Angel/Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Close to Home...So Far Away
By Gabrielle Lawson
Contributing Authors: Mike Donovan, Joe Smith Jr. and Charles Kline II
Disclaimer: Joss Whedon, aka the Evil One, and his minions at Mutant Enemy own Angel, the characters, and the backstory of this vignette. Not that they deserve them. I just borrowed them for my own uses. The story here is born of my own imagination and should be treated as such.
Note: Three other authors contributed to this story. Mike Donovan helped make my Buffy characters sound like Buffy Characters. I couldn't have done it without him. Joe Smith, Jr., helped with the fight scenes. Without him, I was a bad puppeteer. And Charles Kline, II helped to scarify the Nether and the bad guy there. Thanks, guys!
Audio copy: You can listen to this story on my podcast: There Are Three of Me. It is read in Ep65-69 S4E12-16. You can find There Are Three of Me on Spotify, Google Podcasts, and .Chapter One
It was strange. Right from the beginning. Or was it the end? He wasn't really sure. He remembered it: kissing Cordelia and jumping over to the light. One look back over his shoulder. He'd smiled, feeling a sense of peace that what he was doing was right. It would be okay. He burned when he reached for the cables. His flesh melted away and he burned, and he felt every second of it. But he didn't scream, not until after he'd pulled the cabling apart. Not until after everyone was safe. Everyone but him. He hadn't minded then. Anything to take that pain away, even death. But it wasn't death, and it wasn't okay. That's about all he could figure out.
Everything was quiet when he'd opened his eyes again. Or at least he thought he'd opened his eyes. He was back at the harbor and Angel was driving away as Cordelia was staring back at the ship through the truck's window. He'd called out to them to wait, but they drove off anyway. He didn't understand it. Not them driving off. But him standing there watching them do it. I'm a ghost, he'd thought. They couldn't see me because I'm a ghost.
Not exactly the way he'd wanted things to go. He'd hoped for redemption, maybe a chance at the pearly gates. It was a long-shot, he'd figured, given the demon side of his family, but it was a hope he'd harbored anyway. So, having little else to do, and being a ghost, he'd started walking back into town to Angel's place.
He'd trudged along the empty streets for what seemed like forever. He got tired and paused to lean against a metal lamppost, but his hand had passed right through it. Frustrated, he'd tried to punch the offending post, but, again, his hand passed through without effect.
"Great!" he'd exclaimed, sitting down on the curb and shaking his head, "Just great! Can't touch anything, can't even lean on anything. God, I could use a drink."
As if in answer, the skies overhead had rumbled and a fine mist began to fall, growing heavier until he was caught in a rushing downpour. Like everything else, the rain passed through him as if he wasn't there. Like he didn't even exist. He could feel the droplets, but he didn't feel wet. The dampness in the air, though, had chilled him somewhat. Looking skyward, he'd turned up his mouth in a crooked smirk. "You know, this isn't the kind of drink I was talkin' about."
Hugging himself, he'd resumed walking toward Angel's.
After he had been traveling awhile, he smacked his lips experimentally and realized that he wasn't as thirsty as he had been. In fact, he wasn't thirsty at all. He smiled genuinely for the first time since he had realized the depth of his predicament. Somehow, through continuous contact with the rain, he had absorbed some of it. Had he been fully, and unarguably, alive, he would never have thought of LA rain as something to be ingested. But desperate times called for desperate measures, and he didn't exactly have a body to contaminate.
He'd seen the light in the window, and when he got close enough to the office, he could see his own image on the television. The commercial he'd recorded with Cordelia. They were watching it, sitting there in the window. But when he'd tried to go in with them, he found his foot went right through the first step. To him, it had looked solid enough, and he was pretty sure ghosts were able to walk up stairs, but he wasn't. He tried another one and the same thing happened, only now he was standing knee-deep in a staircase. Ghosts can walk through walls, he'd reasoned, so he'd tried the more direct approach. But that didn't work either. He went through the wall alright, but then he'd promptly fallen right through the floor, landing without so much as a thud on Angel's floor. And the crazy thing was, it had hurt.
From that night on, the night of his so-called death, he'd begun to doubt that he'd actually died. He wasn't sure what had happened to him, but he knew that dead people don't get hungry as he had. Well, vampires did, but that was different. He wasn't a vampire. Vampires don't fall through floors. Neither did demons last time he'd checked, so he wasn't sure that that was a factor either. Ghosts didn't need to eat or drink. They didn't get cold either, as far as he knew. So the obvious conclusion was that he was not dead. But he wasn't ready to call his current state of existence life either.
So, buffered by his discomfort and his inability to leave the ground (though still not sure why he didn't fall into the sewers every time he crossed the street), he'd tried to contact Angel. Who better than the undead to see that he wasn't dead either? He'd tried shouting at him while Angel dressed but Angel didn't hear him. He'd stood in the doorway when Angel went to leave, but Angel simply walked right through him (and what a grisly experience that was!). He'd tried closing the book Angel was reading, but his hand went right through it. The same thing happened with the keyboard on the computer. Nothing worked. He'd even tried Harry, who'd known him longer than anyone, but she didn't see him either.
And all that started to make him think that maybe he'd gotten his assumptions of ghosthood mixed up with the real thing and that maybe he really was dead after all. Months had gone by, with Angel and Cordelia coming and going, some goof named Wesley that nearly tripped on his own feet meddling, demons and bad guys getting taken out by Angel, and all the while he was getting hungrier and hungrier. He couldn't eat. He couldn't hold anything in his hands. And yet he hadn't starved. Not yet. He'd started to get thinner though, not that anyone would notice. He noticed, because he could see himself. His hands were growing gaunt, until he could see the bones of his fingers through the skin he wasn't sure he had. He could see his face in the reflection of the windows he watched Cordelia through or in the mirrors in her apartment. Dennis didn't seem to even mind that he was there, which bolstered his I'm-not-a-ghost theory. Of course, he couldn't see Dennis either, so maybe that was normal for unrelated ghosts. The mirror had shown him a pale face (his face, not his skull bereft off all its flesh), with the beginnings of sunken cheeks.
He was starving, slowly perhaps, but starving nonetheless. He thought about food anytime he wasn't thinking about Angel or Cordelia. He watched Cordelia eat, thankful that her apartment was on a ground floor. He sat on the floor beside her at the table (he'd fallen through chairs enough to know not to bother trying) and watched each dip of the fork into the food and then up to her beautiful lips. He liked to watch her brush her teeth just to hear the water pour from the faucet. He was thirsty, too, and it didn't rain that often in California. The rain helped the thirst, but nothing helped the hunger. Cheeseburgers didn't exactly fall from clouds. And the same thing that had happened with Angel's books happened with Cordelia's french fries. He couldn't touch food (or anything else). He could smell it. He could practically taste it, but he couldn't touch it.
Angel watched her from his office. It was a slow day. She was watching the television again. Playing the commercial over. He wanted to tell her to turn it off, that it hurt to hear Doyle's voice again. But he figured she needed it. Everyone grieves in their own way. That was hers. She'd helped him clean out Doyle's apartment. Harry had only kept a photo from their wedding. The rest had gone to Good Will, not that he had much to begin with. But Cordelia had only wanted that tape. He was alive in the tape, she'd said. He had a voice.
Suddenly she dropped the remote and gripped her head. Angel raced into the room as she grimaced in pain and dropped her head to the desk. She cried out, and Angel grabbed her shoulders and held her until it had passed. "What did you see?" he asked quietly.
