"Oh…and you're welcome."

With those words the world around her faded to darkness just as she assumed it would. The Powers needed Angel back on the right path and realized they already had someone capable of seeing that it was done. Cordelia's final hour had been fast approaching, death coming in the endless sleep that held her in its grasp. They offered her a chance, not a rescue from her fate but rather a stay-of-execution, the opportunity to set things straight before she left behind her mortal coil and former existence. She had been granted a day; one day to sort out the mess Angel's life had become and remind him of whom he once was – who he still needed to be.

But she had not been able to voice her fears to anyone during those long yet impossibly brief hours. It would have distracted too much from the problems at hand to say, 'I'm dying – and I've never been so afraid in all my life.' So she had put on her game face and marched into battle with all the expected prowess of the often imitated, never duplicated Queen C. The frightened, mortal young woman had been tucked away deep inside as always; bearing her cross in anguished, solitary silence.

It was when she found herself alone in Angel's suite, her mind racing with the knowledge of impending death, that she had sought out her hero – looked to him for strength.

And Doyle – her Doyle had been there for her, waiting on that cassette even after all those years to speak to her in her hour of greatest need. His words brought tears to her eyes. The way he looked into the camera at certain points made her wonder, as always, whether he had known something was wrong that day. It had always felt as if he was speaking directly to her.

"When the chips are down…and you're at the end of your rope…you need someone that you can count on…and that's what you'll find here…someone who'll go all the way…who'll protect you…no matter what. So don't lose hope…"

"I don't know if I'm strong enough, Doyle." Cordelia whispered to him, her voice straining as the tears flowed down her cheeks. "I'm so scared…I don't want to die yet." She confided to him, as she had no other; staring at his image paused on the screen.

The memory of their last moment together had come to her then with all the enrapturing qualities (but thankfully none of the pain) of a vision.

She recalled in perfect clarity the look in his eyes when he turned to face her– the things she had seen in him in that moment that both frightened and awed her. Unwavering acceptance of his fate had swirled in his suddenly and unexpectedly wise eyes, total recognition that this was his path. He had been willing to give all when his time had come, held his head high and stayed strong for them, faced death bravely – sacrificed everything for the cause.

He told Angel, "The good fight, yeah? You never know until you've been tested. I get that now."

"I get that now." She repeated as she opened her eyes, using his words to summon her own strength and courage. The tears were beginning to dry on her face and she realized she had been sitting in a daze for several moments. A smile came to her lips as she sniffled, wiping her face and taking a deep, steadying breath.

Doyle was right as always, his tragic fashion sense and perpetual scent of whisky had belied the wisdom he possessed.

"Yeah well, my bitty Braveheart…" She began with a sly smile. "You didn't have enough time to worry. I get the feeling if you'd had a whole day to think about the fact that you were going to die you might have been a little scared, too." She teased, biting her lip and nodding to herself and him. It was time, she was ready to stand and face her end without fear just as he had. "Wish me luck, my almost-lover." She whispered sweetly to him, restarting the tape and feeling lighter now, deciding that if she had to die she was at least thankful for the chance to make things right first.

Angel had come in a short time later and, with Doyle there on the screen to offer his support, she had begun the process of getting their boy back in the game. Cordelia had done proud the legacy of Angel Investigations and its first soldier down, successfully getting their namesake to remember his place in the good fight. She fought the last battle she would ever have to face; saw to it that everything was heading in the right direction just as her time had run out.

She and Angel kissed their failed attempts at romance goodbye, an act that served to show not only their acceptance of its end but also the love they would always hold for one another. He was her Angel in every sense of the word. Their relationship had shifted back and forth so many times throughout the years but one thing had been remained constant – they were family, no matter what aspect their companionship had been at any given moment.

And now there was only darkness.

She lost her form with the fading of the world, could not sense a thing aside from vast nothingness and solitude. No cherubs or pearly gates met her end, no saint granted her entry, no crowd of lost loved ones waited to greet her with open arms. She had just decided that the lack of a welcoming committee was a complete crock when a sound jarred her from her thoughts, as well as her incorporeal state.

Jumping up instinctively as one would when waking from a dream, it quickly dawned on her that she was blessedly solid again, could feel things…, but along with the sudden return of sensation she was hit with causes for confusion.

