Personally, I think this chapter turned out better than the last one. I hope you enjoy it.
Disclaimer: I don't own Angel.
Chapter 6: I've Got You Under My Skin
"So things are going well?" Angel asked.
"Yeah, I think so." Doyle replied. "We've only been on a few dates, you know, we're taking it slow. But so far, so good."
"I'm glad." Angel said. "I want you and Cordelia both to be happy. And I think you two could be good together."
"Yeah, I think so too." Doyle said. "Or at least, I hope."
The bulk of the work day was over, and Angel and Doyle were sitting at the table in Angel's kitchen, enjoying a moment of calm. "Well, she hasn't said much to me." Angel said. "But she seems happy. So that's a promising sign. How are other things going?"
Doyle hesitated, and was saved from having to answer by the arrival of Wesley. "There you are." He said as he sat down with them. "I have that knife I wanted to show you." He held out an ancient-looking knife for Angel to observe. He took it to inspect, and Wesley turned his attention to Doyle. "And I've been meaning to talk to you, as well." He said. "I have some questions, if you'd be comfortable with it. I have to admit, my personal knowledge of Brachen demons is somewhat limited, and I was hoping we could sit down sometime and you could help fill me in a little."
"Oh." Doyle said in surprise. "I mean…I could do my best. I don't know how helpful I'd be, though. I haven't been one very long. I mean, I suppose that's not true, I guess I've always been one, but I only found out about it a few years ago, and I'm only half Brachen anyway, and I've never really known any others. At least not too personally."
"I'm aware of that." Wesley said quickly. "But you could still tell me about your personal experiences. I don't get the opportunity to sit down and have a friendly conversation with too many of the demons I meet, I think it could be fascinating."
"I…sure, I guess I don't see why not." Doyle said finally, turning this proposition over in his mind. He had always been very guarded about talking about the demon thing. But this was Wesley, right? It wasn't like he didn't already know. "We could talk."
"Excellent." Wesley said, looking pleased. His eyes flickered over to where Angel was still observing the knife. "Well? What do you think?"
"It's for killing Keck demons." Angel said.
"Exactly." Wesley said. "Could be useful, don't you think?"
"Keck demons are extinct." Angel said, putting the knife down.
Wesley's face fell. "Oh." He said. "Really?" Angel nodded. "All of them? You're sure? Maybe there could be just one more, living in the depth of Los Angeles somewhere."
Angel looked extremely skeptical of this. "I mean, a sharp knife is a sharp knife." Doyle said, shrugging. "Maybe we could find some other use for it."
A timer went off. Cordelia's voice called from the other room, "They're done! Nobody touch."
Wesley looked around in confusion, and Angel said, "I think she's making brownies."
"Oh, is that what I smell?" Wesley asked. "I thought I tracked something in."
Cordelia entered the kitchen and took a tray of brownies out of the oven. "The recipe was handed down to me from my mother, who got it from her housekeeper. Plus I improvised a little." She set the tray down on the table, in front of Doyle and Wesley. "You're gonna love them!"
Doyle and Wesley glanced at each other uncertainly. "Us?" Wesley asked.
"Uh-huh." Cordelia said enthusiastically.
"Doesn't Angel have to…?" Wesley began, but Doyle cleared his throat and Wesley quickly corrected himself, "Er, get to…try any?"
"They're brownies full of nutty goodness, not red blood cells." Cordelia pointed out.
"Oh." Wesley realized. "I wasn't thinking. More of a drinker than an eater, I suppose."
"Cordy," Doyle said cautiously, but he saw the excitement in her face and didn't have the heart to disappoint her. "I'm…sure they'll be wonderful."
"Coward." Wesley said under his breath, and Doyle kicked him.
Cordelia had begun attempting to cut the brownies, completely oblivious to the reluctance of her taste-testers, but seemed to be having some trouble. "Maybe if he'd branch out into the solids he'd keep a decent knife around." She put down the knife she was using and picked up Wesley's Keck knife, using it to continue trying to cut the brownies.
Wesley shot to his feet so fast it almost startled Doyle. "That is not appropriate!" He cried. "It's for killing extinct demons! Angel, make her stop!"
Angel was unable to keep the amused smile off his face. "Cordelia," He tried.
"That blade is very old!" Wesley insisted. "Who knows what kind of corrosive affect her cooking may have on it?"
At this, Cordelia turned on him, brandishing the knife in front of her. "Corrosive affect?" She quoted threateningly.
"Cordelia," Doyle said, getting her attention, "Just put down the very sharp knife."