Doyle hated that. His visions. He'd given them to her. He'd hurt her. If he'd have known, he wouldn't have kissed her. He would have just jumped. He heard her cry out and came to the staircase. He could walk halfway up before he'd fall through the steps. He'd found that out the hard way. He figured then it must have something to do with the solidity of the steps. Halfway up, they stopped being solid, allowing a certain amount of storage space underneath. Still he had a few steps, and if he stood in the right place, he could almost see into Angel's office. And if the light was right, a reflection from the glass threw a distorted image of the outer office onto the windows. He'd stood there a lot the last few months. He'd had nothing better to do but waste away and wish for life or wish for death and bemoan the fact that he was stuck somehow in between. He wished it would just hurry now, the starvation. This was worse. He looked away and wished he could at least lean against the wall. He was so tired.
"What was it?"
"How should I know?! What do I look like, Giles?" Cordelia's voice rose in frustration. She was coming closer, probably wandering into the inner office. "Big horns, red eyes, your typical disgusting de-"
She had been about to say 'demon', Doyle knew, but something had made her go quiet.
Then Angel, "What is it? What's wrong?"
"I'm sorry." She apologized softly, "I'm still not used to this. Doyle always made it look so easy." She paused, drawing in and releasing a ragged sigh, "Sometimes . . . sometimes I can see him. In a reflection in a window or in my mirror, like he's still here."
Doyle felt his strength return to him, and he climbed the last two steps. She had seen him! All those times he had danced around like a fool and screamed at her until he was gasping for breath, on some level it had gotten through to her!
"I wish he was here," she sobbed. "I miss him so much."
"That's natural, Cordelia," Angel again. "I miss him, too. But we can't do anything about it. He's gone."
"No, I'm not!" Doyle cried, waving his arms madly in the air. "I'm here! Look! On the stairs!"
But she didn't. She'd buried her face in Angel's big shoulder, and Angel didn't seem to notice him. He thought it was all in her head; she was only seeing what she wanted to see. But Doyle knew she was seeing him. She was seeing him. For real.
She sniffed and lifted her head. "I could draw it," she finally said. "The demon. Won't be a masterpiece. . . ."
"But maybe we could recognize it in one of the books."
Books. Downstairs. They'd be coming down. But there were no mirrors downstairs. No windows. No way to see him.
"All those books," Cordelia muttered, "If Giles were here, he'd have a field day. That man definitely needs to get out once in a while"
Giles. Again, that name. He thought he had heard it once or twice before. But where? The elevator rose; they were coming down. He moved back into the room. Giles. Where the heck had he heard that name?
"Buffy didn't like the books either," Angel quipped as the elevator lowered again. Buffy. Right. Giles was Buffy's watcher. Back in Sunnydale. How far was Sunnydale?
Doyle walked. He didn't have a choice. He couldn't sit in a car or hop on a train. He had to walk. The sun burned down on him, the wind threatened to blow him off the road, but he kept going. Maybe Giles, with all his books, could find the answer. Maybe Doyle could make him see him.
It took days. By the end, he was dragging his feet and holding his stomach. His hands were little more than bones covered by a thin layer of skin. Not even that, he reminded himself. And that's why he kept going. Then he saw it. "Sunnydale", in big, bold letters. They were all he could make out in the dark. One of the lights that lit the sign had burnt out. He sped up, or tried. He'd made it. Sunnydale. Now all he had to do was find this Giles person, whom he'd never seen. He read the rest of the sign. "Welcome to the University of California, Sunnydale."
Doyle dropped to his knees. He'd seen a map, back at the Tourist Information Center. The college was on the outskirts of the city. He hadn't even made it yet. And he wasn't going to. He could hardly walk. He was so hungry, so tired. He wanted to sleep. He wanted to eat. He wanted to cry. He folded himself over onto the ground, the only thing he could touch besides himself.
"It's not fair!" he cried, maybe to the Powers That Be, maybe to no one. "I did the right thing this time! How can savin' people's lives be punished like this?!" He didn't really want to answer that because the answer was obvious. Only someone who really had it coming to him would have missed out on redemption after what he had done. But Doyle had always figured himself to be a pretty stand up guy, or at least not as bad as the type of customers he and Angel had tangled with in the past. True, he'd gotten his hands into some shady deals once in a while but never with the intent to hurt anyone. Maybe the Powers That Be were pickier than most people believed. Maybe they just had something against Brachen demons. Overcome with frustration, he cried out again, "Lemme live or lemme die! One or the other!"
The voice that answered was wry, but also light and familiar. "You keep lying on the road like that and pretty soon you're not going to have the choice."
Doyle jerked up, which made him dizzy, but he spun around to face her anyway. "You can hear me?" he begged.
She looked at him as if he'd been smoking something funny. "And this surprises you how?"
Doyle pushed himself to his feet. "You can see me?"
"Yeah, I'm gifted with an uncanny ability to see that which is plainly obvious." She cocked a wry eyebrow. "You are standing under a streetlight, you know, not exactly the best place to be if you were trying to be inconspicuous."
As Doyle stared, stunned and relieved, she continued to look him over. "Don't I know you? You were in LA the last time I was there. You work with Angel. No offense, but you're not looking so good."
"Now there's a newsflash." He smirked and snorted to himself. "Buffy. You're the Slayer," he sounded like an idiot, even to himself, but he couldn't help it. It was the first time he'd been heard since . . . well, since. "You have ta help me." Forgetting himself in desperation, he reached for her arm. And caught it! "I need to find Giles."
She didn't seem to have heard him. Her eyebrows were drooping to the center of her forehead.
"Buffy!" A man's voice. There were footsteps too. A tall, young man, with a slightly comical face, ran up and stopped beside her, out of breath. "Who were you talking to?" he asked.
She looked back at Doyle. "Xander meet . . . . What's your name again?"
"Doyle," he answered, dropping her hand.
"Doyle," she repeated, holding a hand out in his direction.
"But he can't see me." He wanted the man, Xander, to go away. He needed Buffy.
"Have you been drinking?" Xander asked, looking down at her like a scolding mother. "Or are we playing games with the townie again?"
Buffy opened her mouth to answer, but didn't say anything. She turned back to Doyle. "You're a ghost," she finally concluded.
Doyle shook his head. "No. I'm alive."
"Let's see, insubstantial, transparent, night-time lurker?" she looked him over with a sidelong glance, "I'm going to have to stick with my original answer."
"I wasn't lurking." He answered sullenly, "I was just . . .restin'."
"You're talking to a ghost?" Xander obviously didn't like the idea, looking around trying to see where the threat was, "I can't see him."
"That don't mean I'm a ghost."
"Then what are you?" Buffy raised her eyebrows in question.
"I don't know." He shook his head sadly. "But I know I'm dying."
Buffy pulled in her bottom lip, thinking, then stepped a little closer to him. "If I were going to venture a guess, I'd have to say that that train left the station a while ago."
"No, I'm tellin' ya I'm alive!" Doyle insisted. "I'm too hungry to be dead. Dead people don't get hungry, do they?"
"I don't know." Buffy shrugged slightly. "Maybe you starved or something. You do kinda have the waif thing going on. Maybe you just don't remember."
"Who's Doyle?" Xander whispered.
