Title: "Carnival of Souls"
Author: badgirl2bad4u
Written for: Still Grrr on LiveJournal, A Whedon-verse Fic/Icon/FanArt Challenge Community
Prompt: 139, Carnival of Souls
Characters: Doyle, Cordelia, Fred, Wesley, Gunn, and Angel
Pairing: Cordelia/Doyle, Wesley/Fred

Angel sits in silence behind his desk, pouring over the pages of an ancient volume of text. Beyond the bare walls of the empty Hyperion, the world is going on. The hell that L.A. has become, all of its darkness continues the endless precession of battles to be won and lost.

No one but Angel remains to know the significance of today's date. He alone mourns the friend lost on this night five years prior. He sighs and shifts in his seat, his brow furrowing as he desperately tries to focus on the words before him and not memories of days behind him.

But from across the room, forms he cannot perceive are watching him longingly; wishing they could comfort him tonight as they had in life.

"Do you think he…senses us?" A woman asks softly, taking the hand of the man she has finally been reunited with.

"Did ya ever sense me?" He asks with a smile.

She takes a staggered and unnecessary breath, frowning as she considers this. "I hoped I did," she answers, recalling the heartache she carried in silence after he passed. "When I felt a change in the air or temperature I used to pray it was you, that you were still with me…but I don't think I ever really did sense you." She confesses as she leans back against him, resting her head on his shoulder and drawing his arms down around her.

"That's likely the way it is for him, princess." Doyle whispers, kissing her hair and holding her tight.

"Will I ever stop missing him this much?" Cordelia asks, sniffling as tears trickle over her cheeks. Each day in the many months since her death she has been here with Doyle, watching over Angel, yet each day she still aches just as badly to tell him they are with him, that they still love him.

"I'd love to lie and tell ya it gets easier, but it never did for me watching the two of ya over the years." He answers, smiling as Angel shifts in his chair again. "He's thinking of you and me over there, ya know; missing us both."

"Really?" She asks hopefully.

"Really," he assures, smiling down at her adoringly.

"Because today is the anniversary." She whispers.

Doyle nods, his eyes wandering back to Angel. "But it's not regrets that plague him this year; it's memories of the good times. Right now he's remembering the way it used to be, the way it all began. The three of us against the world; just that little office and more bills than we knew what to do with. He's even missing the god awful coffee."

"How can you tell?" She asks, looking back at Angel and studying his features.

"I can see it when he does," he whispers. "It took a while to be able to but when he thinks about me now, I'm there with him in his memories."

She grins, looking back and forth between the two of them. "How long before I can be there with you both?" She asks.

"Took me a couple years," he begins. As her shoulders slouch disappointedly he adds in a cautious tone, "but he'll be with us long before you reach that point."

Cordelia looks up at him worriedly, drawing his arms around her a little tighter. She knows by now not to question his prediction, he had given similar ones for each of the friends standing beside them now.

"Already?" Gunn asks in astonishment. "But he's…I mean…he's still got so much…" He tries, looking over at Angel with a wounded expression.

"You mean that Angel is…going to…die?" Fred whispers weakly.

"He has signed away his Shanshu," Wesley tells her, running a soothing hand over her hair. "All that is left for him now is to fight until the end."

Fred smiles up at him but looks back to Doyle for guidance in the matter; the man she never knew in life yet had greeted her in the instant of her death. He has been her guide, just as he was for Cordelia before her and Wesley and Gunn after. The smiling face of the first soldier down had been the first thing each of them saw when they passed.

Doyle sighs, looking over at Fred sympathetically. "He's going to save the world again." He says, pausing as she takes a choppy breath. "He'll play the hero, for the last time, and die a champion."

"And then…he'll be here?" Fred chokes out, her bottom lip trembling as she looks over at Angel, her stoic savior in all his perceived solitude.

"He'll be…with us?" Cordelia adds, gazing up at him.

"He'll be here with us," Doyle agrees.

"And then…?" Gunn begins, looking over at the Irishman nervously.

"And then we go together to the other side." Doyle says, meeting each of their gazes as they look to him, somehow easing their anxiety with nothing but a smile.

"I'm glad we waited for him." Fred says, managing to sound happy despite the tears pouring down cheeks and the overwhelmed sobs escaping her. "And I'm glad you waited for all of us, Doyle." She says, giving him an appreciative smile. The night of her death had been difficult to accept. If he hadn't been there for her, she didn't know what she would have done. True, she had thought he was an angel at first. She clung to him and sobbed for hours before he could finally introduce himself, but he had been so patient with her, helped her past the fear and denial and brought her to Cordelia.

He smiles at her now, reaching over and squeezing her hand understandingly.

"Here, here." Cordelia says with a smirk, turning to kiss his cheek. "I never thought I'd be so happy to be dead." She teases and he laughs, his smile feels good beneath her lips. For her, seeing Doyle had been an incomparable relief. Unlike Fred, she had leapt into his arms and wept for a different reason entirely. It was Doyle, her Doyle, not some stern faced Oracle or other conduit to the Powers, no higher being trying to squeeze something else out of her. When she had seen his face, she had known it was really over. She was finally free.

