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Chapter Six

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Fan Fiction: The New Seer

Chapter Six: Hell-A

"There's only one way to hurt a man who's lost everything. Give him back something broken."
~Stephen R. Donaldson, White Gold Wielder


"Doyle?" Wesley blurted, staring at his unlikely intruder.

Who else could it be, after all? Wes had seen him in pictures, standing with Cordelia and Angel - the one whose place at the Agency he'd filled, the one who had carried the visions before Cordelia had received them. The man - half demon, rather - who had been dead for more than two years, after giving his life to save his friends and a boat full of half-Lister demons. Wes had admired him, when he'd first heard the stories; admired, and resented him also. The last thing he'd needed at that point in his life had been one more pair of shoes too large for him to fill.

"Aye," Doyle said, still frowning at him. "Mind tellin' me what I'm doin' here? Last thing I remember is the Beacon ..." He paused for a moment, rubbing his chest absently with his free hand as if to verify that all of him was there, and Wes could see the pain of the memory reflected in his eyes. "Haven't I done my atonement, then?"

"A-Atonement?" Wes stuttered, still stunned, feeling profoundly stupid as his mind struggled to process what was happening on top of the day's other stressful events.

"Yeah, atonement," Doyle repeated, with an edge of anger, or perhaps fear, in his voice. "I gave my life, didn't I? Put myself in harm's way to save the others. Fought the good fight, and all that. But instead of wakin' up to harps and fluffy clouds, I'm in some copy of L.A., where all the pictures of me and Cordy and Angel have someone else in them instead. Sounds a little like Hell to me."

Doyle set the glass of water down on the coffee table and picked up something small and square, staring down at it with a grim expression on his face. Wes knew what it was, without even getting a good look at it; it had to be the sole A.I. photograph he hadn't had the heart to destroy. All of the other framed images in his apartment had long since been relocated to the rubbish bin, but he hadn't been able to let go of that last reminder of the best year of his life. It showed the three of them together, captured on film not long before Darla's intrusion had started them all on the path to destruction. The Cordelia in the photo had yet to acquire the air of gravity - and short hair - that had come after repeated hardship; Angel had still believed in the Cause and his prophesied reward; and Wesley himself had been full of hope and enthusiasm about his new purpose in life.

It had been taken only a handful of months after Doyle's death.

Wes winced at the thought, then abruptly realized how awkward he must look and finished shrugging out of his jacket. The automatic motions had the side effect of getting his blood moving again, and the shock that had numbed his thoughts began to fade. "It isn't, I'm afraid," he told his visitor, as he slowly hung up the jacket. "No matter how Hellish it seems at times. This really is the Los Angeles you came from. It's just been quite some time since you left it."

"Since I ..." Doyle sank down in the couch, and the harsh emotions fluttering around the edges of his expression melted into loss and confusion. "How ... how long?" he asked, hoarsely.

"A little more than two and a half years," Wesley said. He pulled one of the dining table's chairs closer to the couch, then took a seat facing his unexpected guest. "It was ... November of 1999, I believe, when the Scourge came through Los Angeles. I joined Angel's team a short while later, after a demon I was pursuing crossed his path. They ... mourned you for a very long time." He paused a moment, wondering if he should even try to summarize everything that had happened afterward, and gave up with a heavy sigh. "A lot has happened since then."

"Two and a half years," Doyle repeated, shaking his head. "I ... you said you joined Angel's team?" He went suddenly still at those words, all of his energy suddenly focused toward Wesley, blazing intently in his eyes. "They survived then? Truly? When I woke here, when I thought I was in Hell ..."

His voice trailed off then, but Wes knew what Doyle had meant to say; he, too, was well acquainted with the desperate feeling that one's sacrifice had been for nothing. The Beacon had already been burning when Doyle had made his move; if he hadn't managed to unplug it, or if the Scourge had incorporated any sort of failsafe, it would have scoured the ship clean of any living being with human blood. Angel and Cordelia would have been the first on that list.