Firstly, there was the familiar bedroom she was in – its interior glowing with morning sunlight filtering in through the curtains. Secondly, long tresses tumbled down around her face as she sat up bolt straight in bed. In bewilderment, she grabbed handfuls of hair that should have been half its current length, staring at it in disbelief before looking around her room. She was in her apartment somehow. If the sound of birds chirping and warm, fresh air flowing in through the open window were any indication, it was a clear spring day.

"What the…" She breathed only to jump a second time as the noise that had brought her to consciousness repeated. She cocked her head to the side, her eyes narrowing suspiciously as she cautiously climbed from her bed.

A quick glance in the mirror as she passed stunned her and she stopped abruptly, backing up several paces and approaching it with wide eyes. She studied her face from every angle, unable to believe what she was seeing. All the worry of the past several years seemed to have receded from her features. A youthful Cordelia Chase peered back at her, dressed in her all time favorite PJ set she had worn to death and thrown away years ago.

"Oh…my…" She whispered as a grin slowly spread across her face. "Well hello there, gorgeous!" She greeted her reflection and laughed in astonishment.

Yet again the noise jerked her from her thoughts, drawing her slowly out into the living room. Her heart leapt into her throat when she recognized the sound for what it was.

was knocking…
on the door

She wrung her hands nervously for a few seconds before flailing them at her sides. Closing her eyes tightly, she desperately tried to get a grip on what was happening. Now wait just a damned minute, she griped to herself. I'm dead, right? So why am I here in my apartment, looking younger, and wearing clothes I know damned well ended up in a landfill four years ago?

Biting her bottom lip fretfully, she wondered if whoever it was would simply go away if she ignored them. She was not sure if she could take any more surprises just yet.

The knocking was persistent, though. Whoever it was patiently rapped every moment or so, apparently willing to wait out her indecisiveness.

"Who is it?" She finally called in a shaky voice, inching closer and holding her breath waiting for a response.

None came.

She cursed under her breath that there was no peephole in her door. "I may very well be in some hell dimension right now and here I am, opening the door to let the torture begin. Brilliant, Cordy…just freaking brilliant." She chided herself, reaching for the knob and faltering several times trying to work up the courage to do it.

With a frustrated sigh, she mustered her most challenging tone. "All right, listen good, bub!" She called angrily, pointing through the door at the unknown knocker. "If I open up and you're some snarling, nasty demon coming to haul me off to the depths of hell I warn you now – I am going to be extremely pissed off!" Not much of a threat for a hell-beast, she was sure, but certainly, no creature from any dimension wanted to get on her bad side.

With a final breath to build up her nerve, she yanked the door open. Slack-jawed, wide-eyed, and speechless, she found herself standing face to face with the man she thought she would never see again.

"Can't say as though I'm snarling or here to whisk ya off to hell…but a demon?" He scrunched up his face and shrugged. "Eh, just a half…and 'nasty', well...I'll admit to being called that once or twice, princess." He told her with a smirk.

Bathed in the sunlight, he stood outside her door exactly as she remembered him. Black hair and pale skin, bright blue eyes laced with mischief, clad in a brown leather jacket despite the warm temperature and clothes any self-respecting goodwill store would turn down.

She let out an ear-piercing squeal and leapt into his arms. "Oh my God! DOYLE!" She shrieked as she held him tightly.

"Hello again, darling." He said softly and gave a blissful sigh, breathing in the scent of her hair as he held her close. "Ooh, I've missed you. Was terribly boring round here with no one to bust my chops, ya know?"

Cordelia's eyes went wide as she pulled away from him suddenly. She reached out and gripped him by the chin, turning his face from side to side roughly, scrutinizing for any hint that this was a trick. It was too easy. She could not really be getting him back without some hidden catch.

"It's me, princess." He laughed as he removed her vice-grip hand from his chin. "I swear it."

She was not so easily convinced, stepping back away from him a few paces and putting her hands on her hips. "Oh yeah? Well…well if you're really Doyle then tell me things…things he would know like…like what does he drink?"