"Well, they don't smell right." Wesley said.
"I think Mr. Too-Much-Cologne is the pot calling the kettle stinky." Cordelia argued.
Doyle stood up. "Seriously, Cordelia, let's put the knife down."
"Don't side with him!" Cordelia cried, waving the knife around rather haphazardly as she spoke.
"I'm not." Doyle said, putting his hands up. "I just have no desire to see you disembowel Wesley, that's all. I have enough nightmares, I don't need you to add to them."
Cordelia hesitated, frowning at him. Angel was looking at him now, too. "Nightmares?" He asked with concern.
…oops. Why did he say that?
"I…I mean, yeah." He said, taking a step back from the table. "You know…you know what it's like, doing this job. Who doesn't get the occasional bad dream? Hey, I think I left something upstairs. I'll be back." He turned around and headed up the stairs to the office, not giving any of the others a chance to say anything.
Once he was alone, he sat down on the couch by Cordelia's desk and took a deep breath, closing his eyes. That was the first time he had really slipped up. He had gotten good at pretending he was alright. That was a skill he had developed long before his temporary death. He could cover his tracks. Sure, it was clear he wasn't sleeping well, but that could be for a million reasons. And as long as he didn't mention the nightmares or the flashbacks, and as long as he covered for the times when his hands would start shaking, he could put up the illusion that he was fine. He wasn't haunted by what had happened on that boat. Or why it had happened. Or how it had felt.
He felt someone sit next to him. "Hey. You okay?"
He opened his eyes and found Cordelia looking at him worriedly. Angel had come in too, and was leaning against the wall by the door to his office, watching them. "Is this an intervention?" Doyle asked. "Because I've really cut back on the drinking, I swear."
"We're concerned about you." Angel said.
"You really don't need to be." Doyle said. "I'm fine, honest."
"Oh, would you cut the crap?" Cordelia asked. "We're not stupid. You're obviously not fine. And there's no reason why you should be."
"She's right." Angel said. "You went through a traumatic event."
"A really traumatic event." Cordelia said. "I mean, it wasn't even a near-death experience. It was an actual-death experience. You're allowed to struggle with it. You don't have to be all strong and stoic about it."
Doyle sighed. Suddenly he was too tired to fight them anymore. He was just so, so tired. "I relive it." He said. "In my dreams. Every excruciating detail, from the fear to the pain."
Angel nodded. "It happens a lot?" He asked.
"Pretty much every night." Doyle admitted. "I'm really starting to hate going to sleep, actually. But it's not just the nightmares. I'll go for days where I'm really, honestly doing okay, and then suddenly it'll just…hit me. I should be dead. But I'm here. And it's not like I'm not glad to be alive. I've been given this whole second chance at life, and I want to take advantage of it, but I can't seem to get past it."
"Doyle, it hasn't been that long." Angel said. "Just because you're having a hard time right now doesn't mean it will never get better."
"I know." Doyle said.
"Why didn't you say anything?" Cordelia asked. "You know that you can always talk to both of us."
He shrugged. "My general plan for dealing with problems in my life is just to ignore them and hope they go away."
She smiled. "Well, at least you're consistent." She said. She reached over and took his hand. "But don't just bottle it up, okay? Eventually you'll explode."
"Both Cordelia and I are here to help you get through this." Angel said. "And Wesley too. You're not alone."
Doyle had to admit, it did feel like a weight had been taken off his chest. Despite how hard he had been fighting it, it did feel good to have the support of the people he cared about. There was one other thing on his mind, though, that he still hadn't told them about. Something else the Oracles had said when he had been brought back that had been bothering him ever since. He just wasn't sure if he was ready to share it. And he was still having this internal debate when he was distracted by more urgent matters. "It hurts." He said.
"I'm sure it does." Cordelia said gently.
"No, I mean…it hurts." Doyle repeated, squeezing her hand tighter.
"Ow." She complained. "Doyle,"
"Vision." Angel realized, and he rushed forward to grab Doyle's other arm as he lurched violently.
"Get him some water." Cordelia told Angel.
"Right." Angel said. He left, and Cordelia sat with Doyle and rubbed his shoulder as the vision passed.
"You okay?" She asked.
"Yeah." He said breathlessly. "Yeah, I'm okay."
"What'd you see?"
He looked at her. "A house."
"You sure this is it?" Angel asked as he parked the car on the street.
Doyle leaned over from the passenger seat to look at the house in question. It was late, and the street was fairly quiet, with the occasional car driving past. "Yeah, that's it." He said. "That's the house I saw."
