anyway, Mr O-pos."
Wesley's smile disappeared into seriousness again as quickly, pushed down by the furrows in his brow. He cast a contemplative, worried glance at Miriam, curled up with her mug and a nervously shifting, guilty expression, her eyes trolling the room with no particular direction. I supposed I'd be pretty spaced too, in her situation. I wondered what she was thinking, now - about the guy it turned out she was responsible for all but killing. Wesley stood up.
He drew Angel and myself aside and, leaving the women with a surreptitious nod toward Cordelia (Cordelia quenched the put-out flicker that darted over her face with admirable speed and efficiency), herded us into a small but tidy kitchen.
I leaned on the table. Wesley sagged against the wall. Angel stood in the middle of the room still smelling faintly of ozone and fidgeted like he didn't know what to do with his hands.
Wesley said, "Ms Welsh clearly possesses what has, until recently, been a deeply buried suppressed psychic ability, and now that it is unleashed and attached to a distinct and dangerous trigger, she very clearly needs to learn to control it. I've given her some numbers - a few mystical contacts far more familiar with this sort of phenomenon than I, who should be able to help."
His eyes flickered back through the open door to the woman curled on the couch, and he shifted uncomfortably. He rubbed a hand across the bridge of his nose, almost ousting his glasses, wincing as he hit a bruise. "I... er, I've also recommended an excellent therapist, and strongly suggested she seek counselling." He reddened slightly.
Angel's eyebrows shot up, and the line of his lips seemed to dance a faint jug as he tried to keep a straight face.
"Oookaaay," I said, drawing out the vowels of the word, frowning.
Through the open door I could see a Miriam distraught but on the road to solving her problems, and no longer in immediate danger of her life. Several other pressing concerns that had been battering at the back of my mind for hours had abruptly returned to the fore.
"Guys?" I said somewhat pleadingly. "I believe our work here is done?"
In the following brief silence, I heard the sound of Miriam's cellphone ringing from the other room.
Claustrophobia has never been one of my problems, but when I followed Angel past that prison gate, and it closed behind us, I was starting to understand it really well.
This place, massive and cold, couldn't have anything to do with Faith. She was like a dancing fire that no lamp could hold, and damn me for missing her enough to come up with something as giddy as that. I was getting as sentimental as Cordelia and Angel.
She could never survive being caged.
Not my Faith, anyway.
Angel went in first. He started to explain to me about the "one visitor at a time" rule, but I already knew. So I waited, like I'd been waiting ever since I first woke up in this world, and my hands kept getting colder.
Wesley was looking everywhere except at me.
When Angel came out, he was shaking his head a little. "I warned her, but she doesn't seem to be taking it very seriously. I told her that you were the one who heard Rayne and Mercer."
I stood motionless, until Angel gestured sharply. "Go on in."
And then I was through the door, into that room where there was only a transparent barrier between me and the girl who looked like Faith.
She looked up, and straight on past me, looking over my shoulder to see who else was coming in. When I made my way over to her, and sat down opposite, she looked startled for a moment, and then vaguely amused, as she picked up the phone.
"So, you're Angel's dead friend?"
She met my eyes for a moment, then shrugged indifferently. "You don't look like I expected. So, what did you hear?"
I fumbled out a few words of explanation. She nodded a momentary acknowledgement at Lee Mercer's name, but that was about it. I couldn't think of anything that I could tell her about why I'd been brought in as a hostage for her, as well as Angel, so I just left out that part, and by the time I edited out anything that might suggest that I was expected to mean something to her, there wasn't much left to say.
When my voice ran down into silence, she made no attempt to break it. Bored, she scratched the back of her neck idly and then stared at her fingers, as though checking for something.
Maybe nothing was there, but on this side of the partition, I could feel something creeping at the back of my own neck. But it wasn't anything living.
"Well, ah, I'll go then. Wesley wants to see you."
That one got her attention. Her head swung around, and she scowled. "Why the fuck does Wesley want to see me?"
Watching the way her face came alive then, with guilt chasing anger, I couldn't stand it any more. I got up abruptly, putting down the phone, and backed away, almost bumping into someone.
"I'll send Wesley in," I muttered. The last I saw of her before I took off, she was frowning fiercely in my general direction, but I knew perfectly well that she wasn't looking at me.
She wasn't really seeing me at all.
