To skip past the retelling of Wesley's death, Ctrl+F "Wesley opened his eyes."PrologueThe famous saudade of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future
Wesley was glad that Angel had chosen him to kill Cyrus Vail. He planned to use magic, which had a certain air of poetic justice to it. In the “real” timeline, the one untainted by his implanted memories, Wesley had never turned to magic at all. But in the fake one, which reduced a profound betrayal and a year of isolation into a brief period of darkness…in that one, he had picked up a few tricks. So Vail would die because of the tools he had so casually bestowed on Wesley while taking away a year of his life. If not—if spheres of hellfire were insufficient—then he had a knife. In both timelines, Wesley was a skilled user of classic weaponry. The harsh, sharp switchblade was an instrument he could call his own.
Vail’s guard corps was a mixed bag of demon-kind, rather than entirely composed of kith’harns. His failure to adequately replace his guards spoke of overconfidence in his abilities. It was a flaw Wesley hoped to exploit. A cool breeze curled around his cheeks as he stepped through the door, although there was no obvious means of ventilation within Vail’s over-large dining hall. As a demon warlock, he probably shuns human technology
, Wesley realized. A magical cooling system is well within reach for someone of Vail’s influence
. The warlock had set up a table for two already, doubtless having been made aware of Wesley’s approach before he was even close to entering the estate.
A lithe Selmaro demon carried a bowl on each of its spindly, extra-strength fingers, but Wesley waved the food off. “I didn’t come here for the cuisine,” he said softly. The disgruntled right-hand man persona came a bit too easily for him, most likely because of its uncomfortable proximity to the truth. “It’s come to my attention that Angel is moving up in the world. But we both know he isn’t exactly qualified for his new position.”
In another life, Wesley’s unspoken assertion that he was
qualified might have been true. But being with Angel had changed Wesley irrevocably, and he couldn’t switch teams, not even after he shattered the Orlon Window and learned anew of his own darkness. Angel had known of everything the whole time—about the prophecy, and about Wesley’s betrayal. He had known about the son he never got to see grow up. The son Angel had to let go of forever just to keep safe. Yet even in the face of Wesley’s duplicity and the agony that duplicity put Angel through, the vampire endured. Angel forgave him, even when he didn’t deserve to be forgiven.
For his part, Wesley didn’t understand how anyone could be so kind. But that kindness gave him hope that there was good to be fought for in this world. If fighting for that goodness required killing a demon that had erased a year of his life, then that was just a bonus.
Vail interrupted his thoughts. “I suppose you need my help in creating a vacancy,” he said. Wesley nodded, and Vail took a long, loud slurp of some red substance in a bowl. “I’m curious, hmm?” he asked, smacking his lips. “What makes you think I won’t kill you where you sit?” Because you’re a puffed up old bastard who can barely stand, let alone cast a spell without hiring a dozen contractors
, Wesley thought.
Out loud, he said “Because you’re smarter than the others. Smart enough to have your doubts about Angel, and rightly so.” Wesley paused for dramatic effect. “He’s…unpredictable, and worse: he has a conscience.”
“Well, you make a very persuasive argument,” Vail began. He paused for breath, and Wesley saw his chance.
“Wait,” he cut in. “It gets better.”
The hellfire spell was one Wesley had chosen carefully. It was a more controllable form of Living Flame, and one requiring a decreased quantity of ingredients and less prep time to produce. It was a multipurpose spell used by the Spanish Inquisition on prisoners, demons, and so on. Appropriately, the hellfire had nine levels of intensity (with more intense variants in turn requiring more magical power), which meant that it could do anything from cauterize wounds to completely incinerate its target. Wesley summoned a fireball on the lattermost end of the “incinerate” part of the scale.
Vail was blasted out of his chair and across the room. No incineration occurred, but Wesley walked toward his quarry all the same. “Your influence on this world is over,” he said coldly. “The rest of the circle will wither and die.” He summoned another fireball. “Like you’re about to.”
“You have no idea who you’re dealing with, do you boy?” Vail stood up, his unnecessary life support discarded. The hellfire disappeared from Wesley’s hand before he knew what was happening. “I mean really,” Vail continued. “I crap better magic than this. Now then, let me show you what a real wizard can do.” Vail muttered something, rubbed his gnarled fingers together, and suddenly Wesley was suspended and choking in midair.
But he still had the switchblade up his sleeve, if he could just—there! Thank God, Vail was still talking. “…tricks could never kill me, boy.” Wesley smiled.
“Then I’ll just…have to do this…the old-fashioned way.” He plunged the knife towards the warlock’s chest—and Vail caught his hand before the knife even grazed the skin.