Wesley, who was in the back seat, said, "Do we know what we're looking for?"
"There's trouble here." Doyle said. "I know that much. Serious trouble."
"It seems quiet right now." Angel observed.
"Angel." Wesley said suddenly with alarm. He was still looking out the window at the house. Angel and Doyle both followed his gaze to a little boy who was walking down along the side of the yard, towards the street, just as another car was about to drive by. He didn't seem to be stopping.
"Oh, god." Doyle said, but Angel acted faster than he could, jumping out of the car and making a dash across the street. He grabbed the boy and pulled him out of the way just in time. They both fell onto the grass. Doyle and Wesley watched as Angel helped the boy up and talked to him until a woman and a man, presumably the boy's parents, came running out of the house.
Doyle turned back to talk to Wesley. "Stay here." He said. "Once the coast is clear, poke around outside, see what you can find." He got out of the car and ran across the street.
"Angel!" He called. "Oh my god, Angel, are you okay, man? What happened? Is everyone okay?"
"Everything's fine." The man told him, gesturing like he wanted Doyle to get back in the car.
"I'm fine." Angel said.
"Our son, Ryan, he must have gotten out somehow." The woman said. She was clutching Ryan to her chest.
"That guy could have killed you both." Doyle said. "Some of the drivers in this town, I mean really."
"We really can't thank you enough." The woman told Angel. Then she frowned. "Oh, you're hurt." She said, looking at his arm, where his jacket had been slashed open, leaving a nasty cut on his arm.
"It's nothing." Angel said. "Really."
"I'm sure he'll be fine." The man told the woman. "His friend here can patch him up."
"He saved Ryan's life, we can't just leave him." The woman argued. "Why don't both of you come in?" She offered.
And that was how Angel and Doyle found themselves sitting in the living room of the house. The man, whose name was Seth, went to put Ryan back to bed, while the woman, whose name was Paige, tended to Angel's injury. "We were just passing through." Doyle was saying. "He was giving me a lift home."
"Well, it's lucky that you were." Paige said as she sat down next to Angel with a first aid kit. "I don't know what we would have done if you hadn't come by." She looked at Angel's arm, and her expression changed to one of shock. "What?" She gasped. The wound had almost completely healed. "This was much worse." She insisted.
Angel hesitated, looking at Doyle, who hurriedly changed the subject. "So have you and your family lived here long?" He asked.
"Oh, uh, no. No, we haven't." Paige said. "We just moved here. We don't really know anyone yet."
"Now, Paige, don't crowd them." Seth said as he entered the living room. Paige noticeably tensed. "Ryan's back in bed." He told them.
"How do you think he got out?" Angel asked.
"Oh, we have bars on the windows, but he can fit between them." Paige said. "We didn't think of that, we didn't even check."
Angel and Doyle glanced at each other. "Where do you think he was going?" Angel asked.
"Going?" Seth repeated. "He wasn't going anywhere. He's a little boy."
"He sure seemed like he was going somewhere." Doyle said.
Seth looked at him for a moment before returning to Angel. "You still haven't given us your name." He said.
"Angel…Jones." Angel replied. "Angel Jones."
Paige gave a cry of delight. She got up and ran off, only to return a moment later with several angel figurines. "Angels." She said. "I collect them. I think they're real, don't you? Looking after us." She smiled. "Tonight, you were our angel."
Angel looked more uncomfortable than Doyle had ever seen him, which was saying something. Seth, for his part, seemed annoyed with his wife's excitement. He looked at Doyle. "And you?" He asked.
"Francis Doyle." Doyle said. "But everyone calls me Doyle."
"Well, Angel, Doyle," Seth said, "I'm sure you'll both want to get going."
"There must be something we can do to repay you." Paige said. "Do you want to come over for dinner?"
"Paige, please." Seth said. "He probably just wants to go home and get some rest."
Angel looked at Paige. "Can I bring something?" He asked. Paige's face broke into a bright smile.
A few minutes later, when Angel and Doyle left, they stepped out the front door and looked at each other. "That was weird, right? It wasn't just me?" Doyle asked.
"Yeah. It was weird." Angel said. They started walking back to the car. "There's definitely something going on. Her behavior around her husband was odd." He went on.
Wesley was waiting for them when they got in. "What'd you find?" Doyle asked him.
In response, Wesley held up a vial of glowing green goo. "Plakticine." He said.
Angel looked at him. "Someone in that house is possessed by an Ethros demon." He said. Wesley nodded grimly.
Doyle looked between Angel and Wesley. "That's really bad, isn't it?" He asked.
