DISCLAIMER: Angel and BtVS characters and concepts belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, etc.
Just borrowing, no profit, yadda, yadda, yadda.
by Ellen & Katta
When we returned to the AI office, Cordelia disappeared from sight immediately, presumably to clean herself up. Wes and Angel promptly took advantage of Cordelia's absence to begin debating the merits of Lilah Morgan's proposal. As usual, they were discussing me as though I wasn't there, which was getting more and more annoying.
"I'm not claiming that we can trust her, Angel," Wes said mildly. "Of course we can't. But I think we've seen enough of Ms. Morgan to know that she invariably acts in what she considers to be her rational self-interest. If she believes that she will gain some benefit from sending Doyle back, she'll do it."
"And if she believes she'll gain just as much benefit by luring him in to Wolfram & Hart and capturing or killing him, she'll do that, too."
"I don't doubt it."
"Then why even consider it?"
I finally spoke up, tired of being ignored while my fate was debated. "Because maybe I need to go home."
"Even at the risk of dying again?" Angel turned to me, and I could see him struggling not to show emotion. "Even if Lilah keeps her word, which is unlikely ... the process of sending you back might be fatal. Guaranteed she couldn't care less about that part. Once you're gone, whether you get home whole or arrive in a thousand pieces doesn't affect her plan."
"True," Wes conceded.
Angel was still looking at me, not Wes, and not doing a very good job of keeping that mixture of hurt and hope out of his eyes. "Is the prospect of remaining in this reality that terrible?"
I opened my mouth, then shut it again. I didn't know quite what to say.
When Cordelia emerged from the basement apartment, she looked flawless once again, beautifully dressed, freshly washed hair gleaming. "Hey." Like Angel, she had eyes only for me. "Do I win the Most Improved for today?"
"Thank you." She grinned triumphantly, apparently satisfied, then looked at me with a sharp curiosity. "Oh, hey there... wait a minute... do you think you could come over here and stand by the light a moment?"
"Humor me," Cordelia said, in a manner which made it clear that she was totally confident I would obey. Somehow, without knowing quite why, I did.
She came right up to me then, too close for comfort, but she kept her hands off. Seems she had learned to respect my space that much, if not much more. She tilted her head a little, staring into my eyes until I could feel an embarrassed flush starting to develop.
"What are you looking for?"
"Weren't your eyes - Angel! Weren't our Doyle's eyes bluer than that?"
Angel gave her a condescending smile. "No, Cordelia. Our Doyle's eyes were exactly that same shade of green."
"Come on, it hasn't been that long! I know I'm right. I remember them being more of a greeny-blue, and this Doyle's are more of a bluey-green."
"Excuse me," I said with heavy sarcasm. "This conversation is goin' about three generations beyond absurd."
"Sorry." Angel shrugged, smiling in the "Well, it's Cordelia" way that I had already grown to know far too well.
"Perhaps we could bring our attention back to the matter at hand," Wesley said quietly. "I believe the question on the floor is what Doyle wants to do, not what color his eyes are."
I shot a quick half-grin in his direction. "Thanks. Glad to hear somebody's on the same page with me here."
"OK then." Cordelia turned to me with a look of firm resolve. "Doyle. Why not stay with us? You don't know for sure if you can go back. Even if you do, you may be dead there, or you may end up dead. Again."
Angel put in, "It's not as though there's any guarantee here either, Cordelia. Keeping him here and keeping him safe aren't the same thing." Angel glanced over at me, then looked away as he went on. "Doyle could as easily be killed again here, as there."
"Don't even think it," she snapped.
"We need to consider all the possibilities," Angel went on, in a reasonable voice. I would have appreciated it more if he wasn't keeping his eyes so carefully off me, as if to pretend I wasn't hearing every word he said. "Our Doyle stayed with us because he needed to atone - "
"Are you saying that being with me was some kind of punishment?" Cordelia flared.
"Not being with you, Cordelia. The fight - he never really wanted to be part of that, and the visions - you know for yourself now how much they hurt - "
"But it's different now. This Doyle doesn't need to get vengeance any more. Harry's alive here, and whatever vamp did her over there is probably long since dust in this world."
"Her name was Darla," I said quietly, and I saw Angel flinch.
"Well, there you go, then," Cordelia said triumphantly to Angel. "You dusted Darla yourself, so you know she's gone for good."
"I did," Angel concurred softly, but his eyes were back on me now, however unwillingly, as though he couldn't keep his gaze away. "I'm sorry."
"About what? Harry or Darla?"
Angel's words were clearly for me. "She was my sire. We were lovers for a hundred years."
"And you dusted her?" If he was trying to impress me, I tried to convince myself that it wasn't working. Trouble is, it was. I knew how formidable Darla could be.