“Yes,” Vail said, sounding almost surprised at Wesley’s temerity. “I suppose we will.” A knife flew into his hand. It seems I underestimated him
, Wesley thought dryly, and the warlock stabbed him. As Vail twisted the knife, Wesley poured everything he had into forming one last fireball. It blew Vail back against the far wall of his chamber, which also meant that the knife was forcibly ripped from Wesley’s body. He gasped in pain as he felt the last of his intact viscera shred, and tried his best to stay on his feet. God, it hurts
A cold, inhuman voice cried out “Wesley!” Illyria
, he thought. He looked at Vail—unmoving and lifeless against the shadowed wall—and allowed himself to collapse into her arms. She knelt down, and stared at him with cold blue eyes. “Wesley,” she repeated, “this wound is mortal.”
“Aren’t we all,” he said. “It was good…that you came.” Not much time left now.
“I killed all mine, and I was…” Illyria paused for thought.
“Concerned?” Wesley smiled, inwardly—for the moment, he thought it best to conserve energy, but for what, he wasn’t sure.
“I think so. But I can’t help,” she replied. “You’ll be dead within moments.” Not to put too fine a point on it
. “Would you like me to lie to you now?” He had so many things left to say…
“Yes, thank you. Yes.” Wesley closed his eyes. Don’t relax. You mustn’t relax, or you’ll die
. He felt Fred’s warm hand on his face, and opened his eyes. “Hello there,” Wesley said fondly. Time to marshal his thoughts, quickly. So good to see Fred again.
“Oh Wesley,” Fred said softly. “My Wesley.”
“Fred…I’ve missed you.” What else? God, it was so hard to think, but he had to! Fred said something, but Wesley was too focused on staying conscious to hear.
“…we’ll be together,” Fred sobbed. Had he ever told Fred how he felt about her? Woozy from blood loss, Wesley couldn’t remember.
“I—I love you,” he said, just for good measure, and then there was nothing more to say. He’d killed Vail, and said goodbye to Fred. Wesley blacked out. A moment later, he died.
The Senior Partners raged, but the Powers That Be smiled.
Wesley opened his eyes. He was alive, which was disconcerting, considering the lack of a perpetuity clause in his contract with Wolfram and Hart. Additionally, he wasn’t bleeding to death in a demon warlock’s mansion, and was in fact in a bed…and not bleeding at all. He saw a nightstand out of the corner of his eye, and rolled over to examine the card lying on it. It read: Welcome to the Hyperion Hotel
For Concierge Service, Dial 001
Wesley propped himself up on the bed’s pillows and looked at his surroundings more carefully. He was by a window whose curtains were drawn, although the light coming through them meant it was most likely around midday. Some time had passed, then, assuming he was in the same dimension he’d died in. Wesley reached down to feel his side.
Interesting—there were stitches, but far less than a wound such as the one he’d received would need. And no amount of sewing would repair his viscera, or prevent stomach bacteria from poisoning his blood. Wesley certainly would have regained consciousness at some point during the natural healing process (or at least when he’d been moved from Vail’s mansion to a soft hotel bed), but he hadn’t. I’ve been healed by magical means, then, but by whom?
Perhaps he shouldn’t have ruled out Wolfram and Hart’s involvement so quickly. Wesley picked up the phone to dial the “concierge,” half-expecting the Senior Partners to drag him along on a game of cat-and-mouse as soon as someone answered.
He hung up as soon as he heard a door open. When he saw who came out of the hotel bathroom, Wesley could barely suppress his shock. Right, then,
he thought. I’m in another dimension
There was a woman in front of him, and one who looked exactly like Fred, at that. Except for the long, ugly knife scars
crisscrossing her face.
Wesley didn’t move. Illyria would never be so vicious as to present a horribly scarred version of the woman he loved, which meant that his least favorite law firm was certainly involved. “Is this one of the firm’s holding dimensions?” Wesley faked a cursory look around the room. “It’s not what I expected.” The Fred facsimile looked at him uncomprehendingly. There was a long pause.
Then: “What?” Wesley blinked, and took a moment to weigh his options. Either Wolfram & Hart had healed (resurrected?) him, transported him to another dimension, and had now constructed an elaborate ploy for reasons unknown or…
“You’re not with Wolfram and Hart,” Wesley said.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Fred’s double said. Wesley nodded, and took a moment to reorient. He’d let his defenses down when he was dying, and it was difficult to pull himself back from such a vulnerable position. It doesn’t help that Fred is the first person I’ve seen thus far
, he thought.
“Right,” Wesley said. “Well, never mind, then. You wouldn’t happen to have any money, would you?”
“Tell me who you are, and then we’ll talk,” Fred’s double said.
“Could I at least have your name?” Wesley asked. I certainly can’t keep calling you “Fred’s double” in my head. I might well slip up and create a rather awkward situation
“Claire. Claire Saunders,” the mystery woman said.