"Yeah." Angel sighed. "It's bad."
"What's an Ethros demon?" Cordelia asked.
The Angel Investigations team was in research mode, gathered in the office. "Have you heard of Lizzie Borden?" Wesley asked.
"I remember the nursery rhyme." Cordelia replied. "I swear, some of those should come with a warning. Most gruesome thing I've ever heard." Doyle hummed in agreement, not looking up from the book he was going through.
"The point is that she was possessed by an Ethros demon." Wesley said.
"An adolescent Ethros demon." Angel added. "The amount of plakticine means that this one's full grown."
"So in other words, the nursery rhyme they write about this one will be an all-out horror movie." Doyle said, finally looking up, and Angel nodded in agreement.
"What is this stuff, anyway?" Cordelia asked, picking up the vial of plakticine from where it was sitting on the desk. "Kind of pretty."
"Oh, Cordy, I wouldn't," Doyle began.
"It's the bodily excretion of an Ethros demon." Wesley said.
Cordelia put it down immediately. "No one could have said 'demon poo' before I touched it?" She demanded. She cast a look at Doyle.
"I tried." He insisted. "Anyway, what's the plan?"
"Well, there's only one way to get rid of an Ethros." Angel said.
Wesley looked at him. "An exorcism?" He asked. Angel nodded. "I'll look into finding a priest who can do it." Wesley said. "Not many of them go in for it these days. In the meantime, we need to determine which member of the family is the one possessed."
"The wife wants to talk." Angel said. "But the husband won't let her."
"There was something off about him." Doyle agreed. "He did not want us there. He was hiding something."
"A father doesn't need to be possessed to terrorize his children." Wesley said. "He just," He stopped talking very abruptly as the others all looked at him.
Sensing Wesley's discomfort, Angel pushed on. "We can't just go on a hunch, though." He said. "We have to know for sure."
"So how so we go about finding out?" Doyle asked.
"Eucalyptus powder." Wesley said. "If ingested, it will force the demon to manifest."
"Like the head spinning around, that whole deal?" Cordelia asked.
"Essentially." Wesley agreed.
"I'm going over there for dinner." Angel said. "Seems like a perfect opportunity." He turned to Doyle. "I need you to stay here with them." He said. "Make sure everything is ready to perform the exorcism when I get back."
"Sure." Doyle said with a nod. "I'm not much of the dinner party type, anyway."
"How are you going to dose them with the powder?" Cordelia asked.
Angel hesitated for a moment, thinking this over, and then asked her, "Can I have that brownie recipe?"
Once Angel left for dinner, there was nothing for the rest of them to do except prepare everything and wait. Wesley, who believed he had located a priest who could perform the exorcism but was having trouble contacting him, was busy researching the procedure, leaving Doyle and Cordelia eating sandwiches in Angel's kitchen. "So." Cordelia said, looking at Doyle sitting across the table, "Talk."
Doyle hesitated, giving her a confused look. "Talk about what?" He asked, putting his sandwich down. She gave him a look, and he raised an eyebrow. "Now?" He said. "You want me to talk about the whole death thing…now?"
She shrugged. "We've got time to kill." She said. "And I don't want you trying to weasel out of it. I know how you think. Wesley's upstairs. It's just you and me. So talk. Communication is an important part of a relationship."
"Is that what we have?" Doyle asked. "A relationship?"
"Don't get evasive with me." Cordelia said sternly, and Doyle couldn't help but smile. "I'm going to help you whether you want me to or not, buddy."
He sighed. "It's not just the experience itself." He said. "Although that was plenty bad. But it's the other stuff that haunts me too. Everything I didn't have time to process in the moment. And I…I'm grateful, but I don't understand why they brought me back. The Powers that Be don't just do that. It almost never happens. I shouldn't be here. And every time I start to move forward with my life, that question starts to drive me mad. Why me? What purpose am I supposed to serve?"
"Doyle, you're an integral part of helping Angel." Cordelia said. "He needs you."
"He doesn't, though." Doyle said. "Not really. If I was gone, you all would figure out how to carry on without me."
"What about the visions?" She countered. "What would we do without those?" He hesitated, and she continued. "Besides, you died a hero. Maybe you earned this second chance."
"I got into this because I needed redemption too." He reminded her. "I thought sacrificing myself was my atonement. But if that wasn't it, then what is?"
Cordelia didn't have a chance to respond as Wesley came hurrying into the room. "I just got off the phone with Angel." He said. "They're on their way. We were wrong. It's not the father. It's the boy."
"Ryan?" Doyle said in surprise, standing up.