"Once I was cursed with a soul, we were on opposite sides of the fight. Some divides just can't be crossed, no matter what has gone before."
Cordelia snorted. "Don't bet on that. Slayers and vampires are on opposite sides, and look what happened there. So don't give me any more of that 'some things are not meant to be' crap. That doesn't apply to us, and you know it."
"Do I ever get a vote in this?" I sniped, sarcasm increasing with my frustration.
Angel responded: "Yours is the only vote that matters."
"Screw that!" Cordelia exploded. "We mattered to our Doyle - didn't we? - enough to die for. If you think I'm just going to stand aside and let him go again - "
"I'm not your Doyle. I never was. When are you going to get that?"
Cordelia whirled and, this time, looked straight at me. "You could be. If you wanted."
"Well then, maybe I don't want to be somebody else's frickin' fairy-tale idea of who I oughtta be. Maybe you never really knew either one of me at all."
"Or maybe I do know who you're supposed to be," she countered, unfazed. "Maybe I'm not as clueless as you think. Imagine that!"
"It's my life."
"So what does that mean? That you want to throw it away again?"
"I wasn't the one who threw it away in the first place - "
"Maybe not, but you're the one who might be throwing it away now. Did you ever stop to think that maybe, this is where you belong - and it's your other world that isn't right?"
"It's my world. It's where I live."
"Not any more."
"I think I've had just about enough of this." I vaguely remembered having said something to Harry about coffee, but even more than that, I knew I had to get out of here, away from these two.
I pushed past Wes, who let me pass, with a look of understanding on his face. Except I couldn't imagine him understanding how I felt. I didn't really get it myself - except, *trapped*.
Yeah. I felt trapped. I got that part.
"Doyle, wait - " Angel called out, but I ignored him, heading for the door. I heard a faint release of breath from Cordelia, as Angel apparently blocked her path. "No. Let him go."
"Let him go?"
"I know. That's just what is hardest for us to do. But we have to do it," Angel said. "Let him go."
I was out the door, and didn't hear any more.
There was nothing particularly fresh about the L.A. air even in this reality, but anything was better than the smell of vampire and worry inside Angel Investigations. I took deep breaths of the smog as I hurried down the street.
"You're going to get yourself cancer," a voice said behind me.
I slowed my steps. I'd forgotten about Harry. "Sorry."
"Apologize to your lungs." She smiled, a very Harry smile that made me waver. I had to fight an urge to take her arm.
"So, coffee?" I asked, trying to cover up my mixed emotions.
She nodded and looked around until something caught her eye and she pointed towards a tiny café sign near the corner. "Ah, there it is. I had coffee there when I first came to L.A."
"Okay." It looked like a nice place. In my reality, it was empty, door kicked in and windows covered in graffiti. Did that mean this L.A. was better?
I didn't know, but I felt strangely unreal stepping into the café with my dead wife who was neither of those things. More unreal than I'd felt from spending time with a vampire, a flake, and someone who should be my associate in what should be my agency.
We got our coffees and sat down, watching each other silently for a while. This damn alternate reality thing meant even small talk could get awkward really fast. 'So, have you seen the latest Ellie King film?' Who's Ellie King?' 'Uh... in this reality? Probably a waitress at Starbucks.'
"Am I..." she started. I was grateful that one of us was finally speaking, and even more grateful that it didn't have to be me. "Am I very like her?"
"Yeah." I answered right away, needing neither further explanation nor time to think. Maybe if I *had* given myself time to think I wouldn't have said that. Harry looked downright queasy, and I didn't blame her. "A bit tougher, maybe," I amended. "Sadder."
"You're tougher too," she said, taking a sip of her coffee as she gave me a long, thoughtful gaze. "But you're different altogether. It's hard to explain. Francis... *My* Francis... he threw his life away."
That seemed like a harsh judgement on a man who'd died to save others. I think she sensed my discomfort, because she added, "And I don't mean the way he died. I think dying... strange as it may sound, I think dying was a step in the right direction. Those last few months, he really *cared* about something again."
"And I - I mean he - didn't before?"
"Not after he found out..." She glanced at the people around us. There were far too many for the word "demon" to be used lightly. Even the conversation we'd already had must be on the odd side.
"It's a tough thing to find out about yourself," I said, defending my counterpart.
I thought back on the day when I'd found out myself, and the look in Harry's eyes right before she died. "The last thing you ever said was 'What are you?' "
Her eyes widened at that, and then she blinked quickly a couple of times. "Oh, Doyle, I'm so sorry."
The way she called me Doyle reminded me that she wasn't the woman I had married. "Not your fault, love."
"She would have gotten over it," she said, clasping my hand. "Whatever she said, whatever she *felt* right then, she would have gotten over it. "
"And I wouldn't, right?" I offered a lopsided smile, even though I felt more like crying.