“It’s nice to meet you,” Wesley lied. “I’m Wesley Wyndam-Pryce.” He got up from the bed and walked over to where his shirt lay on a chair. The dried blood on my waistband chafes
, Wesley thought. You know your life is strange that sentence crosses your mind in a non-comedic context.
“I wanted to ask you about that,” Claire said, gesturing at his shirt. “I thought you would be half-dead judging by the amount of blood on your clothing, but whatever you were stabbed with didn’t even penetrate your large intestine. Something—multiple things, really—don’t quite add up, and I think I’m entitled to some answers.”
Wesley took a few steps towards Claire. “There are some peculiar inconsistencies in your own story, Ms. Saunders. We are clearly in a hotel room, yet you have access to a first aid kit with disinfectant and stitches. A normal traveler would trust a hospital to sew them up in the event of an emergency, and certainly wouldn’t plan for a stab wound on a vacation. The fact that you have a ‘go bag’ of medical supplies means that you are not a normal traveler. I would go so far to say that you’re running from something…but what?”
Claire looked at him fearfully for a moment—he probably did look like something of a madman, shirtless and wounded as he was—before turning away abruptly. “Excuse me,” she said, walking towards the bathroom. “I need a drink.” She disappeared for a moment. Wesley realized that he didn’t hear water running, but by then it was too late: Claire’s gun was level with his chest. “Do you think I’m an idiot?” she asked. “You dodge my questions, you make counter-accusations—I know you’re a spy of some sort, and that means Rossum sent you. You have two options. The first is that you tell me what Rossum knows about me, how long they’ve known it, who is looking for me and what they’re looking for. The second option is that you say nothing, and I blow your brains out.”
“This is more than a little awkward, considering that I don’t have a clue who Rossum is,” Wesley said. “Perhaps you should put down the gun.”
you should stop lying,” Claire snapped. “I’ll shoot.” But her voice was trembling.
“I’d feel a lot more comfortable explaining if you put down the gun,” Wesley said coolly. “I’ve already died once today, and I’m in no mood to repeat the experience.”
That admission shocked Claire enough that she lowered the gun. “You can explain,” she said. “But keep your hands where I can see them, and don’t come any closer.”
“I’m a demon hunter from an alternate universe,” Wesley said. “The last thing I remember before waking up here is dying.” Claire blinked, and blinked again.
Then: “Go on.” Wesley took a small step closer to Claire.
“I was brought back to life in this dimension”—he stepped forward once more—“by a powerful group of benevolent demon lords known as the Powers That Be.”
“Brought back to life? That seems—”
Wesley lunged forward and hit Claire’s carpals with a knife hand strike. She cried out in pain as her wrist opened involuntarily. Quickly, Wesley picked up the gun Claire had dropped. “Yes,” he said casually, “it is a little far-fetched. I’m telling the truth, however; perhaps you should do the same.” He quickly removed the magazine from the gun, as well as the bullet in the chamber. “Consider that my gesture of good faith,” he said, putting both gun and ammunition at the foot of the hotel bed. “Start with Rossum. Who is he?”
“It’s not a ‘who’,” Claire corrected, “it’s a ‘what’. I work for the Rossum Corporation, or I used to, anyway.”
“In what capacity?” Wesley asked, and Claire grew very still.
“I was…a doctor,” she said. “At least, that’s what they made me to be.”
“I don’t understand,” Wesley said.
“On the surface, Rossum is an extremely powerful medical conglomerate—the supplier of medical equipment to dozens of governments and tens of thousands of hospitals.”
“What about beneath the surface?” Wesley asked.
“Beneath the surface, the Rossum Corporation funds, worldwide, twenty organizations known as Dollhouses. For a price, clients can hire a custom-built Doll.”
“I can hear some capital letters,” Wesley said.
“You’re exactly right,” Claire answered. “The Dolls aren’t children’s toys. They’re people whose minds have been wiped and implanted with a particular set of memories at a client’s request.”
“My God,” Wesley said. “A Doll could be anything: an assassin, a thief—”
“A midwife,” Claire interrupted. “A therapist, a detective—”
“A sex slave.”
“Yes,” Claire said softly. “There is that.” Wesley carefully kept the disgust off his face. It was revolting to think that any version of Fred could be affiliated with such an organization. In fact, it was revolting that there could even be
such an organization. That, and terrifying. “I was a doctor at the Dollhouse, if you were wondering,” Claire said. “I took care of the Dolls in between engagements.”
“What changed?” Wesley asked.
“I found out I was a Doll,” Claire said. If Wesley had been holding a cup, he would have dropped it.
“So you’re saying that you’re not really you,” he said. “You could be a criminal, or a physicist. Your name isn’t even Claire Saunders.”
“I know who I am,” Claire said softly. Wesley’s eyes widened.
“You have access to your original personality?” he asked.