"So the team of Angel Investigations is to set out together one last time," Wesley says in a strained voice, his eyes glittering in the dim light. "When will it happen?"

Doyle closes his eyes, connected to something the others have yet to see. "Tonight…when he leaves here, he goes to face his final battle." He answers softly.

"Do we wait here? Do we follow him?" Fred asks, wiping away her tears and sniffling.

"I say we go with him, watch our boy avert his last apocalypse." Gunn says with a grin as he pushes away from the wall he's been leaning against.

"We go with him." Doyle agrees. "Gotta be there to tell him what's happened so he doesn't get lost."

"Like you were there for us," Cordelia says with a sigh and he nods. "Nobody was there for you, though." She says, frowning at him worriedly.

"And I'd not recommend the experience." He says with a wink.

"Looks like we're on." Gunn says, motioning over to Angel as he closes his book and climbs from his chair.

"Seems a shame we can't make him a banner or something," Fred says as she wrings her hands anxiously, watching him pass with wide eyes. "Like 'welcome back to the team' or 'welcome to the other side' or something like that."

"There'll be plenty of time to celebrate the reunion where we're heading, love." Doyle says with a laugh.

"I'm nervous." Fred whimpers. "I don't want him to die…I don't know if I can just watch it happen."

"Sweetie, none of us want him to die," Cordelia says and gives her shoulder a squeeze of support. "But it's his time."

"And having someone there when ya cross over makes it easier." Doyle says as they follow Angel out of the office. He looks over at her, studying her eyes for a moment before adding, "Not all of us need be there, though. If ya'd rather…"

"No…no, I'll do it. I can do it for Angel." Fred insists, nodding to herself that she needs to.

Angel's final hour was his finest. He fought just as courageously as ever, freeing the city from the hell it had descended to and bringing it back into the light of day…

The light which then claimed his life.

As his body fell to ash, his lost friends watched with tears and smiles as his soul remained. He stood still in the sunlight, staring up at it in confusion and not understanding why the pain had stopped.

"Good to see you in the sun again, bud. Ya were looking a bit pale there." Doyle said softly behind him.

Angel turned to face him quickly, staring at him in astonishment.

"Then again, it's just good to see you again." Doyle added, smiling up at him with tearful blue eyes. "I've missed ya, d'ya know…?"

He didn't get any further than that before Angel was pulling him into his arms, hugging him tightly, laughing and crying at the same time.

"Doyle…oh my God…Doyle, is it really you?" He asked, holding him out at arm's length for an inspection before dragging him back into another hug.

"If I weren't dead already I'd say to ease up before ya break something." Doyle laughed. "It's really me, man."

"I've missed you…God, I've missed you." Angel breathed against his shoulder. "How are you here?"

"Same way as you're here." Doyle whispered, gazing up at him with sad eyes once Angel released him. "It's about that time, bud…"

"Then…I'm…?" Angel tried, staring at him worriedly.

"Afraid so, yeah." Doyle said with a nod. "But, you'll be happy to know I've brought a few familiar faces along to ease the passing…well, beyond seeing my handsome face again after so long." He teased and Angel smiled down at him warmly, still too floored by having his friend with him to pay much attention to his words.

"Welcome to the afterlife, champion." Cordelia said softly, resting her chin on Doyle's shoulder and peering up at him.

Angel's eyes flew open as he focused on her. "Cordelia…" He breathed, smiling widely at how happy she looked.

"Hey there, handsome man." Fred said, waving to him as she stepped up beside her.

"Oh my…Fred…?" Angel managed, covering his mouth and leaning heavily on Doyle as tears filled his eyes.

"Yup, it's me." She sobbed.

"You both look so…" He breathed, unable to find words. When he last saw Fred she was dying, weak and suffering. The last time he saw Cordelia had been at the hospital, he had needed to identify her body just for the sake of paperwork.

But now here they were, looking beautiful and healthy, laughing as they leapt into his arms.

"Don't go breaking down yet, big guy." Gunn called as he approached with Wesley.

"Gunn…Wesley…" Angel breathed, looking at them both in awe. "You're okay…you're all okay…I never thought I'd see any of you again." He choked out as he hugged each of them.

"Hate to cut in, but that's our flight." Doyle called, drawing their attention to the glowing white portal that had appeared.

"What's in there?" Angel asked, approaching it cautiously and stopping beside his long lost and dearly missed friend.

"Our reward." Doyle answered happily. "So…ya all ready for this?" He asked, taking Cordelia's hand in his and giving her a warm smile.

"Ready." They each answered.

"Then let's get on with the eternal bliss, shall we?" Doyle said, grinning up at Angel as he put a hand on his shoulder. "We all step through on the count of three," he instructed, waiting for each of them to nod their agreement. "One…two…three."