"What don't I drink?" He asked with wide eyes and a grin. Upon seeing her scowl, he cleared his throat and tried to take this as seriously as she was. "Right then, single malt scotch for the most part…but again I'm not a man of monogamy when it comes to beverages, love. If you'll remember I've been known to throw back my fair share of margaritas from time to time, then there's the…"

She covered her cheeks quickly. "Which side of my face is my beauty mark on?"
"Right side, got a sexy little mole on that side of your neck as well…seems like a happy trail if ya ask –"

Cordelia cut him off. "What part of my body did I catch Doyle staring at the most?"

He stared at her for a second before bursting out laughing, unable to prevent it given her choice of interrogation techniques. "Hell of a loaded question there, don't ya think? Talk about forcing someone to willingly rat themselves out, Christ…" He shook his head and smirked at her. "But fine, I'll play along – and hey, it's only for the sake of making you feel better. Keep that in mind if any of my responses give ya the urge to fatten me lip again. All right, here goes…" He smiled as he kept his eyes locked on her ever-ready-to-slap hand. "The truth of it is, while I'll confess that a great deal of the time I was supposedly reading the paper in front of your desk was actually devoted to appreciating several parts of your anatomy…it was staring at your mouth got me caught most often."

Hmm…he got that one right, too. She tapped her foot, eyeing him appraisingly as she pondered her next test. "Okay…got a good one." She said finally, snapping and pointing at him challengingly. "What did I taste like the first time Doyle and I kissed?"

He arched a thoroughly intrigued brow and shifted his weight to his other foot, biting his bottom lip and letting his eyes roam to her mouth as he'd been caught doing so often. "Cinnamon." He said with absolute certainty. "Not to mention the finest woman I've ever known…and it wasn't just the 'first' time, princess…."

Her ears perked up thinking this faux-Doyle was about to give himself away. Come on…say I tasted like cinnamon during other kisses and your ass is grass, buster. She thought to herself as she stared him down.

Seeing the sudden rigidity of her posture, he smirked, almost hearing the thoughts in her head. He crossed his arms over his chest and met her gaze confidently. "I'm sad to have to make the correction but it was regrettably also the only time you and I ever kissed."

"Huh." She breathed, her brows drawing together in bafflement. Damned if that wasn't another right answer. She had been hoping to trip him up with that, either with the number of kisses or whether she had used her wintergreen Binaca instead of the gum in her pocket. She frowned at the man in front of her, still leery of letting herself be duped by an imposter. "First time I hugged him?"

"In this apartment the day I helped ya get it." He answered without hesitation. "Again, not just the first but only time…and not for a lack of trying on my part."

"What was I wearing the night we broke into the police station to save Detective Lockley?" She asked, narrowing her eyes on him and knowing without a doubt that the real Doyle would have no problem recalling the ensemble.

"Three shirts: a white v-neck sweater over a red sheer tank top with a floral pattern and a grey cotton one underneath. Not one of the three, might I add, was covering your midriff." He let out a breathy sigh at the memory and continued. "Pair of dark blue denim jeans that looked damned near painted on. Oh, and a great new pair of sandals. I gotta tell ya that little number made it pretty much impossible to concentrate while giving ya a boost into the window…" He scrunched up his face guiltily as he trailed off. "And judging by your decision to ask that question I'll gather ya noticed the excessive amount of time I spent helping ya up there."

"My favorite afternoon pick-me-up?"
"Mochacino with skim."

"How did he take his coffee?"
"Black, two sugars…but ya did manage to get me hooked on those iced concoctions as well."

"His full name?"
He winced and sighed as he reluctantly grumbled, "Allen Francis Doyle."

"First compliment I ever gave him?"
"Well I'd say the first time you gave me the pleasure of being in your presence but that's a given, princess." He said with a wink. "As for verbal compliments I'm not sure I ever received one that didn't come with a good lashing attached to it. I recall two occasions when I thought I was going to be complimented but got pummeled instead. You're either referring to telling me I was a lot smarter than I looked – which you then promptly voided by adding that I looked like a retard – or the time ya told me you may have been wrong about me, that maybe I didn't have zero potential." He gave her a look of feigned indignation, struggling not to laugh at the way those words made her squirm. "Not sure I'd count either of those as compliments but if I mute your voice at certain points in the memories they're sorta nice."