“My name is Claire Saunders,” Fred, or Claire, or whoever she was replied. “The person I was before doesn’t matter—she gave herself up. This is my life now.”
“Then why run away?” The question's obvious answer nearly rendered it rhetorical, but Claire answered all the same.
“I couldn’t stay, knowing what I know,” she said. “But the Rossum Corporation is probably looking for me.” There was nothing probable about it in Wesley’s mind, and that gave him a chance to keep close to Claire Saunders, find out who she was, and perhaps kill every last director of the so-called “Dollhouse” in the bargain. He summoned a fireball of the lowest possible intensity into his palm. Claire gasped in shock.
“As you can see, Ms. Saunders, I have a unique set of skills. I’m willing to use those skills to help you escape from Rossum.”
“In exchange for what?” Claire asked.
“I’ll need a partner in this dimension,” Wesley said. “There could be differences that I’m not yet aware of—new technologies, historical differences, things like that. Although if Margaret Thatcher was never Prime Minister in this world I might just stay here until I die again.”
“No, she exists here too.”
“All the same, I won’t survive long alone,” Wesley lied, “so we’ll need to stick together.”
“I can handle that,” Claire said. “What’s the plan?”
“I thought we could start with faking your death,” Wesley answered.
Claire’s eyes grew wide with shock. “Fake my death,” she repeated. “Why?” Wesley started to pace around the room, and Claire lay back on the bed to better follow him with her eyes.
“The Dolls are essentially people, correct?” Claire nodded.
people,” she said. “Rossum secretly uploads hundreds of thousands of MRIs—they’re the primary supplier of MRI machines for much of North America and Asia—into the Dollhouse database, and those images are used to assist in the creation of composite personalities. Topher, our programmer at the L.A. Dollhouse, often makes new traits from whole cloth, but for the most part everything is compiled from existing material. So to speak.”
“I see,” Wesley said. “I assume these Dolls are…”
“Imprinted,” Claire supplied, and Wesley grimaced with disgust.
“The imprinting happens at the Dollhouse.” Claire motioned for him to continue. “If these Dolls are fully formed personalities, then how are they returned to the Dollhouse to have their personalities removed?” Claire pursed her lips.
“Every Doll reacts to a code phrase. Once the engagement is complete, the Doll’s ‘handler’ tells the Doll that he or she ‘needs a treatment’,” she replied.
Wesley scowled. “Just as I thought,” he said. “How does the handler find a Doll?” Claire went pale as a ghost and sunk into the bed’s pillows.
“A tracking device inside the Active,” she gasped. “I should have remembered.” Wesley shrugged, and sat down at the foot of the bed, near Claire.
“It was simply a conjecture on my part, but the fact that it was correct raises new questions,” he said. “You’re a Doll. There’s no reason Rossum wouldn’t have a tracking device implanted in you in case you went on an engagement.”
“B-but my engagement was as a doctor for the Dollhouse,” Claire protested. “I—”
“You know Rossum,” Wesley said. “Would they remove the tracking device?”
Claire pressed her lips together so tightly that they seemed to disappear. “Of course they wouldn’t,” she said. “I’m nothing more than an investment to them.”
Wesley wasn’t in the business of comfort. “You’re right,” he said. “If you want to live, then Claire Saunders has to die.”
“You’re talking about faking my death,” Claire stated. She sat up on the bed and ran a hand through her hair. “If that’s what I have to do, then…okay. How are we going to, uh, kill me?”
“Faking your death is the easy part if you have adequate supplies,” Wesley said. “Acquiring new identification suitable for long-term use will be more difficult.”
Claire nodded. “That makes sense. Even Jesus took three days to come back to life.”
“I wouldn’t think you a religious woman, Ms. Saunders,” Wesley said.
“I'm just trying to keep things light,” she replied. Whatever helps you get to sleep
, Wesley thought.
“Your tracking device ensures that Rossum will know the precise moment and location of your demise. Ideally, it should be faked in such a way that the sudden cut-off of information from the device will not arouse suspicion.”
“That rules out a ‘slow death’,” Claire said. “But Rossum knows my blood pressure, my heart rate, my glucose levels
…the tracking device is top of the line. How could we possibly fool it?” We won’t fool it
, Wesley thought. Not exactly
a simple way,” he said. “It involves a bridge.” Claire swallowed hard.
“How is a bridge involved, exactly?” she asked, voice shaking.
“We’re both going to jump off of one.”*~*Questions, comments, and suggestions are all welcome, whether large or small.Angel
is property of, as far as I know, Fran, Rubel, and Kaz Kazui, in partnership with Fox and Joss Whedon. Dollhouse
is property of Fox and Joss Whedon. This story may not be sold under any circumstances, and may not be redistributed without express permission of the author. Why you would want to do either of these things is beyond me, but I figured I might as well mention it.