"Truly," Wes said gently, swallowing around the lump that suddenly lodged in his throat. "You did save them, all of them. Though I'm afraid I haven't been much good as your successor." His voice broke in the middle of the second sentence, and he closed his eyes, fighting against the storm of emotions the Irishman's presence had stirred up. Surely, this was some higher being's idea of torture; why couldn't Doyle have been sent to the hotel, or Cordelia's apartment, rather than left in Wesley's living room? And why today, of all days?

//"You have been weighed, you have been measured, you have been found wanting."// The quote floated up from the depths of memory, accompanied by snatches of sensory input - the heat of summer, the scent of popcorn, the presence of friends to either side as they laughed at "A Knight's Tale" one afternoon in a half-empty theatre. Wes swallowed again, trying to find enough equilibrium to continue the conversation without cracking, then flinched and opened his eyes at an unexpected touch.

Doyle's expression had turned deadly serious, and his grip was firm on Wesley's shoulder. "Tell me," he demanded. "Tell me what happened. What have you done? Why am I here?"

"I don't ..." Wes stared back at him. What had he done? That was a loaded question, but the answer Doyle seemed to be looking for wasn't one he could actually give. Surely he didn't believe that Wesley was responsible for his return? Then again, Wes hadn't actually said anything to the contrary, had he?

"I don't know what your appearance has to do with any of this," he said, tiredly. "I ... today I found out that Cordelia has left this plane of existence, Angel has been trapped under the sea for the last three months, his son had a hand in putting him there - a disaster that can be more or less laid at my door - and I seem to have been tapped by the Powers That Be to take up your visions. The other members of Angel Investigations - you wouldn't have met them - are barely speaking to me these days, and Wolfram & Hart is trying to 'recruit' me. The last thing I expected when I walked in the door was to find you in my living room."

Doyle dropped his hand from Wes' shoulder. "Angel has a son?" he exclaimed, attention caught by the most unbelievable part of Wesley's story, then shook his head and focused on the rest of the babbled explanation. "Cordy gone ... Angel trapped ..." he said, slowly. "And I'm right back to thinkin' this has got to be Hell. Are you sure we're in L.A.?" he asked, plaintively.

The question sounded more rhetorical than serious, but Wes answered it anyway. "Unfortunately, yes," he replied, then absently reached up to trace the line of scarring at his throat. He *had* come rather close to it, more than once since Connor's kidnapping ... but, no, he couldn't have actually died. He would surely have noticed the difference. Besides, in Hell, he would be unable to do anything; in Hell, there would be no hope, no chance of putting even a small part of his errors right. He banished the momentary doubt, then realized that there was a better objection to that line of thought. "I rather doubt that Hell would come equipped with mind-splitting visions from the Powers That Be."

Doyle glanced away, brow furrowing in thought, and frowned. "The Powers - right. I'd best have a talk with the Oracles, then. If I'm back to help Angel ..."

Wesley sighed. He had more bad news to impart - and he was beginning to realize that Doyle's appearance smacked more of lower powers' involvement than the putatively superior beings he nominally worked for. "That won't be possible, either, I'm afraid. And I'm not so certain the Powers are involved. Angel asked them to bring you back right after you died; they refused on the grounds that it would undo your sacrifice. Six months later, a demon called Vocah killed both Oracles, blew up the office, and trapped Cordelia in the visions. Angel stopped him, of course, but the Oracles have never been replaced, to my knowledge."

Doyle sat down again, rather heavily, at an obvious loss for words. "Well," he said finally. "Got a beer? And maybe you could give me the long version of that explanation."

Wesley choked back a burst of hysterical laughter and rubbed a hand over his face. "I binned all of the alcohol in the apartment this afternoon. But I think I could manage the explanation."

The mercurial mood faded as he met Doyle's gaze again. Of course he could explain; but would this man - this friend of Angel's, who had no reason to think well of him - actually listen all the way through, or cut him short like the others had? He wasn't sure he could survive another misinformed righteous rejection, no matter how much he deserved the hatred. "I must ask you, however, to listen to the entire thing before leaping to conclusions."

"I'm not leapin' anywhere," Doyle assured him, grimly. "Start at the beginning. And don't leave *anything* out."


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