Wesley nodded. "His parents are cooperating, they're bringing him here." He said. "We need to be ready."
Cordelia stood up as well. "Did you get ahold of the priest?" She asked.
"Not yet." Wesley said, sounding distinctly worried.
"One problem at a time." Doyle said. "Cordy, give me a hand."
It was only a short time later that Angel, Seth, and Paige came hurrying into the apartment, carrying Ryan. "Doyle." Paige gasped when she saw him waiting for them.
"This way." Doyle urged, ushering them to the bedroom.
They put Ryan in in the bed and then had Cordelia put a magic circle around it, keeping him behind a magical barrier. They would all be safe as long as the circle wasn't broken. Which, Doyle suspected, sounded easier than it probably was. Once everything was set up, Angel pulled Doyle aside.
"Wesley and I are going to go find the priest." Angel said.
Doyle nodded. "Okay." He said.
Angel glanced over at Paige and Seth, who were talking to Cordelia. "We'll be back as soon as we can." He said. "But in the meantime, you and Cordy need to keep an eye on them." He nodded to the parents. "It's going to be hard for them to see their son like this, and the Ethros will try to exploit that, try to trick them into doing what it wants. It's important that you make sure that doesn't happen. Keep them safe."
"We can do that." Doyle said.
"Remember, it's not a little boy, it's a demon." Angel told him. "And it'll say things, try to manipulate you. It'll know stuff, personal stuff. Don't let it get to you."
"Angel." Doyle said firmly. "We'll be fine. We can handle it. Go get the priest. And hurry back."
After a moment, Angel nodded. "Wesley." He called, and the two of them headed upstairs.
Doyle turned to Cordelia, Seth, and Paige. "Who wants coffee?" He asked.
"Shouldn't they be back by now?" Cordelia asked Doyle quietly so that Paige and Seth wouldn't hear.
"It's too soon to panic." Doyle replied, equally as quietly. He would be lying if he said he wasn't nervous, though.
"Paige." Seth said, getting their attention. Paige was sitting at the kitchen table, looking into the open door of the bedroom, where Ryan was still lying in bed.
"Mommy?" Ryan called. "Mommy, I'm scared."
Doyle stepped forward and put his hand on Paige's shoulder. "Paige, maybe you and I should wait upstairs for Angel and Wesley to get back, huh?" He suggested. "Cordelia and Seth can watch him."
"That might be a good idea." Seth said.
"No." Paige said firmly. "I'm staying, I…I can't just leave him like this."
"Paige, look at him." Seth said. "That's not Ryan."
"He's right." Cordelia said. "You have to trust us."
"Angel knows what he's doing." Doyle said. "And as soon as he gets back with the priest, we'll be able to help your son."
Paige stood up, her eyes not moving from the entrance to the bedroom. "I just want to see him." She said.
"I really wouldn't recommend that." Doyle insisted.
"Would it really do any harm?" Paige asked.
Doyle paused, looking at Cordelia, who looked equally helpless and shrugged at him. He sighed. "You can't cross the circle." He said, as forcefully as he could. "Do you understand? You can go in there, but you can't get too close."
Seth stepped forward. "She understands." He said. Doyle wasn't entirely convinced that she did, but Seth took her hand and walked with her to the bedroom. Doyle and Cordelia followed. They all lingered in the doorway, Seth not letting go of Paige. "There." He said. "You've seen him. Now let's go."
"Ryan?" Paige asked.
Ryan turned his head to look at her. Seth had been right, he didn't look like a little boy anymore. He looked like a demon. "Mommy, please help me." He whimpered.
"Don't listen to him." Cordelia said.
It was clear, however, that their pleas were falling on deaf ears. "Ryan," Paige said, and she broke free of Seth's grasp, running to Ryan's bedside. "I'm here!" She cried, pulling into her arms.
"Paige!" Doyle shouted, moving to stop her, but it was too late. Ryan grabbed her and pulled her into a chokehold, beginning to strangle her. Doyle held up his hand to keep Seth from running to her aid and falling to the same fate. "Let her go." He warned the demon.
"Why?" Ryan asked. "You're going to make me? You put your neck out once, you really think you can do it again?"
Doyle hesitated, feeling the familiar pit of fear in his stomach. He honestly wasn't sure what he was going to do, which was why it was almost a relief when he was suddenly shoved aside as Angel and Wesley ran into the room. Cordelia caught him as he regained his balance, and they watched as Wesley shouted incantations and Angel pulled Paige from Ryan's grasp. Once the demon had retreated and Paige was free, Angel turned to the others. "No one goes anywhere near him, understand?" He said. Paige and Seth both nodded. Angel waved for Doyle and Cordelia to follow him into the next room.