"I remember," Doyle pressed his hands to his face and backed away, right into the sign. Through the sign. Damn it. "I remember distinctly, every damn agonizing second of it. It felt like I was riding the sun like a buckin' bronco. That damn light burning through my flesh."
"Light?" Xander echoed, scratching his head in confusion.
"A big half-breed killin' light," Doyle answered, getting impatient. "Burns away every shred a human ya got 'til there ain't nothin' left. It's a long story. I'd rather just tell it once. To Giles."
"Don't dead people go toward a bright light or something?" Xander offered. "That's what they say in all the movies anyway."
"If Xander can't hear you," Buffy reasoned, "then neither can Giles."
"Buffy!" Doyle pleaded. "Come on, ya gotta believe me!"
"Look, you're invisible, you walk through signs," Buffy sounded sincerely sorry. "As I believe I've already noted, those are classic signs of ghosthood."
"Starvation isn't," Doyle argued. "And I'm pretty sure ghosts can go upstairs or ride on trains if they feel like it. They can throw furniture around a room and write in blood on the walls. I can't do any of that. I can't even sit in a friggin' chair, fer cryin' out loud! I go through everything, not just walls or doors. Everything." His voice was getting hoarse. It hadn't rained in a few days. He was thirsty again. "But I can touch you. How do ya explain that, little Miss Skeptic?"
"Okay, that is a little weird," Buffy agreed.
She was hesitating; Doyle could see that. "I'm not a bad guy," Doyle told her. "I saved everyone from the bad guys. I'm the Promised One, whatever the hell that means."
"Surprised me, too," Doyle admitted. "Will you help me?"
She bit her lip again and shuffled from one foot to the other. She couldn't decide. Doyle looked around for something, anything that could help him convince her. There was a building a dozen yards away. With windows. He grabbed her arm again and pulled her toward it. "Over here." Thankfully, she didn't resist. He couldn't have held her if she had. "Bring him, too."
"Xander," she called and the young man dutifully followed. Doyle planted her in front of one of the windows so that her full reflection was right beside his translucent one, which he hardly recognized. She didn't look impressed. But Xander did.
"Oh hey!" he exclaimed, pointing at the window. "I can see him. Nice to meet you, by the way. You're not a bad dresser, but you don't look so good. Even for a ghost."
"So I've been told," Doyle returned. "And I'm not a ghost."
"I saw his lips move." Xander said. "What'd he say? Was it about me? 'Cause if it is, you can tell me. Unless it's bad, in which case you can keep it to yourself. Was it about me?"
Buffy looked at her friend and then the reflection again. "Look Xander, I need a favor. I'm already late for patrol or I'd do it myself. Take Doyle to see Giles. I'll come by later."
Doyle's hopes sank again. "But he can't hear me."
"But I can't see him." Xander complained.
"I said I'd be by later. Use the windows," she reassured him. She turned back to Xander, "You'll have to walk it. Just keep checking to make sure he's with you."
She left, giving one last look over her shoulder. Xander waved his hand in the other direction. "So how do you know Buffy?" He started walking. "Oh, forget I asked."
Doyle rolled his eyes, but started to follow through the main quad of the university and out to the city proper. But it was hard keeping up. Xander looked over his shoulder every once in a while, as they passed a window, and he did slow down a bit when he noticed Doyle's reflection was a few windows back. But it wasn't enough. Doyle's feet ached from days of walking from LA and he and Xander had already been walking for nearly an hour. He couldn't go on, and he knew that Xander couldn't help him. He was still alone. He took a few more steps, until he was in front of a large store window, and then collapsed down to the sidewalk. His gave up a sigh of relief to be free of his weight, imaginary or not. It took Xander a few minutes to realize that he wasn't back there, but to his credit, he did stop and backtrack.
"It's not that far now," he said.
Doyle shook his head. "It's too far."
Xander knelt down beside him. "At least turn around so I can see what you're saying." He'd asked nicely enough, so Doyle obliged, turning until he could see his own gaunt reflection in front of the mannequin in the window. "Did. You. Come. From. LA?" Xander pronounced each word loud and distinctly as if talking to a simpleton.
"I'm not deaf, ya know," Doyle scowled.
"What?!" Xander shouted.
Fed up, Doyle simply nodded.
"That's a long way. You must be wasted. You look totally beat. We can rest for a few minutes, but I don't think we should stay out here alone." They sat quietly for little while, though Xander constantly tapped his hands on his knee. He was nervous, and Doyle wasn't sure whether it was because of the threat of vampires or because of him. "So you're a ghost, huh?" he asked the reflection.
Doyle rolled his eyes and shook his head. Then he got to his feet, ignoring their complaints and began to walk in the direction Xander had been leading him. "I don't get it," he heard Xander mutter behind him.
Buffy watched them leave from around the corner. She reached inside her pocket and pulled a folded piece of paper out. She fingered the lettering and traced the lines of the drawing that didn't look much like an angel. His phone number was there, just below the drawing. She could call it, ask him about Doyle. Maybe Cordelia would answer, or maybe she was already home for the night. What if Angel answered? It still hurt, maybe it always would. He should know, though, that his friend was here, ghost or not. He'd want to know.
Or would he? Would it just stir up the hurt again? Especially if Doyle was really a ghost or Giles couldn't help him.
There was a rustling sound in the bushes off to her left. She pushed the business card back into her pocket and ran toward the sound. Vampires and demons didn't wait for emotional indecision. The sound moved away from her as she ran, so she chased it, finally cornering it in a grove of trees. She slowed down as she neared it, stake at the ready. She pushed aside a branch blocking her view, but it was just three commandos. She couldn't tell if one of them was Riley or not. Their faces were covered. She backed away quietly.
She hadn't gotten past the quad when she heard someone calling her. "Buffy! Is that you?"
Buffy spun around to see Riley running towards her. She glanced around but no one seemed to have noticed. "Riley? Hi," she offered with a smile, letting him catch up to her. "What are you doing out so late? No homework to grade?"
He cocked his head at her, but then took a breath. He got it. "Um, no, not lately. It's been quiet. You? Homework to do, that is."
Buffy shook her head. "It's Friday. No class tomorrow anyway." No work for him, no slayage for her. She hadn't seen a vampire, except Spike, in the last four days. "I haven't had any homework to speak of since Monday," Buffy said, hoping to find out if it had been the same with him. "I'm beginning to think I'm missing an assignment or something."
He shook his head, still smiling. "It could happen."
"Seems odd," she commented, but there it was. Nothing for four days. She'd discussed this with Giles. There were no vamps. No vampire holidays that he knew of either. "Well, I guess I'll just go back to my dorm and relax then. Catch up on some reading. Read ahead. Whatever."
He laughed. He did have a beautiful smile. "I'll walk you back then."
She held up a hand. She wasn't really going to the dorm. She had to get to Giles' and see about this Doyle character. "I can make it, really. You don't have to."
"I'd like to."
Well, maybe a walk back with Riley wouldn't hurt. And Willow could help shed some light on the Doyle situation. "Okay, I give in."
Cordelia yawned, and her head nodded forward. She did that a lot lately. She couldn't really help it. She'd already told Angel about the nightmares.
"Why don't you put your head down for a little while?" Angel told her. "Wesley and I can keep working here." He looked to Wesley for confirmation.
"Certainly," Wesley agreed.
"I'm afraid to," she admitted. "It's awful. And it's always the same thing."
"What is it?" Wesley asked.
"Doyle dying?" Angel asked quietly, his eyes down. It still hurt just to even say it.