"You don't know that." Her voice was fierce and her grip around my fingers hard, but I didn't mind. It meant she still cared. "Maybe in your world, you would have."
"Would haves are pointless," I told her bitterly, remembering nights spent thinking out ways to change the past, to keep Harry alive. "It didn't happen. Not in my world, not in yours."
"Do you think..." She hesitated. "Do you think there may be worlds where it did happen?"
I thought about that. "Yeah, maybe." A world without vampires, maybe, but then again, in a world without vampires there would be no demon side for me to worry about.
"I'd like that." She let go of my hand and sat back, smiling a little. "I'd like to think that there's a world where Harry and Doyle were happily married and had a very long life together. Maybe even had some quarter-demon babies."
Her voice was light; to her, it was just a comforting game. But I'd travelled between the worlds, and I wanted to ask her if we could make this world *that* world. Well, maybe not with the quarter-demon babies, that thought creeped me out. Everything else she'd said seemed alluringly sweet, though. I wanted that happily ever after, and my heart ached to ask her for it - but I didn't. How could I? It wasn't *my* happily ever after. It belonged to that poor sod who had killed himself to save some people I didn't even know. It wasn't my world. It wasn't my Harry.
Besides, my Harry or not, was there even such a thing as going back? I doubted it very much.
I stirred my coffee even though the one lump of sugar I had put in it had long since dissolved. "If this was three years ago..." I started.
So she felt it too. That encouraged me a bit. "I won't say I'm over you." I looked down for a moment. "In the other... in my universe... you know I have someone, right? Things are so different. It's not easy..."
"Is she prettier than me?"
"What?" I couldn't believe she'd just said that. "That's not a fair question. That's... You're not... And *she's* not... I mean, just what you guys *wear*..." And then I caught sight of her eyes. Her sparkling, teasing eyes. Damn. I had forgotten how her sense of humour involved saying embarrassing things just to watch me react. "Not funny, Harry."
"She *is* prettier than me!" Harry said, delighted.
Her soft curly hair was falling into her eyes and I was nearly in love with both those things again. But even though the question had been made in jest, I made the comparison, and I couldn't imagine Harry in Faith's clothes and make up, or moving the way Faith always did. Pretty wasn't really the issue. Faith was just a whole different ball park - or rather an amusement park, of the rickety kind that was set up overnight, where you'd have the ride of your life and never know if you could make it out of there alive.
And God help me, I couldn't live without that ride anymore.
"There's more to it than that," I said, both answering Harry's question and taking my thoughts further. "More to Faith... and more to all of it." I took a sip of my coffee. It was getting cold and would soon be undrinkable, but I didn't want to drink it all just yet anyway. I needed this time to breathe.
"I'm happy you have someone."
The words were spoken softly, but hurt like a knife in my guts. She meant it to, that was the worst part. If I had someone, it meant that I no longer had a claim on her. It'd be easier for her, I supposed, if she could make Faith what kept us apart.
And maybe Faith *was* what kept us apart. I couldn't have them both - not only was neither of them the sharing type, they didn't even live in the same universe. If I stayed, I'd never get to see my Slayer girl ever again, and that thought hurt even more.
"I'll tell you what I can't do," I said at long last. "I can't stay in my old office playing pretend games with Angel and Cordelia. 'Cause that's what it would be, no matter how well we all know I'm not him. I'd go crazy in a week. And it wouldn't be fair to them either. Or Wesley." I paused, surprised to hear myself say that. This Wesley wasn't the one I knew, and even if it had been, when had I ever gone out of my way in order to avoid annoying Wesley?
"Sounds to me like you've already made up your mind," Harry said.
I took a deep breath and drank the last of my coffee, even though it was cold and foul. "Yeah. I have." I put the cup down and rose from my chair. "I'm ready to go home."
She rose too. "Glad to hear it."
"I still love you," I blurted out.
"I do, you know," I said, trying to make light of it. "I loved her more than anything, but I do love you too, and I'll love any Harry in any universe I ever get into - which I really hope will be as few as possible, but still. If reincarnation's for real and one of us gets reborn an emu, I'll still love you."
Her mouth twitched in a near smile. "An emu?"
"Yup. Big emu loving."
She laughed, but there were tears in her voice. "I'm sorry, Doyle. I only loved the one."
"That's okay," I said, and it was. Harry might have divorced the Doyle in this universe, but I kind of liked that she wasn't willing to mess around with his memory by adding me into the mix. Poor dead sod deserved that much.
I got the living lady with the hellish temper. "Better this way."
"Probably," she agreed.
I hesitated for a second, and then I reached out my hand. She shook it without comment, and we walked back to the office in silence, knowing that we'd found some sort of equilibrium in all this mess.