"I'm sorry." Doyle said as they walked. "I know I said we could keep them safe, I tried to stop them."
"It's not your fault, you tried your best." Angel said. "We've got another problem."
Doyle glanced around, and finally noticed what was missing. "Where's the priest?" He asked.
"Okay, two problems." Angel said. "The priest is dead."
Doyle stared at him for a moment. "Well that's an issue, yeah." He said.
"He was killed performing an exorcism on another Ethros demon." Angel explained. "And the reason he was killed is because after an Ethros is exorcised, it launches itself into the nearest warm body. Forcefully."
"So we can't get the demon out of Ryan without killing somebody else." Doyle said. Angel nodded. "This day just keeps getting better." Doyle said sarcastically.
"Cordelia." Angel said, turning his attention to her. "Start doing some research. There has to be a way to keep the demon from jumping to a new person."
"On it." Cordelia said, already running over to the stack of the books they had pulled out during their Ethros demon research earlier.
"And assuming we figure out how to do that," Doyle said, "Who's going to perform the exorcism?"
"I will." Wesley said, joining them. "I can do it."
"Are you sure?" Doyle asked. "I mean, no offense, Wesley, but isn't performing an exorcism pretty difficult?"
"We already have all the supplies and a book with the incantations." Wesley said confidently. "I can do it. At any rate, we don't have much of a choice. I'm the best of our limited options."
Doyle couldn't really argue with that. It was far from ideal, but it was probably the least worst option, given their current circumstances. "Fine." He said. "I'll…I'll help Cordelia, I guess."
"Good idea." Angel agreed. "Let me know when you find something." Doyle nodded and went to join Cordelia with the books.
It was Cordelia who figured it out: a successful exorcism of an Ethros demon required an Ethros box. The box attracted the demon when it exited the host, allowing them to trap it in the box and prevent it from possessing another person. So Angel sent her to Rick's Magick & Stuff, a local magic shop, to find one. And in the meantime, Wesley was getting started on the actual exorcism. That wasn't going as well.
Doyle patched up Wesley's injury in the kitchen, where they, Angel, and Paige and Seth had retreated to. "I'm sorry." Wesley said. "I let it get to me. It won't happen again."
"It's not your fault." Angel said. "But you're not going back in there."
"And what else do you suggest?" Wesley asked.
"I can do it." Angel said.
"You can't be serious." Wesley argued. "Angel, you know you can't."
"Well what other choice do we have, Wesley?" Angel demanded.
Wesley hesitated, and lowered his eyes to Doyle sitting next to him. "Well…" He said slowly.
Doyle caught his meaning. "Me?" He said.
"No." Angel said immediately. "That's not a good idea."
"No, I could do it." Doyle said. "It shouldn't affect me, I'm not the same kind of…" He broke off, glancing at Paige and Seth self-consciously, "I mean…my condition is different. I think I would be okay."
"It's not that." Angel said.
Doyle frowned at him. "You don't think I could do it?"
"I think you recently went through a trauma, Doyle, and that is exactly the kind of thing that this demon is good at exploiting." Angel said. "It found Wesley's weaknesses and it'll find yours too."
"So what?" Doyle demanded, getting to his feet. "That doesn't mean I shouldn't try! I can't just stand around while that boy is suffering. Not when there's something I could do. I'm stronger than you think I am, I can handle it."
"It's not so much that you can't, Doyle, it's that you shouldn't have to." Angel said. "Not when you've already suffered enough."
"And Ryan shouldn't have to suffer either." Doyle said. "This is why I didn't tell you. I didn't want you to start looking at me like I'm made of glass. Especially when innocent lives are on the line and I'm the one who could do something about it."
"Doyle, the last time you were the only one who could do something, we lost you!" Angel shouted. "And I should have been able to protect you! It was my fault. And I'm not letting it happen again."
Doyle gave him an incredulous look. "You think it was your fault?" He cried. "Angel, I'm not a child. I can make my own decisions, and you don't have to protect me. I'm going to do this and you can't stop me."
"I'm in charge here." Angel said. "I decide what we do. And-"
"Angel?" Wesley said, suddenly standing up and backing away from the table. Angel and Doyle both looked to see the marbles on the table (from the bag of Ryan's toys that Paige had brought) rearranging themselves until they had formed words: Save Me.
"He's taunting us." Angel said.
"Angel, if you're unwilling to let me try again, then Doyle is the best choice we have." Wesley said.