"Mostly," she replied, and Angel noted that Wesley immediately pretended to bury his nose in his book. She'd told Angel about the nightmares, but she hadn't told him everything. "They start that way."
"And then?" he prompted, sensing she needed to talk about it.
A while back, he wouldn't have even asked. But he'd taken more time with her since. . . . They were family now. "Then, I don't know. It gets worse."
"Worse?" Angel was looking up now, watching her from under his eyebrows. Wesley, too, though he tried not to be too obvious about it.
"Do you think he got to go to heaven?" she asked, letting out her fear. "I mean, he saved us. So he's half-demon! He did a good thing. He atoned. Didn't he?"
Angel was quiet for awhile. "I don't know if there is such a place. If there is, he's there." He has to be, he added silently. If Doyle's selfless sacrifice couldn't make up for his meager shady dealings, then what hope did Angel have for redemption?
"It's strange really," Cordelia continued, visibly glad for the conversation. They didn't talk about him a lot, and Angel knew it bothered her. But it was easier for her. It was still hard for him, which didn't make sense considering what he was, what he'd done. Death wasn't a stranger to him. "Sometimes it's the nightmare and sometimes it's me. I'm somewhere looking back at me sleeping. Or I'm down here wandering around."
"I dream about him, too, sometimes," Angel admitted. "The dying sometimes. And sometimes it's just him, coming into work. It's probably natural."
Wesley, forehead creased in sympathy, nodded his agreement. He never spoke when they spoke about Doyle. Angel appreciated that, though he felt it a little unfair to Wesley.
"It was so short a time." Cordelia said. Her eyes got moist. "How did we get so attached in so short a time?"
Angel smiled. "I don't know."
Cordelia wiped away the tear that had escaped her eye and closed the book. "Well, it's not in this one."
Thankfully, Giles lived on the ground floor. Actually, he lived in a condominium that was below ground level, but the few steps that led down to it were solid. All of which was good news to Doyle. The wind was cool, and he didn't want to have to wait outside or in a basement. Xander knocked on the door and a very British-looking man with light hair and glasses answered it. "Hey, Giles. Can we come in?"
Giles leaned out to look behind Xander. "We who?"
"Me and the guy nobody can see," Xander answered. "Buffy said she'd meet us here later and explain everything."
Fortunately, Giles seemed to trust Xander enough. He opened the door. Doyle had already entered though. He was tired and didn't feel he could wait out there. Giles' apartment was small but neat. And there were books everywhere. Books about demons and vampires. Just what he'd hoped. Now he just needed Buffy, so she could speak for him.
"He was here just a while ago," Xander was saying.
"How do you know if he can't be seen?" Giles asked and Doyle noticed he wasn't mocking. He was used to the unusual, it seemed. Of course, he had to be if he was the Slayer's watcher.
"Reflections," Xander answered. "Doyle? You think you could stand in front of a mirror for us?"
Doyle really only wanted to sit and wait for Buffy to return. Maybe even sleep. No, not sleep. Sleeping meant dreaming and he didn't like the dreams he'd had since. . . . He'd stay awake until she returned. He'd managed the last four days without so much as a nap. He could last another hour. He hoped it wouldn't be longer than that. He looked around the living room, which was divided in two by a couch. Behind the couch was a small table with folding leaves. He spotted a mirror beside the door.
"There's one beside the door," Giles called. He himself stood in front of the mirror and didn't appear too shocked when Doyle stepped in behind him.
"I need your help," Doyle said slowly, trying to make the words as distinct as possible.
"I see," Giles said, and Doyle wasn't sure if that meant he'd understood or not. He stepped back out into the room. "Xander go get another mirror. Something we can put in the living room."
"My mom's got a full-length one in the hallway upstairs," Xander offered. "But I'll need to borrow your car." Giles threw him the keys and he darted out the door.
"I can't hear you," Giles said, moving to the little table, "so I don't know how to help you. I'm assuming that Buffy could since she told Xander to bring you here. So we'll just have to wait until she comes." He pulled out a chair. "Please sit down."
Doyle didn't bother trying. Giles wouldn't know it anyway. Instead he went to the books, taking a seat on the floor in front of the largest group. They were very old, with frayed leather covers and broken bindings. He could read a few of the titles, but many were in foreign languages. One was even Irish and he could hear his grandmother's lilting voice when he read it. Vampires though. Not demons. Wouldn't help.
"Bye," Buffy said, leaning her hand on her own doorknob. Riley had walked her to her door. He was sweet that way, but it could get in the way.
He smiled and kissed her gently on the cheek. "Tell Willow I said hello. See you soon."
"Yep, homework in hand."
"I hope not," he replied, grinning. He turned and left and Buffy pushed open the door. "Will, get your shoes."
"What's going on?" Willow asked, sitting up in her bed. "Is evil afoot?"
"Always," Buffy said, pulling out her box of weapons. "But I'm thinking this one isn't so evil. Bring your spell stuff. We may need it."
That got her attention. Her eyes lit up and she started pulling on her shoes. "What kind of spell?"
"The kind of spell where you make an invisible person visible," Buffy answered, going through her own things. She wasn't sure what she needed though. She wasn't going to slay anyone. Then she thought of it and closed the box again. She went to her dresser and pulled out her makeup kit and the large hand-mirror inside it.
"You'll see when we get there," Buffy said, hand on the door again.
"Where? And how can I see when I can't see?" Willow had thrown some things into her backpack.
"I'll explain later," Buffy said. She opened the door. "When we get to Giles' place."
Willow was skeptical. "Giles is invisible?"
Xander arrived back before Buffy. Doyle looked up when the door opened. Spike was with him. Doyle didn't get that. The vampire wasn't even trying to bite anyone. He didn't get up though. He was too tired. Giles directed Xander to put the mirror in one corner of the living room. "So where's the ghost?" Spike asked. "And don't point that thing at me."
"I'm not a ghost," Doyle argued, knowing not even Spike would hear him.
Xander tried moving the mirror, but Doyle still didn't feel like moving. What good would it do anyway? He needed Buffy to talk to them. He watched them move the mirror around the living room, turning it this way and that to try and see him. The door opened.
"Where could he have gone?" Giles asked.
"He's sitting right there," Buffy said, pointing right at him. "He looks bored. Someone could have at least left the TV on for him."
"Buffy!" Doyle exclaimed, standing up. "Thank God you're here! Are they aware that there's a vampire in the dining room?" She had someone with her, another young woman, with shoulder-length, reddish-brown hair.
"It's just Spike," she assured him. "He's harmless. Why don't you come into the dining room and have a seat . . . or stand . . . or something."
Doyle followed her through the living room proper, but didn't sit. "Harmless?" he said. "He tortured Angel trying to get at the Ring of Amara. He would've killed us all."
"I heard that!" Spike said, and Doyle wondered if in fact he had. But he seemed to pay no mind to anyone but Buffy. "I get my bite back and I'll show you harmless!"
"And how do you plan on undoing whatever was done to you?" Giles asked calmly. "Just sit down." Spike scowled but obliged. "You didn't have to come anyway."
"I was bored!" Doyle was standing now in front of the mirror and Spike chanced a look in that direction. "Oh, it's the mick!" he said, sounding smug.
"He wants you to help him," Buffy told Giles, cutting off the argument and ignoring Spike's comment.