She cleared her throat guiltily and moved on. "The name of the loser I gave up my popularity to date, who then cheated on me and broke my heart before I moved to L.A.?"

His eyes widened in obvious shock. "Don't know, if ya'd ever mentioned it I'd certainly recall choking the life out of the guy. Who the hell would cheat on you? Was he blind or slow or something?"

She huffed in frustration, another right answer on all counts.

He grinned watching her scowl severely at the fact that she could not get what she believed to be an impostor to slip. "We entering the lightening round then, princess?" He asked. "Can't help but notice you've got your determined face on."

"What did he call Oz when we all went out to the bar together?"
"Not my finest hour, of that, I'm sure, but I recall ya tellin me it was 'my little bam-bam'. It's possible I may have slightly outdone myself that night…somewhat."

"And was anything strange the next morning when he woke up that he maybe never worked up the nerve to mention?" She asked with a grin coming to her face. If this was the genuine Doyle, things were bound to get interesting now.

He paled far beyond normal and stared at her in stunned silence for a minute. "Oh Christ, I just quit drinking." He breathed in horror. "Ya've gotta be joking – please tell me you're joking cuz I don't think I could take it if you're not." He pleaded.

Seeing this reaction made it excruciatingly difficult to deny the possibility that this really was Doyle but she simply continued smiling, waiting to hear what he had found strange.

With a hand on the doorframe to steady him, he answered in a strained voice. "I woke up in bed, in my boxers and under the covers for the first time in a year as opposed to on the couch, fully clothed and using my coat as a blanket. So…what you're saying is…what you mean to tell me is…" He groaned and rubbed his face roughly. "That you stripped me down and put me in bed and I wasn't even conscious to enjoy the experience?!" He finally demanded with wide, panic-stricken eyes.

Cordelia's grin lit up the room as she nodded. "That's a fact, jack. I kept waiting for it to be brought up but nada, used to amuse me to no end wondering how badly that screwed with his head. All right, let's see…what's next?"

"Just so long as it's not gonna be more revelations as to my failure to stay awake long enough to know I was being groped." He complained.

Cordelia's arched brow nearly reached her hairline. "Who groped? I recall no mention of groping." She said with a smirk.

"No, no – too late now, princess." Doyle told her with a grin as he held up his hands. "Ya could have kept that knowledge all to yourself. It's mine now and I'll paint the scene as I see fit – with all the inappropriate fondling and such my mind can concoct." He said, closing his eyes and smiling as if laying it out, adding comments like, 'very nice…but maybe…' until it earned him a swat to the chest. He laughed and opened his eyes again. "Fine, have it your way – I'll get back to that later. Let's just finish the pop quiz so I can move past standing around in the hall, yeah?"

At this point, she was fighting the urge to hug him and believe it was real but…it just couldn't be. She took a deep breath and asked the ultimate question. "What's the last thing Doyle said to me?"

His grin widened. "Must admit I was dizzy from finally kissing you. And hey, speaking of which, I'm lucky I even caught the light at all – you've a way of stealing a man's sense of direction, d'ya know tha?" He gazed at her adoringly for a few seconds before a hint of sadness crept into his eyes. Swallowing hard at the memories, he looked down at the floor and took a deep breath, continuing in a soft whisper. "What I said to ya, princess, was 'too bad we'll never know if this is a face you could learn to love' and then…I…"

That was as far as he got before she was kissing him deeply, pulling him into her apartment, and kicking the door closed behind them.

When she finally let him come up for air, he was left stammering and stupefied. "Well…yeah…" He began with a laugh, shaking his head to get his thoughts in order. "Dizzy like tha, thanks for the reminder."

She pulled him along with her to the couch and patted the cushion beside her, smiling at him as he took his place. "So, go ahead and tell me. What is it?" She said with a sigh.

"What's what?" He said, staring at her mouth and wondering if she would mind him cutting this conversation short. He had a great deal of time to make up for with those lips.

"What's the catch, the shoe that's getting ready to drop, the one final way the PTB are gonna royally stick it to me?" Cordelia asked with a pout, crossing her arms over her chest and looking around with obvious distrust. "Everything is too right. The weather, my apartment, my PJs, my hair, my face, YOU being here – it's all too perfect. Something is undoubtedly about to come screw it up."

