DISCLAIMER: Angel and BtVS characters and concepts belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, etc.
Just borrowing, no profit, yadda, yadda, yadda.
by Roseveare & Ellen
I vworped back into an empty, darkened office, and promptly fell over as reaction turned my limbs to rubber. The pain of the transition faded and was replaced by an annoying, tingling numbness which seemed to worm its way into the aches of the past few days and intensify their dull grumble.
Hell, maybe it was part exhaustion and relief as well. I lay there for a bit on the floor of my - *my* - own office, breathing in the smells of home in the air. No overpowering vampire scent here. I'd been away too long.
The thought seeped in remarkably slowly; that the chance I'd taken had paid off, and contrary to expectation (Rayne's, at least) I was not in fact dead. It had worked, after all.
...All presuming, of course, that an alternate Faith and Wesley, weren't about to walk through the door and set about me as an intruder in my own home.
The door out of the side office clicked. I jerked my head up and stared intently at it.
Wesley, rubbing his eyes, blinked owlishly and obliviously with his specs askew and fumbled for the lights. He looked tired, and pasty like he'd seen less sun than Angel did on the average week. He squinted over the tops of the desks and made a 'tsk' sound. "I could have sworn I heard..."
"Reckon that's prob'ly 'cause you did hear, Wes," I hailed from the floor. "Give a guy a hand up here, will ya?"
For a long moment he simply stood there, jaw dropped, hands falling to his side. Then he appeared to gather himself together in a rush. "Doyle? Oh, my word..." He hurried across and fussed over me like he was fixing to beat Cordelia's record.
I had an odd moment of double vision as, with the thought of that other world, *my* Wesley seemed to be overlain by his counterpart. A little harder-edged, a little sadder, a smidgen more relaxed to make up for it.
He wasn't there yet, I thought, and maybe he never would be. Nurture over nature, butterflies and thunderstorms, cause and effect, yadda, yadda, yadda. But just possibly he was on his way. He had already changed in the months that I had known him.
I made my eyes focus, and sent the double-vision packing. And there was just Wesley, bending over me, a stunned expression on his face. "You're... you *are* all right, aren't you, Doyle?" he asked carefully.
"Nope," I said cheerfully. Possibly I was a *little* drunk on relief. "I'm bruised, an' I'm tired, an' my head hurts. You wouldn't believe what I've been through these last three days, Wes."
"You... weren't disintegrated?"
"Only felt like it." I caught his arm and he helped lever me to my feet. The floor seemed none too steady, but it calmed down after a moment. I leaned on the desk and reached for a cigarette from a crumpled packet on its edge, in an effort to calm my nerves. "No, I was--" I hesitated, given pause by something I saw in his face, and slowly finished dismissively "--somewhere quite different. Wes, what the hell happened while I was away? You look like crap."
"Thank you so very much, Doyle, it's good to see you, too," he shot back wearily. "As for what we've been doing." His voice slowed down to a stop. I could see he didn't much want to go on. I began to feel a little cold. "Well, you seemed to just... burn up, right there in front of our eyes. Of course, we had to explore the option that you had been caught by an unusual variation on a translocation spell - perhaps seized by nefarious forces and sucked into a demon dimension, for example." He looked at me, almost hopeful with academic interest for a brief moment.
I shook my head. "Ixnay on the demon dimensions. Leastways... no, not as such." Cordelia had said, damn near enough, that *this* was the demon dimension. I chased away the chill thought with a toss back to Wes; "And have I ever mentioned how much I intensely don't wanna ever join you on your dream vacation?"
He narrowed his eyes suspiciously.
I had no doubts he'd wangle the full story out of me later, probably after I'd got a few drinks down me. For now I said, "Go on."
Wes shuffled almost embarrassedly. "Well, we... went on a bit of a rampage, I suppose. Not that I would ever usually rampage, in normal circumstances, but tensions were high and Faith was - well, hightly tense. And I was a trifle overwrought myself. I couldn't trace the spell back to its origin with any success, so we...Faith and I... visited some people."
"Some people, eh?" I repeated sarcastically.
"A number of, um, individuals in the city being of less than spotless repute... to, ah, question them regarding your... disappearance."
I prompted, "These individuals bein' the kind of individuals I'm thinking they're bein'...?"
