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Author's Note: This story is set during "Bachelor Party."
"Are you going to be okay?" Angel asked as the car pulled up in front of Doyle's building. Dawn was breaking across the city, the sky lightening to pearl grey in the East.
"Yeah." It was the first word Doyle had said since they'd pulled away from the restaurant. "I, ah... I just need a bit of a lie down, that's all. I'll be in later."
"Doyle, you don't have to come in today," Angel assured him, but it was as if Doyle hadn't even heard him.
"Gotta earn my keep, right?" he said with a wry half-smile, and then stepped back from the car. "You'd better get out of here, anyway. Back to the bat cave before the sun comes up."
"If you need someone to talk to..." Angel began, but Doyle had already turned and was walking to the door.
* * *
The grease pencil had come off easily. Cordelia had tried to get it off with a napkin from the bar, but all that had done was smear it around. She'd clucked like a mother hen over his bruises—and he couldn't exactly tell her that he'd gotten them when she'd clobbered him with a serving tray. Doyle stared into the mirror, and then down at the rag with the grey smudge sitting on the edge of his sink.
A little soap, a swipe, and the whole night was just a bad memory. It was that easy.
He opened the closet and stared at the box collecting dust in the corner of the top shelf. Pulling it down, he plunked down in the recliner and almost reverently removed the lid. Nested among the cards, letters, and papers was a photograph in a tarnished silver frame. It looked more like a prom photo than wedding portrait—he'd thought he looked so James Bond in his rented tux, but all he saw now was an eijit with terminally 80s hair who had no business getting married. He pulled it out and set it atop the coffee table.
Beneath the photo in the box was a cracked brown leather photo album. He flipped through the scrapbook, tucking loose snapshots back in as they fell from between the pages; his mother, in a faded colour photograph from before he was born; Harry in her wedding dress, shoving cake in his face at the reception; Uncle Kevin outside the house in Bray before they came to the States, the sky grey as the slate roof; a twelve year old Doyle in his football kit, black hair sticking up at all angles; his first class portrait, thirty-one eight year olds in black watch plaid uniforms, beaming gap-toothed smiles; a black and white, fuzzy shot of his mother standing next to a tall man wearing a slouch hat and Humphrey Bogart coat in front of a movie palace in Dublin—his only photograph of his father.
He looked down at his hands, and turned the heavy silver Irish wedding band ring on his left hand around absently. He didn't even know why he wore it any longer. Relics of a former life.
"Now, let's not be so dramatic, man," he muttered, dropping the lid back on the box. The wedding portrait, however, stayed out. He stared at it, knew he should get out of his clothes before he went to bed, but he was so bone weary, all he wanted to do was crawl under the covers and never get out again. Cordelia had certainly mentioned more than once that he looked like he'd slept in his clothes. Why not live down to her expectations? Pulling the blankets over him, he stared at the strangers with familiar faces in the photograph, trying to remember what it was like to have been that person. After a while, he slipped into an exhausted sleep.
* * *
The first knock was so tentative, he thought he'd dreamed it. The second knock brought him full awake and he stumbled from the narrow bed to the door, hand on the deadbolt as he peered through the spyhole. He unlocked all three locks, and opened the door, trying to look nonchalant.
"Hi," Harry said.
"Hi," Doyle parroted with a smile that felt fake, and yet he couldn't stop it from settling over his features as she stepped inside, and he closed the door behind her. She watched him turn the deadbolt, a flicker of something crossing her face, before she focused her attention on his flat. "Welcome to my humble abode," he said, gesturing to the parlour. Belatedly, he realised the wedding portrait was still sitting on the table next to the bed. He turned it face down as he walked past it. "Let's see... parlour, bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, all conveniently placed within the same twelve square feet, for your ease and comfort."
"It's... pretty humble," Harry agreed as she peered at the books on the narrow bookshelf, running her fingers over their spines, then stroked the hand crocheted blanket folded over the back of the chair. "I see Aunt Trudy still has that thing for afghans," she laughed, moving a pile of laundry so she could sit. Doyle picked it up from the floor and piled it atop the other stack of laundry at the foot of his bed. It promptly fell over, and he kicked it.
"The woman keeps sending 'em to me every Christmas and Easter. I keep trying to sell 'em, but the only folks what seem to want 'em are over at the rest home."
"This actually reminds me of our first place, the one on Carlisle."
He groped for the memory. "With the stairs—"
"Oh, God, I took my life in my hands every day on those stairs," she laughed.
"You did? I'm the one what broke his wrist, remember?"
"How could I forget? You were such a baby about it."
"Yeah, well, you try ten weeks of student teaching when you can't write a bloody thing, and see how you like it." He grinned despite himself as he dropped into the chair opposite her. "We had some good times there, didn't we."