"Let me do this." Doyle said. Angel hesitated, still looking conflicted.
Then the demon called to them from the bedroom, but this time it spoke in Doyle's voice. "The good fight, yeah?" It called. Doyle wasn't sure who it was trying to taunt – him, over the horror of what he had been through, or Angel, over the guilt he felt because of it – but he wasn't about to wait around to find out. Steeling himself with a new determination, he grabbed Wesley's incantation book and a cross and started for the bedroom.
Cordelia came hurrying down the stairs, holding a wooden box. "Okay, they didn't have a real Ethros box, but," She began.
"Get it ready." Angel told her, cutting her off before she could finish her explanation.
Doyle went right up to the bed, pressed the cross to Ryan's chest, and started reading the incantations. The immediate resistance he felt from the demon was almost overwhelming, but he held his ground. He was aware of his own voice growing louder as he went through the ritual until finally, with the last ounce of strength he had, he shouted, "Now the get the hell out!"
The demon came bursting out of Ryan, and Doyle was thrown aside, the strain causing him to morph into his demon face without meaning to. The Ethros demon shot through the room and into the box that Cordelia and Wesley were holding open, but it broke the box to pieces and flew out of the room before it disappeared.
Paige and Seth ran to Ryan's side. Cordelia dropped her half of the box and rushed over to Doyle, who was leaning against the wall, trying to catch his breath. "Are you alright?" She asked him.
After a moment, he nodded and reverted to his human appearance. "Yeah." He said. "I'm okay." He glanced over her shoulder at Angel, who gave him a small nod. He nodded back. "What happened to the Ethros?" He asked Cordelia.
"Well the box did jack squat." She replied. "They didn't have a real Ethros box, but the guy promised me that this one would work. Con artist. The demon didn't try to possess any of us, though, it zipped away."
That didn't make any sense. It went against everything they had read about Ethros demons. Doyle needed a minute before he could properly worry about that, though. "Can I have a glass of water or something?" He asked.
Cordelia smiled. "Of course." She said. She took his arm and walked with him back to the kitchen. "That was really something, by the way." She said. "Not just anyone could have done that. You should be proud." Doyle just shrugged and sat down.
The others left them along until the family was ready to take Ryan home. While Paige, who was holding Ryan, was still talking to Angel, Seth made his way over to where Doyle was sitting with Cordelia. "Hey." Seth said. Doyle looked back at him a little uncertainly. He was sure that they had all seen him change before. He didn't know what reaction to expect. "You saved my son." Seth said. He held out his hand. "Thank you."
After a moment, Doyle shook it. "You're welcome." He said. Seth nodded and walked away.
Doyle looked back at Cordelia, who was smiling. "See?" She said. "You're a big hero."
He smiled a little in spite of himself. "Shut up." He said.
After Paige, Seth, and Ryan went home, the rest of them still had a job to do: find the Ethros demon. It had to have gone somewhere, and it would likely find a new person to possess as soon as possible. They had gathered upstairs in the office for research.
"Not that I'm complaining, but I really don't understand why it didn't try to possess any of us." Doyle said. "I mean, I suppose it wouldn't have had much luck with Angel or me, but it could have made for any of the rest of you. Why didn't it?"
"Do you think it'll try to go for the boy again?" Wesley asked. "Maybe we shouldn't have sent them home so quickly."
"No, if it was still interested in the boy it would have stuck around." Angel said.
"It uses up a lot of its energy when it gets expelled from a host." Doyle pointed out. "It'll need to recharge."
"Yeah." Angel agreed. "And it wouldn't be able to do that in the condition that it was in."
"You're thinking the demon's taken on corporeal form." Wesley said.
"That's my guess." Angel said. "It can only absorb the elements it needs if it manifests itself physically, which means if we can find it in time, we can kill it. He'll be looking for a hostile environment. Somewhere damp. He'll probably be turning to primordial volcanic basalt for his regeneration."
"Huh?" Cordelia asked in confusion.
"Sea caves." Wesley clarified helpfully.
"Why didn't he just say that?" Cordelia asked.
Angel was looking at maps of the coast. "Here." He said, pointing to a spot.
"Those caves would be good candidates." Doyle agreed.
Angel looked at him. "You up for it?" He asked.
"Let's go." Doyle said.
"Good." Angel said. "We're going to need weapons."
Angel, Doyle, and Wesley went searching the caves for the Ethros demon. Doyle had been at the rear for most of the time while Angel and Wesley went ahead of him, but now, as they walked deeper into one of the caves, Angel fell back to talk to him. "This seems like the right kind of place." Angel said.