"I'll need to know more," Giles answered, sitting down on the couch. "Who is he and why is he invisible exactly?" Xander and the other girl sat down as well.
"He swears he's not a ghost," Buffy put in for him. "And he's got some questionable symptoms so I'm inclined to believe him."
"I died," Doyle said, hoping she'd repeat it, "or at least I thought I did. I was trying to save everyone. I don't know what happened but I know I ain't dead."
"I don't hear him," Giles said. "But you do. Interesting. You see him, too. Because you're the Slayer."
Buffy turned her attention back to Giles. "I guess so. He's Doyle, a friend of Angel's. He said he died trying to save everyone," Buffy relayed, taking a seat herself, "or he thought he did. He doesn't know what's happened."
"Maybe he should start at the beginning," Giles suggested. "Willow, perhaps you could take some notes."
"Sure," Willow, the red-haired girl answered, taking up paper and pen.
"Um, Buffy?" Doyle asked, whispering as if he was afraid of being heard, "Who are these people?"
"Oh," Buffy seemed startled. "I'm sorry. That was rude. Doyle, this is Willow, my roommate and best friend." She indicated the red head who waved politely in the general direction that Buffy was facing, "Xander Harris. You apparently know Spike already. And you know Giles. Everyone, this is Doyle."
"The beginning then, huh?" Doyle sat down, on the floor. He didn't like looking up at everyone, but he was still too tired to stand. "The Scourge. That was the beginning."
"The Scourge?" Buffy asked.
"Bloody hell!" Spike exclaimed, "That's no beginning. All those fanatic freaks know is endings."
"I see you've heard of 'em," Doyle commented. "Not the prettiest buncha fellas, but they are dedicated. They won't give up until every demon that's even got a little human in him is dead."
"They're a demon army out to get anything that's not fully demon," Buffy relayed what Doyle was telling her. "Mighty Nazi of them, if you ask me."
"They came looking for a group of half-Lister demons," Doyle continued and Buffy repeated. "I got a vision and we did our best to get them out of LA before it was too late. But the Scourge caught up to us. They had a weapon called the Beacon. Sort of like a big bug zapper except it only affects human parts. Not a real treat for half-breeds like m-the Listers. Angel was ready to jump over and pull the plug. But I figured the world needed him more than it needed me."
Buffy paused for a moment but then repeated what he was saying to her so the others could hear. "So he did it. He stopped it."
Xander nodded. "Sort of jumped on the grenade to save his whole platoon."
"Something like that," Buffy agreed. "Then he was standing on the docks watching Cordelia and Angel drive away. He's been hanging around for the last few months, but no one but me can hear or see him. And he's hungry. He says he's starving."
"What's the stuff about the Promised One?" Buffy asked Doyle.
"Lister demon prophecy," Doyle told her. "The promised one would come and save them from the Scourge. We kind of thought it was Angel. Turns out, it was me, I guess."
Buffy repeated the answer for the others. "Lister Demon prophecy. They thought it was pointing to Angel but it's Doyle."
"Lister," Giles repeated. "I think I have something on that." He stood up and went into the bookshelf behind the couch, returning with one of the large books.
"Maybe Anya should be in on this," Xander suggested. "You know, demon's side of things."
"Former demon," Buffy corrected quickly. She nodded to Xander. "Maybe she's heard of the Scourge. What do you know about them, Spike?"
"Just what you've said," the vampire answered. "Full-blood demons trying to kill anyone who's not like them. The only way to deal with 'em is to give 'em lots of room and wait until they pass."
"Great," Buffy sighed, "Just when I thought Sunnydale had the market cornered on unstoppable evil."
"So why the invisible stuff?" Willow asked. "And what made him decide to come here? It's been a few months. Why now? For that matter, why is he still here at all?"
"Cordelia saw me," Doyle answered, still feeling a sense of relief and wonder. "She thought she was imagining it, but she saw me in a window. Then I knew I was real. But they couldn't help me."
"But you didn't know that I could see you," Buffy interjected after relaying his answer to Willow. "How was Giles going to help you?"
"I don't know," Doyle answered honestly. "I didn't think that far ahead. I was desperate. I still am."
"He didn't think that far ahead."
"So if the light didn't kill him," Xander offered, returning to his seat, "what did it do? Maybe he's having an out-of-body experience."
"He'd have to have a body left for that, you ninny!" Spike rolled his eyes, "Sounds to me like his is spread all over LA harbor."
"You can always count on Spike to be encouragin', huh?" Doyle noted.
"He has a gift," Buffy agreed.
"'At the end of that age,'" Giles said, reading from the book, "'the Promised One will come and save them from the Scourge.' That's it. The last page of the book. Not exactly a lot to go on. Is there anything else you can tell us?"
"I don't know," Doyle sighed and placed his head in his hands. It was useless. What could they do? If the books didn't say anything to help then how could they help?
"It's just one book," Buffy offered. "Giles has a lot more, right Giles?"
"Well, uh, yes, but. . . ."
Doyle let his gaze fall to the floor. "I shouldn't have come. I could have stayed and wasted away with Cordelia and Angel. I've put you out for no reason."
"Stop it," Buffy said, and Doyle was surprised by the forcefulness of it. She got out of her chair and sat down on the floor beside him. She lowered her voice so that only he would hear. "You saved Angel. If I can help you, I'm going to help you. And I'll decide when I'm being put out or not."
Doyle didn't know what to answer. His stomach ached badly, he couldn't stop shaking and here was the Slayer saying she'd help him. He could see what Angel saw in her.
"What were the demons, the full-bloods?"
"Different kinds," Doyle replied, and Buffy echoed. "But most of them looked like, well, I don't know how to describe them."
Buffy looked at him. "Could you draw it?"
"With what?" he asked, holding up a hand.
She took it. "With me." She stood and took a pad and pencil from Willow, then sat back down again. "Right or left?"
"Right," he said. She turned her back to him and put the pad on her lap. He reached around her and put his own hand on her hand.
"My hands shake," he told her.
"Mine don't," she said. "Just try it."
Doyle did as she said. It wasn't easy. He'd never been much of an artist before when he could use his own hands. But he managed, and drew a rough sketch of what the leader of the Scourge had looked like, with his bald, split skull and deranged features. "It's the best I can do," he told Buffy. She nodded and got up to walk the pad over to Giles.
"Well, we'll look into it," Giles said. "Perhaps you should just get some rest. We'll be at this for awhile."
Doyle shook his head before he even knew he was answering. "I can't."
"You don't sleep," Buffy said, looking back at him. She hadn't asked.
But he did. "I have . . .," he hesitated, not out of embarrassment, but more out of a lingering sense of fear, ". . . nightmares." It was why he hadn't slept since.…
"When was the last time you slept?"
"Four nights ago," he answered, feeling the weight of the words like lead on his eyelids.
"And you walked here from LA?" Buffy scolded. "You need to rest. They'll be at the books all night. You're safe here. Sleep."
It did sound good. Sleep. But on the other hand, his dreams hadn't changed once since he'd . . . well, since. He'd never been as terrified in his life, not by the Scourge, not by anything he'd faced with Angel or even before.
Buffy must have sensed his hesitation. "You're wasting away, Doyle," she whispered to him, "you're probably not making it any slower by pushing yourself so hard. Nightmares are just dreams."
Doyle let her help him up. Maybe it would be different now. Now that someone saw him. Now that he had a reason to hope. He'd concentrate on Cordelia, the way she smiled or the way her eyes gleamed when she was mad. Maybe he'd dream about her. Buffy led him into a space just under the stairway. "No one will step on you here."