I didn't wait for Wes and Angel. I took the visitors' bus from the prison back into the city. That way, I didn't have to talk to anyone.
I picked up a bottle on my way back to the office. If this were my world, then with Faith and Wesley gone, I would have had all the silence I wanted, and time enough to see my way down to the bottom of it. But when I arrived, Cordelia was there.
"Hey," I echoed dully. "What are you doing here?"
"Waiting for you."
The way that she was gazing at me made me look away. I knew where the glasses were kept in this version of the office by now, and I headed briskly off in that direction. But she followed me.
I put the bottle down on the counter, feeling her coming up behind me. She put her hand over mine, and as her fingers closed over my own, that weird sensation returned.
"I wish you wouldn't do that," I muttered.
"Well, I wish you wouldn't do that," she retorted, pointing at the bottle with her free hand. "Come on, sit down. Tell me about it."
"I don't think so, Cordelia." I looked longingly at the bottle, but I let her lead me over to the couch, anyway. She kept her fingers entwined in mine until it made the hair rise and the back of my neck ache with the buzzing, but right now, there just wasn't enough left in me to argue.
"You know, I've seen that look on your face before, right in this room," she said quietly. "It was when Harry was here."
It took me a moment to come up with the energy to answer. "Whatever it is that you're remembering, that wasn't me. You already know that."
"Yeah, well, part of me does. But part of me doesn't, you know? I think you get what I mean."
"Maybe I do."
She leaned toward me, a lot closer than I wanted anyone to be right now. I couldn't really find the words to explain it, but as Cordelia's hand slid up my arm, her eyes searching mine, it was like looking in a mirror. She was still trying to find her Doyle there, just like I'd been looking for my Faith.
Neither one of us was having any luck today.
I had looked at that familiar face, blank with unrecognition. I had seen a figure in a prison uniform, looking so much like the body that had warmed me in another place, and I knew that I was seeing a stranger, just as she was.
She might look like my Faith, but my Faith wasn't here. My Faith had never been here.
Maybe I've been dense, maybe I've just been stubborn, but I couldn't see a world without her in it.
In that moment when I'd seen the person who wore her face, I knew that I was in that world.
And I knew that I didn't want to be here.
Gently, I detached Cordelia's hand from my arm, and placed it firmly on the couch, away from me. That odd, prickly feeling faded as the contact ended. "You still feel that?" I asked, changing the subject.
"The buzz? Well, duh. Yeah."
"My best guess is, we're feelin' that because we're not supposed to be both here at the same time. Well, at least not with the visions."
"Makes sense, I guess. They're your visions, after all. I only got them from Other-You by kiss-of-death-o'-gram. You're the one who was supposed to help Angel, not me."
"Maybe you just happened to be in the right place at the right time, then."
"Or in the wrong one," she retorted. "Do you have any idea how hard it was to get to sleep after ... ?" She looked at me, and then relented. "No, I take that back. You don't have a clue what I'm talking about, do you? You weren't there. You weren't the one who did it."
"No. I wasn't."
She looked at me quizzically for a moment, then spoke slowly, and more thoughtfully than seemed usual for her. "There were about a million things that I wanted to tell him, starting off with just how rude and inconsiderate he was to up and die like that, and how dare he? But there was more, you know? There was more."
I shook my head bemusedly. "I'm not your Doyle, Cordelia. Never was, but I guess I can't blame you for trying."
"It's hard to give up on that, when you look just the same. You were ... I mean, he was ... " She shook her head a little. "It's hard to let go," she admitted softly.
"So, I think maybe you get why I had to see Faith for myself."
"That's different," Cordelia objected. "It's not like you just walked away one day and disappeared, or something. I know what happened to you - the other you. I saw you die."
My face must have shown something, because she stopped then.
"Oh. I'm sorry. I keep forgetting that where you come from, you saw her die."
She reached out to touch me again - like she just couldn't keep her hands off me - and for a moment, just for that one moment, I let myself consider the possibility of someone who loved a version of me, even if the so-called hero she remembered wasn't me at all.
I started to feel that tingle again as her fingers brushed gently against my skin, and then the office door banged open.
"Who died?" a familiar voice demanded.
Cordelia and I both turned, and she groaned. "Oh no, not again!"
I couldn't speak. I couldn't move. I could only stare.
It wasn't possible.
It couldn't be.
It was Harry.
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