Doyle grinned. "Hey, you'll find no argument here about your face and hair being perfect, love – and as for the PJs, I have to say I'm definitely a big fan. Then again, you could wear a sheet and I'd be thrilled…hey, speaking of…" He trailed off, looking her over thoughtfully until she swatted him in the arm and laughed. "But this is it – this is the end game. No catch involved."

Cordelia stared at him for several moments trying to prioritize the forty thousand questions she had. Doyle contented himself by enjoying the way she bit her bottom lip when she was in deep thought.

"So…this is it? Like the big 'IT' it? Like I don't have to worry about fighting or visions or…anything anymore?" She asked skeptically.

"Nope, and I'll admit it takes some getting used to. See this whole place is bliss – everything you've seen in your life that's really made ya really happy is here. Places, clothes, your appearance, all of tha. For me it's sorta sucked…the only thing I wanted wasn't here yet." He confessed as he took her hand in his.

Cordelia's mouth dropped open slowly. "Aww…Doyle…" She breathed, smiling and leaning over to kiss his cheek…which led to his jaw…which led to his mouth…which led to several moments of making out before she realized she had a lot more questions to ask. "Mmph…wait a second…" She somehow managed, struggling to sit up straight again.

"All right…" He conceded with a smirk, clearing his throat and trying to think non-finally-having-Cordelia-in-bed thoughts. "Been waiting a few years – what's another second gonna hurt?"

She laughed…but then realization hit her. Slowly her face fell and she looked into his eyes, sadness creeping into her own.

Doyle tilted his head to the side, propping it on a hand and studying her expression. "Ah, was wondering when this was coming." He said with an understanding smile, reaching out and running a thumb over her cheek tenderly. "You went on with your life after I died, princess. Ya needed love and companionship – there's nothing wrong with tha."

"Wait, what? No. I mean, yes – but so NO." She stammered as she shook her head and slid closer to him, suddenly afraid that he was going to leave her again.

"You're worryin that I'll be cross with you for the one-nighters, but what you're really afraid of is that I'm gonna feel betrayed when ya tell me the only serious love was Angel." He said and watched horror pass over her face at hearing the words spoken aloud.

All said by Doyle.

She had been terrified of this since the first time she found herself attracted to him. It was wrong on so many levels, she hated herself for even thinking it but it was there and it was real.

They both loved Doyle deeply but the rest just sorta happened…it wasn't planned…she knew it made them terrible…had always found it disrespectful to his memory…had dreaded facing this for so long…but she…

"Cordelia?" Doyle said and when she finally focused on him, she realized it was the third time he had called her name. He smiled and squeezed her hand reassuringly but she was already having a borderline breakdown at finally having this conversation. "Sex is a necessity, though not a luxury we servants of the Powers are allotted on a regular basis. With that in mind, I'm thankful for the little bit of action ya managed to get over the years. Another note – things done with your body when ya weren't controlling it are hardly your fault. Lastly, and this is the part you need to hear: ya love Angel, ya always will and that's all right. Hell, I love Angel and always will, too. Not to say I'd ever want to sleep with the brooding bastard, contrary to any previous statements I may or may not have made about finding him attractive." He teased.

After a moment, he shook his head. She was not smiling – was still waiting for him to say something negative for some reason.

"Look," He sighed. "I know what ya went through, princess. Ya had a hard life full of pain and suffering I'd not wish on my worst enemy. The only one who was there throughout all of it was Angel. Kinda hard to date outside the circle when ya have to worry about whether they'll be killed or think you're nuts if they hear ya talking about visions and vamps and demons and what not. Since I wasn't around to give ya the love ya deserved, I have to say there's no other man I'd have wished to take my place. There's no other person I would trust with your heart. So no, I'm not hurt, I don't hold it against you, and everything is still fine."

"It's just…you were gone…" She whispered. "And you have to know if you were there it would have been you. We both still missed you so much, we never forgot about you. We just…I was just…" She tried and he smiled.

"Ya don't need to explain it to me, princess." He told her softly and waited patiently for it to hit her. The way her eyes sparkled a second later told him she had finally connected the dots. "Just figured something out, did ya love?" He asked with a knowing grin.