Doyle nodded, thankful that she'd thought of that. He laid down on the floor and closed his eyes, visualizing Cordelia's long brown hair and her soft lips, as hushed voices continued in the living room.
Then all the ordinary sounds drifted away. And so did Cordelia. She was on the catwalk with Angel as he turned to them one last time. He turned back to the Beacon. The light was already blinding but he could just make out the cables by their silhouette. The light burned through him, and he again felt the fire melting away his skin. But he pulled against the cables, forcing his fingers to stay locked around them. He pulled with every last bit of energy he had and they came apart. The light flashed once brightly before winking out, and all he had left was the pain. The scream tore out from his throat and then he was gone. There was darkness and misery, pushing its way through every part of him like a parasitic cancer, feeding on his energy, his life. It began to take shape, forming into a cloud of death that hovered over him and held him down with great force. He tried to turn away but no longer possessed the strength to do so; its influence was much too strong. He could only stare back at it, helpless as he was, and then it had him in its grasp.
The invading mist was like a million pins and needles at first, pricking the surface of his flesh. Then the pins and needles became knives that cut in deep, tearing apart his soul.
Help me! his mind cried out. Wake up. . . . Wake up or you'll die.
He screamed, but he could hardly hear his own voice above that of the cloud, the mist, as it whirled over him, cursing him and berating him, even as it burned away his flesh. He tried to get away, to pull against the chains that bound him, but he'd run out of strength long ago. He could barely move, barely even breathe.
As the black nemesis continued inflicting its terrible torture upon Doyle, shapes and shadows began to materialize around him. These phantoms would become solid for only a few seconds-long enough to show their demonic faces-before dissolving back into the mist.
The excruciating pain made him want to die, but something inside of him was not going to let go. His limbs were frozen and he screamed in terror and agony as piercing, red eyes glared down at his own.
Doyle choked and when he wasn't choking, he screamed. The cloud hung above him howling in anger. Its red eyes glowed as it devoured him slowly. The skin of his face and hands was gone now in places, leaving only a few places unexposed. The shirt he wore was now red with his blood that seeped out onto the floor already sticky with the blood of countless others. Their bones rattled beneath him.
Then there was no physical pain; it was gone, like an illusion or waking dream. What remained was worse: visions of ghosts, demons, and horrors unknown. And yet there she was, watching the destruction of the one she loved by some phantasmal entity or entities. . . .
Cordelia cried out and sat up in her bed with a violent jolt, flinging the covers off of her sweating body. Her stomach turned and she tried to force the already-fading images from her eyes, but faint echoes of the nightmare remained. She still felt the shadow of it, creeping up on her like a cinematic vampire about to strike its intended victim. She always did. She felt the bile rise up in her throat and ran for the toilet in the bathroom. Dennis, always present and actually quite considerate, handed her a wet cloth. She wiped her mouth and, sitting back against the wall, started to cry.
Buffy stretched her arms behind her head and yawned. Six books already she'd been through and no pictures to match what Doyle had drawn. They'd set out the table, opening the leaves to give them more room. "We're not getting anywhere," she said, looking back over her shoulder to where Doyle was laying. But he wasn't. Or at least he wasn't like she'd left him. She stood up swiftly, nearly knocking over the chair and waking up at least two people at the table.
"Buffy?" Giles asked.
"He's fading," she said, taking a step toward the wall to where the now-ghostly figure of Doyle lay. He was still sleeping, still breathing. He even seemed peaceful. But she saw the wall and the carpet through him. "Doyle?" she said, hoping to wake him, despite her earlier efforts to make him sleep. Maybe she'd been wrong. Maybe he would just fade away. She knelt down to touch his shoulder but her hand went right though until it rested on the floor.
Someone sniffed the air beside her. She turned to see Spike, in full vampire-face. Her first instinct was to grab a stake, but she fought it knowing he couldn't bite. And he didn't seem interested in her anyway. "I smell fear," he said. "And blood. It's not human though. Doesn't smell right." He held out a hand placing it near hers, just off the floor. "His heart is racing." He withdrew his hand quickly and pulled in a shaky breath. "I need a drink." With that he stood and went to the kitchen, leaving Buffy to stare after him.
"Very unusual," Giles commented under his breath.
"Giles," Buffy demanded, "what's going on? He's alive and he isn't. How can he be both?"
"Maybe he's stuck between dimensions," Xander offered through a yawn, "you know like on all those sci-fi shows."
"Don't be ridiculous," Anya argued. She'd arrived just after Doyle had gone to sleep. "You're either in one or the other. You can't be in both."
Through it all, Doyle never moved.
Buffy rubbed her nose and yawned as she picked her head up from the table. The TV was on in the living room and the morning news was on. The sun was shining through the curtains in the windows. It was morning, and Buffy was glad it was Saturday. Giles was still awake, though he'd taken off his glasses to rub his eyes. Xander was asleep. Anya and Willow were still reading. "Morning, Buffy," Giles said. "Any change?"
Buffy didn't know what he was asking at first. She needed caffeine and her neck was sore from the position she'd been sleeping in. There were marks on her arm from the hard book cover. Then she remembered. They were trying to find something to explain Doyle. She turned and looked back over her shoulder. He was still sleeping, still translucent, and still in exactly the same position as he was when he'd laid down. She shook her head. "Any luck?"
"Not really," Giles answered, putting his glasses back on, "but we did find the demons of the Scourge." He shuffled a few books around and then held one of them up to show her. There was a picture and it looked a lot like the one Doyle had drawn, though with more detail.
"Now there's a Revlon face," Buffy commented. "Be back in a minute. Need coffee." She made her way into the kitchen and found a pot already brewing. The stuff of all-nighters. She didn't realize Giles had followed her in there.
"Buffy," he said, keeping his voice low. "I think we should call Angel. He knows Doyle and might know more of what happened to him. We're not getting anywhere, and I'm not sure he has much time left."
"Then he isn't dead?"
"I'm not sure about that either." Giles leaned back against the kitchen counter. "I haven't read about anything like him. He doesn't meet the requirements of a ghost, exactly, and yet he's obviously not altogether alive."
"I'll call," Buffy whispered back. "If nothing else, he might want to see him again."
Giles left her alone and returned to the other room. She knew he'd be listening in though. He was sometimes a little overprotective. She liked to think he didn't need to be, but she was glad he cared. Still, Buffy had Riley now. She had distance from Angel. She took a steadying breath. Distance, she reminded herself. She picked up the phone and dialed the number on the folded card still in her pocket.
"Angel Investigations," Cordelia answered brightly. "We help the helpless."
"Cordelia," Buffy said, "I need to speak to Angel."
"Oh, Buffy," Cordelia said, sounding put out. "Um, hold." The click came immediately and Buffy sighed as she waited for Angel to pick up.
Buffy took a deep breath. This was easier when it was just Cordelia. Her heart still raced just hearing his voice.
He'd hang up if she didn't answer. "Angel," she finally managed.
"Are you alright? Has something happened?"
This was going to be hard. She'd known that. Hard for him; hard for her. "There's something you need to know. I've been seeing a friend of yours," she said.