"Oh, demon overlords, master vampires, sorcerers of rather shady reputation, the odd demonic shaman."
My response came out as a cough, and I had to concentrate to produce words. "And this 'questioning' would've been conducted Faith-style, right?" Hell's teeth, I was going to be spending the next ten years ducking vengeful assassination attempts - or then again, on balance probably rather less years. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for beating on the bad guys, but a guy's got to maintain a certain equilibrium on his own doorstep.
Wesley shuddered delicately in response. I cringed in kind. "I shouldn't imagine LA's black magic underworld has ever seen a clearout like it. Faith was--" It wasn't the first time he'd paused on finishing that phrase, I hadn't failed to notice. "But we found no trace of you, and none of the various miscreants seemed to know anything. Eventually... a few hours ago, in fact, we had no choice but to conclude that our faint hopes had been in vain, and the overwhelming likelihood was not only that you were dead, but we might *never* find any leads indicating to whom that act should be attributed."
Wesley looked down, and I caught in finally to the admission he'd been avoiding. "Faith thinks I'm dead."
"We saw you *burn*, Doyle." His gaze started to crawl back up, but didn't get too far before retreating back to my shoes. "We weren't out to mount a rescue, not really. Neither of us said it aloud, but... I think we were both of us thinking about nothing more than revenge. And though we both knew how little chance there was of ever finding you in one piece, she would have searched forever for a phantom..." He stopped. "But it was unhealthy, and ultimately unproductive. I am Faith's watcher, Doyle," and now he did meet my eye, unwaveringly, "and I made the decision. I told her we had to let go. She's the Slayer, above all - the world is on her shoulders. She had to begin to move on.
I swallowed hard, but said with conviction, "Damn it, Wes, there's nothing to be sorry for. Hell, I spent enough years mournin' Harry... And I'm back, I'm not dead, and everythin' is gonna be just fine." I broke away from Wesley and lurched toward the door. Apparently I still hadn't quite got back my 'land legs' for reality - Wesley's quick lunge after me stopped me from ending back on the floor.
"You can't possibly be serious!" he exclaimed. "I don't know what's happened to you these past days, but I can see you're in poor shape. You're in absolutely no condition to... and where *do* you think you're going, anyway?"
I flopped a hand back over my shoulder at him, and this time managed to stay on my feet. "Got to find Faith. Tell her I'm all right. Gal must be goin' spare."
"That's something of an underst--" Wesley's splutter almost drowned out his words. "Really, I think it would be best for all concerned if we simply sit down and have a nice, *calm* cup of tea while we await Faith's return. She went out to let off steam by venting it on LA's unlucky base demon population, besides; she could be anywhere, and the last thing you want is to collapse in the street and be carted off to A & E. Patients that sprout spikes under stress might just be a little too much for them."
"I'm all right," I grumbled, resenting the heavy weakness in my legs. I wanted to see Faith. "She needs me," I told Wesley. "God knows what's goin' through her head right now." I needed to reassure myself that what happened to that other Faith wasn't going to happen to *mine*.
And it had been a long few days without her.
But I paused in the door, caught in a further wave of disorientation from that other universe.
"Wesley," I said slowly, supporting my weight in the doorway, "did you ever hear of a vampire with a soul?"
"A wh--?" He paused, broke off, looked bemused. "I... yes, as a matter of fact. Where on Earth did *you*--?"
"Just the facts, Wes," I said. My voice seemed to echo oddly, and I heard strain mixed with the impatience there. For some reason, there was a rush of noise inside my head, and my heart seemed to strain inside my chest.
Wesley said dubiously, "There was a souled vampire known to the Watchers Council. In fact, it was a vampire once known as Angelus, who had long been associated as the consort of Darla--" His voice broke and he peered at me, but I was too near the edge of emotional exhaustion to waste reaction on *her*. Angel... Angel was here in this universe? I thought blankly.
Then Wesley continued, "However, the vampire with a soul was reported destroyed, in Sunnydale, when Buffy Summers fought the Master. According to our contact in Sunnydale, he fought bravely unto death as an ally of the Slayer's side of that battle... Is there something wrong, Doyle?"
"I..." I looked at the Wesley of my world, and recalled with a pang the man... creature... *man* who had been his friend in another world, and almost mine.
"Is this important?" Wesley asked.