"You're here now." She said in astonishment with a ten million dollar smile coming to her lips.

"That I am, and you're here as well. Quite the bright pair we are to notice tha." He teased.

Her list of forty thousand questions was quickly abridged to contain only a critical two.

"How long are we here for?" She asked, leaning closer to him and fighting for self-control until she heard at least these answers.

Doyle grinned. "As long as we want; could be forever, could be a day or five hundred years. We're not mortal in this realm. There is the option of reincarnation but that's like hitting the reset button, ya lose all your memories when ya do it. I'd have to be pretty damned bored to take that path, which personally I can't see ever happening now that you're here."

"Not mortal – so nothing here can kill us?" She asked, finding this to be a strange concept.

"Little late for tha, don't ya think?" He asked with a wink. "No, nothing here can kill us – we can't get any deader."

"And…do we…umm…do I have to use…umm…" She tried before finally just blurting out the question. "I can't get knocked up and be forced to give birth to a higher being or anything, right?" She whined and he struggled not to laugh.

"I tell ya, if it was anyone else asking that question it'd sound strange – but no, love. Ya can't create life in the absence of it; there's no getting pregnant here. All that nonsense is behind ya now. This is the payday for all the bull those meddlesome higher beings pulled on us in our lives." He explained as she climbed into his lap and smiled down at him.

"I missed you." She whispered and kissed his lips sweetly, staring into his eyes and shaking her head in amazement that this was finally happening.

"And I you, princess." He told her softly.

"Doyle?" She said, pressing her forehead to his and closing her eyes as she inhaled his scent. She waited for the little 'hmm?' that came in response. "I love you." She whispered as if sharing a secret.

He took a deep, choppy breath as tears of joy streamed down his cheeks. "D'ya know…how long I've waited to hear ya say that…while I have ya here in me arms?" He asked in a strained voice, running his hands through her hair and rubbing his nose against hers. "I love you, too, princess…" He told her, a smile spreading across his lips as he kissed her, muttering breathlessly, "God, the Powers know I love you."

"Never leave me again?" She sobbed, laughing through tears at how desperate her plea sounded.

"Not for nothing, I swear it to you." He insisted and wrapped his arms around her, holding her close to his chest and kissing the top of her head.

"I was such a wreck when you died." She confessed with a sniffle, nuzzling under his chin. "I didn't let it show, though; I couldn't. Angel was hanging on by a thread – I could see it. Every time I got choked up, he started to lose it, too. We kept going…but at night, when I was going to sleep I always used to talk to you."

Doyle sighed and entwined his fingers with hers. "I know, darling…I heard you."

"Really?" She asked in surprise.

"Really truly." He laughed.

"Oh…well…about the tirades…" She said guiltily and smiled appreciatively as he only laughed harder.

"Forgiven, I got a kick out of your logic about how it was all my fault – you crying and such. My favorite one was…" He cleared his throat and changed to a comical imitation of her voice, "'why did you have to be so damned sweet, Doyle? I wouldn't be sitting here sobbing if you had just kept your smiles and compliments to yourself!'"

Cordelia's jaw dropped open and she pushed off his chest indignantly. "I didn't say that!" She lied with a grin.

"Ya sure did, and let's see…ah yes, the famous, 'at least you could have told me sooner about the half demon thing so we would have had a chance to…' and every one of the things that followed tha statement." He said, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.

She narrowed her eyes on him suspiciously. "Were you watching me?"

"Would have always been if it were an option, but the only times I could see ya and hear ya were when ya were talking to me or…wishing I was there with ya." He gave her a wink and waited for that to sink in.

"You pervy little ghost!" She cried, trying to scowl but her smile would not allow it.

"Hey, at least I was still getting some action in your imagination, princess." He laughed. "Not a lot of dead guys can say they've a fox such as yourself back in the world of the living putting them in such…intriguing…positions in their mind."

She grinned and climbed from the couch, tugging on his hand and urging him to stand up. "Well I'm not in the 'world of the living' anymore…and I'd say it's about time we tried out a few of those positions."

"Oh thank God…" He whimpered as he eagerly followed her to the bedroom. "I don't know how much longer I could have kept talking with you sitting on me lap."


Leave me some feedback if you would like to see this continued ;)