"Uh-huh." Doyle agreed. "He's bound to be around here somewhere."
After a moment, Angel said, "I don't think you're made of glass, you know."
"I know." Doyle sighed. "And it's not like I don't appreciate that you care about me. It's just…"
"I can't always protect you." Angel finished for him. "And I can't use what happened as an excuse to hold you back. You're right. I'm sorry. You did well today. You did what I couldn't do. That's good. That's part of why I need you. And I do need you."
"Thanks." Doyle said. "And just so you know…it really wasn't your fault. I knew what I was doing. I made the decision. There was nothing you could have done to change it. You shouldn't blame yourself. And if a situation like it ever happens again, that won't be your fault either. We all know what risks we're taking."
Angel nodded. "So…we're good?" He asked.
Doyle smiled. "We're good." He promised. "Now let's kill this thing."
A little further into the cave, and they found it. The Ethros demon, in its own corporeal form, was waiting for them. "I knew you would come." It said.
"And you, what? Decided to plan a surprise party?" Doyle asked. "You know why we're here. You know how this has to end."
"You think you know everything." The Ethros demon said.
"We know what happens to demons who possess innocent little boys." Wesley said. "But we won. You're not getting that boy's soul."
The Ethros demon looked at him. "What soul?" It asked. It stepped forward, allowing them to see it better. "Do you know what the most frightening thing in the world is? Nothing. That's what I found in the boy. No conscience, no fear, no humanity. Just a black void." Doyle felt that pit of fear start to return as it dawned him what the demon was saying. "I couldn't control him. I couldn't get out. I never even manifested in him until you brought me forth. I just sat there and watched as he destroyed everything around him. Not from a belief in evil, not for any reason at all."
"'Save me'." Angel said. "The marbles. That was you."
"That boy's mind was the blackest hell I've ever known." The Ethros demon said. "That's why I tried to get him to kill himself. I knew it would bring death. I do not fear it. The only thing I've ever feared is in that house."
Angel swiftly swung his ax and killed the demon. Then he turned to Doyle and Wesley. "If that's true," He began.
"The Andersons." Wesley said urgently.
"We should hurry." Doyle said.
They barely made it to the house in time to rescue the family from the fire that Ryan had started. Angel rescued the daughter, Stephanie, while Wesley and Doyle got the others out. And then there was nothing to do but wait for the authorities to come.
After giving his statement to Detective Lockley (who Angel had made sure to call), Doyle retreated to the street, where Cordelia was waiting for them by Angel's car. She looked at him as he leaned against the car alongside her. "You holding up okay?" She asked.
"Yeah." Doyle sighed tiredly. He watched Angel, who was talking to Seth a ways away. Sure, the revelation that the child he'd been trying to save was the actual threat all along was demoralizing, to say the least. But that wasn't really what was bothering him. "It wasn't just about Angel." He said.
"What?" Cordelia asked in surprise.
"When the Powers brought me back, the Oracles told me that it wasn't just about Angel." He told her. "They said it was about me. That I was…too valuable to die. The visions can be transferred if the Seer dies, Cordy. It doesn't have to be me. That's not a good enough reason to keep me alive."
"But that's good, right?" She asked. "That means you're special for more than just the visions."
Doyle sighed. "Maybe." He said. "It's just…you can say all you want that I'm a good man who didn't deserve to die. I'm not sure I believe that, but even if it's true, it doesn't matter. Good people die all the time, and the Powers that Be don't lift a finger."
"Do they have fingers?" Cordelia mused.
"They need me for something." Doyle said. "And I know how they work. Just because it's important doesn't mean I'm going to like it. I mean, the last thing they needed me for involved 'gifting' me with head-splitting visions that cause me regular pain. Are they just keeping me alive to die at a more opportune moment? Because they figure I can be counted on to lie down on the sword? What else could possibly be special about me?"
Cordelia put her arm around him. "Doyle, maybe you haven't noticed, but you've done some pretty impressive things in just the time I've known you." She said. "I think you have a lot more potential than you think you do. I believe you're going to do a lot of good for the world. And there's no one I would rather call my boyfriend."
He raised his eyebrows at her. "Boyfriend?" He repeated.
She smiled and kissed him on the cheek. "Boyfriend." She confirmed. "Try to get some sleep tonight, okay? I'll be checking in with you in the morning." She went to go talk to Wesley, and Doyle thought that yeah, he might actually be able to get some halfway decent sleep that night.
I hope to have the next chapter up later this week, but I'm not making any promises. Please review!