"No. No, it's not," I said. I left the support of the door jamb and spurred my stiff body on its way again, if anything a bit heavier than before.
As I turned I added, not looking back-- "Not in this world."
I wasn't sure why, but my steps were leading me someplace that seemed familiar. Soon enough I figured out that the search was taking me back to the same neighborhood where - in that other reality - another Faith had tortured another Wesley.
In fact, I was just about a block away from the same spot that the other Wes had showed me, when the crash of a window exploding out into the street brought my search for Faith to an abrupt end.
The slim figure that came flying through the window, surrounded by shards of broken glass, was the one I was looking for, all right. Unfortunately she was entwined with some guy about three times her size, in the midst of an enthusiastic battle. The two of them rolled and landed almost at my feet, still fighting, disregarding the scattered glass that fell around them. Faith was carrying on a running commentary as she punched her opponent, who appeared to be far too busy trying to survive the experience to speak a word.
"Next time you think you can pull that kind of shit - "
"Faith!" I interrupted sharply, but for a moment, she kept going.
" - just remember there are still plenty of people who can kick your ass - Doyle?"
The double-take would have been comical, if it wasn't just about breaking my heart. She froze, staring at me, and the guy she'd been wrestling with - a human, from the smell of his sweat and blood - took the opportunity to scramble to his feet and run like hell. She just stayed on the ground, staring up at me, her face stunned into blankness. Neither of us bothered to watch him go.
"Doyle?" she repeated uncertainly. "But, you're dead."
"Well, not exactly."
"What?" Slowly, she rose to her feet, heading toward me. "Are you for real? You're not for real, right?"
"Faith ... "
She came closer, and I held out a hand toward her. I'm not sure what I was expecting. A handshake? A hug? A kiss? Whatever it was, it wasn't what I got.
After a brief hesitation, she flew at me, fists clenched. "You died!"
"Uh - "
She crashed straight into me and kept on going, knocking me flat out on the ground beneath her, and then started raining punches down on me. "You died! You had no fucking right to do that to me! You had no right!"
"Ah - Faith - you're hurting me, here - can you give me just a moment to explain?"
I was silenced by a punch in the mouth that split my lip against my front teeth and probably loosened two or three of those in the bargain. I struggled to catch her arms, to restrain her, but she was uncontrollable.
"You had no right, you had no right, you had no right..." Each repetition was punctuated by a blow.
"Please, Faith - "
I couldn't get the breath to go any further, as she punched me right in the gut.
"Shut up! You fucking died on me! How could you do that?"
I had never been attacked by a slayer in hysterics before, and her fury would have been remarkable to watch, if I were only watching. Unfortunately, I didn't have the luxury of being just an observer.
She kept right on hitting me, not seeming to notice the tears that were streaming down her face, and it hurt.
"Faith, please!" I didn't want to beg, but I was getting desperate here. Blood was starting to drip into my eyes, and I was sure that she had broken a rib or two. "Just let me tell you what happened - "
"What happened? What do you mean, what happened? You died on me! You died - " and then, just as suddenly as they had started, the blows stopped, and she was sobbing. She threw her arms around me, the same hands that had been punching me a moment ago now running up and down my body and face, touching the places where she had broken the skin, stroking the places where I knew I'd have bruises for days.
"Oh, my God. I'm sorry. Doyle, I... Doyle... "
"Shhh," I tried to say, but had to spit out some blood before I could speak. "It's all right, I'm back now."
"I hurt you. Doyle - "
The kiss was almost as painful as the blows had been, between my split lip and my loosened teeth, and I could tell that some of my blood was going into her mouth, but she didn't seem to care. Her body pressed mine down hard against the cold street, and I could feel a piece of broken glass under my shoulder, but I knew better than to try to stop her now, even if I could have spoken to protest.
Her hands were tearing at my parallel-universe-borrowed clothes, going under the shirt and grabbing handfuls of hair in a way that hurt almost as much as the punches, and I wasn't going to have to explain too much to anyone about what I was wearing, because she was ripping it off my body in pieces. Her nose was running like a little kid does after crying, smearing my face along with the blood and the tears, but there was nothing childish about what her hands were doing to me. The short time we had been apart was far too long and there was nothing left in that alleyway or in the rest of the world but her body and mine and the next time that I cried out, it wasn't from the pain any more.