"We always did know how to have a good time," she agreed, and then her smile faded. "Cordelia gave me a lift back to the Straley's to get my stuff last night, and I... I just came to say good-bye."
"So soon—I mean, ah, where? Where are you headed?"
"I thought maybe I'd, um... It's been a while since I... Canada, maybe. I don't know."
"I hear it's nice up there, you know—this time of year."
"Yeah." Her eyes suddenly filled with tears, and she brushed them away, impatiently. "This isn't exactly how I thought I was going to spend my day," she admitted, trying to regain her composure. There was an awkward silence, and he leaned forward and handed her a Kleenex from his pocket. She blew her nose noisily, and then just looked at him, the picture of abject misery.
"You loved him, didn't you," he said, realising that it was the first time he had actually voiced the thought.
She wadded the tissue up in her fist, and took a deep breath. "I was going to marry him, Francis," she said with just a touch of annoyance in her voice.
"Yeah but... you actually loved the guy," he repeated, a sense of unreality making him feel slightly light-headed.
"Yes, I did. I do—that's kinda why this hurts so much right now. But I can't marry a man who would have been capable of... that." She took another swipe at her eyes with the tissue. "And then think that I wouldn't care—how can he be willing to marry me, and not know me well enough to know that I would have a pretty big problem with that?"
"Yeah, well, you know demons—" he tried to make light of it, and knew it was a mistake pretty much as soon as the words left his mouth.
"Dammit, Francis! That's not the point. Why do you always do that? Why do you make jokes—"
"They're demons, Harry." Doyle decided that maybe the direct approach was best. "You yourself are the one who's always saying' that their ways are not our ways. And that means that their ways are not our bloody ways, then, doesn't it? They do stuff like eat folks brains. That's what demons do, Harry. It's not always about me missin' out on my 'culture.'" He took a deep breath, and walked over to the window, pulling the orange curtails shut to block out the mid-afternoon sun. "Sometimes, it's about them not being very nice people. And I'm sorry you thought this Richard guy was goin' to be the answer to all your prayers, and I'm sorry he turned out to be not the person you thought he was. Because you deserve better. You deserve better than him, and you sure as hell deserve better than me."
"That is such bullshit, Francis." Harry tugged him around to face her. "Humans, demons, whatever their background, people are still people. For good or ill. Yeah, Richard turned out not to be the great love of my life. But I could have just as easily fallen for a human guy who wanted to eat your brains."
"I don't think you've quite gotten my point, here, Harry."
"It's not about Richard, Francis." She took his face in her hands. "You've always done this. You've always blamed everything that's wrong in your life on your father's genes. It's not that black and white. You want it to be, so that you can take all the blame, or place all the blame—I dunno. You want it to be simple. It's not simple, Francis. It's messy, and complicated, and it hurts like hell."
"I know that," he said softly, stepping away from her. He sank into a chair, burying his face in his hands. "Don't you think I know that? I just..." He stared at the box, still sitting on the coffee table. "Sometimes, I just wish I could go back to the way things were."
She came over, and knelt in front of him, reaching up to brush his cheek with her hand. "You can't go back. None of us can."
He caught her hand, and held it between his. "I know. But that doesn't make it hurt any less. Even though we'd been separated, before.... before there was always this little spark of hope that maybe..."
"Maybe we'd work it out?" she asked, softly.
"Yeah. And now that you're not marrying that ano-movician tosser, I thought..."
"Francis, we can't go back. All the stuff that tore us apart—it's still there. It's all still there. You signed the papers."
"I signed the papers because I knew it wasn't fair to stand in your way, if he was what made you happy. It doesn't mean I don't still love you. I'll always..." he swallowed, his throat suddenly tight.
Her eyes filled with tears again, and she leaned forward to kiss him. Four years melted away, and for a moment, they took solace in the comfort of familiarity. Harry broke the kiss, and pulled him into an awkward hug, her breath ragged. "I have to go," she whispered against his hair, and his arms around her tightened for a moment before dropping back to his sides.
"Yeah," Doyle nodded, refusing to let his own tears fall. He walked her to the door, and she stood on the other side for a moment. "You ever need me," he drew in a shaky breath, "you know where to find me. Anything, anything at all..."
She nodded, and then turned. He listened to her footsteps as she ran down the hall, and then there was a terrible silence. He closed the door, and then turned back to his empty flat. He picked up the wedding portrait and dropped it back into the file box. He opened the closet door, and put the box back up on the shelf. Then he went to the tiny sink, took out a glass, poured himself a double and threw it back—the amber liquid burning as it went down.
Then he poured himself another.
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