Only when I was about to step inside did she talk again: "Take care."
"You too," I said, meaning it with all my heart.
There was a Harry alive and well in this universe, and that knowledge was one thing I could take with me home. It almost made me grateful to that bastard Rayne.
I walked back into the office with a purpose and certainty I hadn't felt since Harry's appearance threw me a curve ball.
Inside, Angel was working through some Tai Chi moves in a corner, off in a world of his own, while Wesley slumped over a desk loaded with papers and Cordelia leaned painting her nails. There was a stifled aura about the scene, that suggested they'd been in a state of waiting since I left. It was a fraction annoying to find the lives of strangers hanging on my every action... but I was sure enough now of who I was and what I wanted that it didn't throw me anymore.
They hadn't heard me come in. I announced into the silence, "I'm going home."
Angel wavered and planted both feet on the ground, the transitory grace leaving his big form again. Cordelia abandoned her nails, hands freezing in the air. Wesley had quite possibly fallen asleep.
"No," Cordelia protested. "No, no, no... it's all wrong, can't you see? You were sent here for a reason - our Doyle's dead, and your world--"
"It's not dead," I said firmly. "Not while there're still people fightin' for it. People like me. I have to go back."
"My Harry's dead. That's the way it is, and I can't fight for her memory in my world if I'm livin' in this one. That lady--" I looked back at the door where I'd just walked in off the street, like there was an invisible thread stretching back from me to her, still sitting staring into an empty cappuccino mug at that table "--she's a great gal, but it's not real. Neither is this. I'm not your memories, so don't waste them on me."
"I understand," Angel said.
At that moment, Wesley stirred and knocked half the papers off his desk as he flinched awake. Cordelia snorted at the mishap, and he sat up blinking. His eyes became a little more alert as they settled on me. "You're back."
"Yeah. Look, Wes, I need you to call Lilah."
His face cleared quickly at that. "You've made your decision."
"Yeah." I tried not to make it too obvious that my gaze avoided both Angel and Cordelia. "*Final* decision."
Angel said, "I'm still not sure this is wise. No, don't - I know we've been through this, but just listen to me, Doyle. I know Wolfram and Hart..."
"So do I. An' I don't trust 'em as far as I could throw their bloody office block, but they're right about one thing in all this - they've still got my only way home."
"Oh, for goodness sake!" Cordleia exclaimed. "It's a trap! We know it's a trap! It couldn't *have* a bigger neon sign flashing over it announcing 'trap'!"
"So we play the trap." I scowled. "We got Wes here - he knows a thing or two about their magical gimmicks." I rode on before Wesley could even begin to get his flustered protest in. "We got me an' Angel - granted, mostly Angel - to take 'em on if it comes to heavy fightin'." I personally quailed at the thought of anymore hard exertion in my current condition, but like hell was I telling them. "So we do this, 'cause it's the only chance I have. If it is a trap, we turn it around. We *need* Ethan Rayne to send me back. He's the only one who really can."
"*Is* it his only chance?" Cordelia pounced, glaring at Wesley.
Wes' face twisted and he nodded. "I'm afraid it is, Cordelia. Even if it was possible to guess the details, a sorcerer's mystical signature will tend to work its way into the specifics of a spell and make reversal by any other agency quite impossible... I realise it's a risk, but do you really want him to be stranded here, unwilling? Doyle was your friend."
I said, "I'm *not* going to live with having turned down my only chance to go back where I belong - to the people I belong with."
He looked down. Cordelia's mouth worked without, for once, producing any sound at all.
"Sorry," I said, meaning it.
"No." Angel surprised me. "Your world needs its champion. It would be selfish to ask you to abandon that obligation."
"'Champion'?" I asked, with a trace of laughter. "Thanks for the thought, and not that I ain't appreciatin' the support and all, but my world's still *got* a champion... name of Faith, if you recall."
But Angel wordlessly held my gaze. I wondered if he was thinking about what had happened to Faith in his world - how abandonment and betrayal had played their part in unhinging her. Now, Faith wasn't the most emotionally available of gals, but I was pretty sure I was her closest connection in my own world. Considering what had happened to her without that connection in *this* one, I didn't much want to start speculating on what it might do to her if I never came back.
Yeah. I'm pretty sure that must've been what Angel was thinking.
He said heavily, "Wesley, make the call."
"Are we sure?" Wes returned with a bt of a snip in his voice, his hand now hesitating automatically on its way to the phone for the third time.
Everyone turned to Cordelia, who folded her arms, straightened her back and narrowed her eyes. But after a long moment she subsided and said, much quieter than her usual strident tones as she stared down at the floor, "Okay. It's what Doyle wants... Okay."
"Yeah," Angel said. "We're sure."