"Oh." Came his surprised response. There was a quiet pause and then, "I . . .I've kind of been expecting this. As long as he makes you happy, I guess I can't really-"
"Makes me happy?" she cut him off, wrinkling her nose and frowning in confusion, "What are you talking about? I meant seeing in the ocular sense, not the romantic sense. It's Doyle. He needs help."
"Doyle?" Angel nearly choked on the name. There was a moment of stony silence from the other end of the phone before he continued. "Doyle's dead."
She could hear the regret and loss in his voice and her heart constricted with sympathy. But now was not the time to rehash old pain. "That's what I thought at first," Buffy admitted. "But he's got quite an argument to the contrary. Being able to give an argument in the first place being the big part of that. I see him, Angel. I've talked to him. He came here looking for Giles. He asked for my help."
She heard a click, but it wasn't the sound like being hung up on. Angel had set the phone down. She waited. Finally, he picked up again. "He's a ghost?" he asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
"He doesn't think so," Buffy told him. "And he doesn't fit the pattern. Spike could sense his pulse and he sleeps and has nightmares. He's starving. He walked all the way here because he heard you and Cordelia talk about Giles."
Still a whisper, "You're sure it's him? You only met him for-"
He must not have caught the Spike part. "Dark hair, blue eyes, thin-much too thin-, Irish accent," Buffy said, deciding to leave out the translucent-while-sleeping description just now. "He told us what happened, how he died, or thought he died. It's really him, Angel."
"How is that possible?" He'd found his voice again, but it hurt to hear it. "I saw him die. He was burned up. There was nothing left."
"We don't understand it either," Buffy admitted, looking over at Doyle's barely-there form. "Giles is trying to find something. But I don't think he has a lot of time. Angel, I think he's dying."
Angel hung up the phone and walked out to the reception area. Cordelia looked up from whatever she'd been reading. She beamed. "I've got an audition!" she exclaimed. "It's just a local play, but still-"
"You're going to miss it," Angel said, cutting her off.
Her smile disappeared and she stood. "Now look here, Brooding Boy," she said, pointing a finger, "just because your life stops when little Miss Buffy calls doesn't mean that mine does. Wesley can mind the store for an afternoon. I haven't had an audition since-"
"Doyle's in Sunnydale."
Cordelia dropped back into her chair without another word. Her brow creased and she looked at him as if she couldn't decide if he was being delusional or purposely cruel.
"I don't understand it either," Angel told her. "Maybe he's a ghost, but he needs our help. Either way, I'm going up there. I thought you might want to go with me."
Cordelia just nodded.
"Call Harry," Angel continued. "It can't hurt to have a demonologist along. Tell her to bring anything that's relevant."
"To ghosts?" she finally spoke.
"To demons," Angel turned back toward his office. "Brachen, Lister, the Scourge, anything." He was already thinking about his own library, what he might have that would help.
"He'll be here by nightfall," Buffy reported to Giles.
"Who will?" Spike asked from the couch, loud enough to wake Xander.
"Angel," Buffy said, trying not to be loud enough for Spike.
"Dead-boy," Xander mumbled before plopping himself down on the couch.
Buffy was about to answer that, but her gaze had passed the wall beneath the staircase. And he wasn't there. "He's gone," she breathed, stepping further into the living room. "We're too late?"
Buffy was startled and spun around to hit what had sneaked up on her. She gasped when she realized it was Doyle and that she'd just knocked him through the wall.
She ran back around to the kitchen and helped him up off the floor. He was holding his hand to his face. "I'm so sorry," she said.
"A bit jumpy this morning, aren't we?" he said, somewhat muffled by his hand. "Ow."
"Slayer reflexes," Buffy answered, shrugging. "Maybe we should put some ice on that."
Doyle dropped his head to look at her through his eyebrows. "And how would we manage that?"
Buffy shrugged again. She didn't even know if he could be bruised.
"Too late for what?" Doyle asked, finishing his original question.
Buffy didn't want to answer; it would have been discouraging. "Cartoons," she lied. "Saturday morning cartoons. All the best ones are over."
He regarded her for a moment and, she was sure he knew she was lying. "Feel any better?" she asked, not giving him time to call her on it. "I mean besides where I hit you."
"Not as tired," he replied. "How'd we do?"
"Do?" Buffy didn't understand.
"With the books," he said.
"Oh!" She turned to Giles and the two girls at the table. "Any luck?"
Willow offered an apologetic smile. Anya ignored her altogether. "Nothing concrete," Giles answered, "but there could be something to your nightmares. Can you tell us about them?"
Doyle froze and his eyed seemed to lose their focus. "It's just a dream," he breathed. Buffy remembered what Spike had said last night. He'd smelled fear from someone he couldn't even see.
"I have dreams," Buffy said, trying to give him something to reciprocate to. Professor Walsh had discussed communication last semester. "Sometimes they're prophetic. I see things and they happen."
"I used to do that," he told her. "Only mine weren't dreams. And they hurt like hell."
"You don't anymore?" she asked.
"In a minute, Giles." She was still watching Doyle, waiting for him to answer.
He shook his head and lowered his eyes. "I apparently passed that gift off to Cordelia."
"But you do have nightmares," Buffy continued, steering the conversation back on track. He didn't like it apparently, and he stood and walked a few steps away.
Buffy stood, too. "Doyle, something happened when you slept last night." He stopped, but didn't turn around. "You faded."
"I've already faded," he said, but he was listening.
"Not to me," Buffy held. "You're like flesh and blood." She touched his shoulder to prove her point. "But last night I could see through you, and when I tried to wake you, my hand went through your shoulder to the floor." He didn't turn or speak. The dreams must have been particularly disturbing. "Your dreams may hold some clue about what's going on with you."
"They're just dreams," he repeated, pleading.
"Maybe," Buffy granted, not removing her hand, "and maybe they're an extension of the visions you used to have."
"Visions?" Giles asked behind them.
Buffy shot him a look that sent him back to his book. Willow started ushering Anya out into the living room. Buffy returned her attention to Doyle. "Tell me about them."
He didn't face her, but he did start to talk. "It's always the same," he whispered. "It starts with me dyin'. Then I'm in a dark place, with . . . blood all around me and this . . . mist," he decided, apparently for lack of a better word. "A black mist has a hold of me. It's digging into me, and. . . it's pulling the life out of me."
He shook as he told her and Buffy got the feeling this was more than just a dream. He pulled away from her, leaving her to fill Giles in on the details. He never faced the table as she did.
"And the visions?"
"He said he used to get them," Buffy replied, "but now Cordelia gets them."
"Visions of danger," Giles said, mulling that over. "Yes, Angel mentioned him when he was here. So he's a seer. That could have a bearing on the nature of his dreams. They seem to be quite vivid. Always the same dream?"
"There could be something to it," Giles decided. "Recurring dreams, psychic visions, and demonic prophecy. It's too much to be merely coincidence. What if Xander was right?"
The television in the other room suddenly switched off. "I was right?" Xander asked, peeking back into the dining room. "Right about what?"
"Being stuck in two dimensions," Giles replied. "What if the man you're seeing, Buffy, is a manifestation of a man somewhere else?"
Buffy was surprised to find Doyle right beside her. "What are you saying?" he asked.
Buffy had a question of her own. "But you see him, too, in reflections. And how could he interact with us? He hears what we say, sees what we do. If he's really stuck in his dream, he's in no condition to do either of those things."
"I admit I haven't worked out all the details," Giles said, holding up a hand. "And it is just a theory. But it could explain his starvation."
"A manifestation of having his life sucked out?"
"No!" Doyle exclaimed. "You're saying this isn't real. I'm not real. But she can see me!" He pointed to Buffy. "She can hear me. She can even hit me! I only see the other place when I'm asleep. That's the dream. This is real! I'm real!"
Buffy grabbed his shoulder and pulled him gently away from the table. "It's just a theory," she told him, taking his hand in hers. "Why don't we take a walk? Just you and me and beautiful, suburban Sunnydale."
She didn't give him time to say no. The air was cool outside and the sky gray. There were birds chirping and squirrels chasing each other around the trees. He could hear the sound of lawn mowers a few houses down and smell the fresh cut grass. It was a beautiful Saturday morning in the land of the living. How could the hell of his nightmare be more real? Hadn't he atoned enough to be spared that?
Buffy's hand was soft in his, and, sensing his uneasiness, she squeezed it lightly. "Real or not," she said, "we're going to try and help you."
"You'd say that if you were only a dream," he replied, staring at her hand in his. "It's what I want to hear."
Buffy didn't deny it, and Doyle worried that he was right. She was a dream. The birds, the squirrels, even the trees and the smell of fresh-cut grass. All part of a dream his dying self was dreaming as an attempt at escape from his torture in the dark place.
"Well, I know I'm not your dream," Buffy said. "And I know I'd say that if I was, but think about it. If this were only a dream, wouldn't you be dreaming it different? Like maybe being visible so you could still talk to your friends. Or cheeseburgers? Don't starving people dream about food?"
"I'd still be dying," he reminded her.
"Yeah, but you wouldn't have to be so miserable doing it," she argued.
She had a point. A person could have a certain amount of control over what they dreamed. "Give it a try.," Buffy suggested. "Dream yourself something pleasant and let's see if anything changes."
Doyle decided it was worth a try. He could tell Cordelia he was sorry about leaving her with the visions. He squeezed Buffy's hand, closed his eyes, and tried to imagine it was Cordelia's. Then he realized he'd never had a chance to hold her hand. But with his eyes closed, he didn't see the grate in the sidewalk. He felt it though, as it passed through his foot up to his knee.
Buffy's grip was strong, though, and she hauled him back up to firmer ground. "Okay, that wasn't pleasant."
"And you're not Cordelia," Doyle returned, catching his breath. He was sitting on the sidewalk, dangling one leg into the grate, which caused a peculiar tickling sensation all through his knee.
"Cordelia?" Buffy asked, helping him to his feet. "Pleasant? You're kidding me, right?"
At that, Doyle smiled. "She has her moments."
"Well, I don't feel like a dream, and I'm certainly not Cordelia," Buffy said. "Giles did say manifestation, anyway. That doesn't necessarily mean dream."
"But it doesn't mean real either," Doyle argued. A drop of water fell through his right arm and then another through his shoulder. In a matter of seconds, it began to rain in earnest, and Doyle could feel his thirst decrease.
"We should head back," Buffy said, ducking her head to try and avoid the worst of it.
"I think I'll stay," Doyle replied, standing and letting go of her hand. "I can't get wet, and I'd kind of like to be alone with my thoughts, you know. You go on. I'll find my way back."
She looked up at him, her blond hair sticking to her face. "You will come back?"
"I've come too far to give up now," he told her though he didn't feel that optimistic anymore.
She frowned-she had a very cute frown-but she nodded and turned back toward Giles' place.
Doyle watched her go and then carried on in the direction they'd been wandering. The birds were quiet now, the squirrels were hiding, and the lawn mowers were being put hastily away. The rain drowned out most other sounds, except the occasional car. Soon, the cars were more frequent and the houses and residential buildings were replaced by small shops. Despite having a hellmouth, Sunnydale was a quaint college town from the look of things, and Doyle felt he'd stick out like a sore thumb if he'd been visible.
He wouldn't have minded sticking out just now. He wouldn't even have minded the visions. He minded more the nightmares and the thought that they were real. One of the shop windows caught his attention. A bakery. There were samples in the window. Rolls, baguettes, and pastries. His mouth watered in spite of the rain. He could smell the bread baking, and he took a breath, filling his lungs-such as they were-with the aroma. His stomach ached stronger, growling. Manifestation? he thought. That would be quite a trick. He was hungrier now than he'd ever been in his life.
Buffy was drenched by the time she reached Giles' house and opened the door. "Towel," was all she managed to blurt out.
"I think I've found something," Giles said. "Is he with you?"
Xander handed her a towel and Buffy tried to soak up the worst of it before making a puddle in Giles' carpet. "He stayed out. Where's Will?"
Xander answered, "She wanted to change and get her computer."
Buffy nodded and then joined Giles at the table. "I've found a Brachen legend of a darkness that takes life from people, children to be precise. They banished it to a place known only as the Nether in 1023."
"The Nether?" Buffy asked as she sat down. Giles frowned at her wet clothes. "Where's that? Something tells me it's more than a hop, skip and a jump from here."
"It doesn't say," Giles went on, "though one could assume it's an alternate dimension of sorts."
"Who are the Brachen?"
"Demons," Giles replied, holding up a book to show her an old drawing of a spike-faced demon. "They've been fairly quiet in recent centuries. They've also been known to crossbreed."
"Just the sort of thing the Scourge would frown on," Xander commented, taking a seat himself.
"So this darkness was something even the demons didn't like?" Buffy asked.
"Well, not the Brachen at any rate," Giles replied. "It apparently did have some followers, 'for they carry on its work.'"
"What was its work?" Someone had made sandwiches and Buffy picked up one. She'd forgotten that she hadn't eaten yet.
"To destroy all traces of humanity on Earth," Anya answered for Giles. "Particularly the humanity that's in mixed-breeds."
Spike emerged from the kitchen with a mug of what looked like lumpy blood. "That certainly sounds like our boys."
Buffy made the mistake of looking at the mug and returned her sandwich to the plate. "So what did they do to Doyle?"
"I've no idea," Giles admitted. "I can't find any mention of a beacon, or light for that matter. Probably because this beacon, as Doyle described it, would have been modern technology."
"So it's not in ancient prophecy," Buffy concluded, giving in to her hunger and retrieving the sandwich. Spike held up his mug in mock toast. Buffy ignored him and took a bite anyway.
"You should change," Giles suggested. "You can call Willow and have her bring something. In the meantime, I've some sweats and a T-shirt upstairs."
Buffy smiled. There were times that she appreciated a little over-protectiveness.
It was dark by the time the rain had stopped. Doyle felt better now, stronger and a little less tired. He had kept walking after leaving the bakery window. He'd stopped looking in windows for fear of insatiable temptation. He lost track of time, too, wondering farther and farther through the city. He knew he should turn back, that Giles and Buffy were back there trying to help him.
But he didn't turn back, and he kept wondering if it was doing any good. He'd hoped that Giles would have had an answer for his present state. But all he'd had thus far were unpleasant theories.
He found himself at the harbor, and he could just hear the waves beneath the pier. He didn't dare step out onto the docks. He didn't care to see if he could still drown or not. Then again, drowning might have been easier than starving.
He took a few steps forward, still trying to make up his mind. Two more steps and the thick cement would turn to wooden dock.
He took another step and then froze. Beyond the lapping of the water against the dock's supports he heard a familiar sound. Footsteps. Dozens of footsteps all ringing together. They grew louder and louder until Doyle could no longer hear the water. The Scourge.