A Different Road

Summary: This different road she's on now, it takes her away from Angel. But it guides her back to him, the one they lost along the way. Cordy and Doyle, friendship or more.

A/N: I did a rewatch recently, and everything with Doyle breaks my heart just as much as ever. This reunion has been done a thousand times before, of course, but I needed to have a go at my own version. Title comes from Cordelia's quote from You're Welcome, and this takes place directly after that.

"Took ya long enough to get here, Cordy," he said. "Far longer than I thought it would, ter be honest. Not that I was hoping it'd be quick."

His voice was the first thing she heard in this new place, and it was so like him, to not give her any time to adjust to the major changes within and around herself.

And yet, she wasn't surprised at all to hear his voice. The transition into the afterlife wasn't disorienting like she once thought it might be; in fact, it was quite the opposite. She understood with perfect clarity where she was, and, more importantly, whom she was with.

She smiled at the thought.

"I'm sorry," she said, turning around to see him for the first time. And there he was, standing just feet from her, wearing his favorite brown jacket and one of the trademark ugly shirts that she used to mock him for owning. He had a smile on his face that lit up his eyes. She'd missed that smile so much over the last few years, but refrained from saying so. Instead, she smirked at him. "I know I took awhile, but we can't all jump heroically to our deaths the first chance we get, can we?"

He winked at her. "Ah, but you remembered it for a long time after, yeah?"

She reached out to touch him, turned it into a gentle shove to his shoulder instead. He was solid, real, and grinning.

She felt herself tearing up quite suddenly at the memory of losing him, and emotions swept in before she could stop them. "Doyle, you awful, dumb, jerk."

He laughed and pulled her into his arms. "I've missed you too, princess."

Cordelia held onto him, and for a long moment, there was nothing but the feel of Doyle, so warm and so tangible, as he hadn't been to her in years. It was hard to resist the impulse of staying in his arms forever, but she managed to pull herself just out of his grasp in order to better take in...everything.

She wiped at her eyes, and for the first time since arriving, she looked at her surroundings. What she was sure had at one point been only white light surrounding Doyle was now a quiet landscape, a green field under a perfect blue sky. She could feel the grass beneath her bare feet. It felt good, familiar, warm. Right here and right now, it was exactly what she wanted.

"Come on," said Doyle, gently taking her hand.

"Where are we going?"

"I'm taking you on a picnic." he said simply, and she noticed for the first time that he held a basket in the hand that wasn't holding onto hers. She let him guide her beneath the shade of a nearby tree, which, just like everything here, seemed to be perfectly suited to their needs and her liking.

Doyle let go of her hand and rummaged through his basket, pulling out a large blanket which he then spread out onto the ground. He settled down upon it, leaning his back against the trunk of the tree. Then he looked at Cordelia and patted the ground beside him, gesturing for her to sit as well. She did so without question, and marveled silently at how natural and right it felt to be here with him. In the back of her mind, she knew there were things - people - she should be concerned about from her former life, but she felt far too calm and peaceful to worry now. Was it the effect of heaven, or simply because she was sitting here with Doyle, whose comforting presence had always, somehow, put her at ease?

All in all, it was probably best not to over-think it. No, there were far more pressing matters:

"What did you bring to eat?" she asked, choosing to focus on the here and now instead of the past and the lost years between them.

"Take a look for yourself," he replied, pushing the basket towards her. She opened the lid and pulled out the first thing her hand touched. To her surprise, it was a sturdy plate on which rested a large slice of pepperoni pizza that looked as though it were fresh out of the oven.

"You brought pizza on a picnic?" she asked incredulously, and yet she couldn't deny how enticing it smelled.

Doyle chuckled. "I didn't bring anything, princess. It's what you asked for. In your heart o' hearts, it's what you really want to eat right now. Funny, I thought it'd be somethin' more pretentious, with a fancy name I couldn't pronounce."

"It wouldn't have to be fancy for that," she said, falling so easily into the familiar banter they'd shared in life. She placed the plate of pizza down on the blanket and reached into the basket once again, this time pulling out a heavy bottle and two glasses. "I also asked for wine, apparently. Is that pretentious enough for you?"

"Tha's more like it." Doyle reached for the bottle and she gave it to him. He uncorked it effortlessly with his bare hand and began pouring the wine into the two glasses. When he was finished, he reached for the basket and pulled out his own meal, a plate of steak and mashed potatoes, complete with fork and knife.

Meanwhile, Cordelia had just taken her first bite of the pizza. "Oh my..."

"I know," said Doyle, swallowing a mouthful of potatoes. "It's delicious in every way, right? No bad-tasting food here, unless you're really cravin' it. Which happens, oddly enough..."

Cordelia was sure she had never tasted anything as perfect in her life. She had the distinct feeling that this whole world was perfect in every way, except...

"Angel." His image appeared suddenly in her mind, and for the first time since she'd gotten here, she felt concern intruding upon her happiness at seeing Doyle again.

Doyle nodded, as though he understood everything she was going through from just the simple slip of the name. "It's hard, leaving him behind," he agreed. "But...you can see him, if you want. Can't talk to him or see him here, but you can see what he's doing there."

It was suddenly urgent that she do so. "Tell me how, Doyle?" she asked quietly, the 'please' implied in the needy, almost desperate quality of her voice.

He looked at her with soft eyes and compassion. "It's simple, really. Jus' close your eyes and think of him."

"That's all?" she asked, her heart leaping at the idea that it could be so easy.

"That's all."

Cordelia took a deep breath and did as she had been instructed - she closed her eyes and thought of nothing but Angel. The effect was instantaneous. In the flash of a moment, she felt as if she were in two places at once. In one respect, she was with Doyle in a brightly lit field, sitting with her eyes closed. And yet, she was also in a bar with Angel and the rest of the gang, and they were holding their drinks in the air.

"He's already told them you're gone, I reckon. They're toasting you now." She heard Doyle say it, and sure enough, her name rang out from the small group clustered in the bar. Angel's voice, though quiet, stood out among the others as though she were tuned in to him and him alone. To Cordelia, the rest of them had said, but Angel had called her Cordy, like a secret between them. It was intimate and somber, and she missed him more fiercely than she had ever missed anyone before.

And yet, as she watched the group drink to her name, she once again felt the strange sensation of calmness. She knew, somehow,that Angel would be okay, despite his grief and the many battles that were still ahead of him. For now, he was still brave and strong and in the place where he was needed, where he belonged.

Doyle's amused voice interrupted her thoughts. "Ten to one odds that the Soul Brothers down there get wasted in honor of your memory," he said. "And then that darling Fred will take care of Spike and Wesley will see to it that Angel gets to bed, bet you anythin'."

Cordelia opened her eyes to bright sunlight and blue sky, and the scene at the bar quickly faded from her mind and was beyond her once again. Doyle opened his eyes as well, and the two of them looked at each other for a long moment.

"Soul brothers?" she asked finally, raising an eyebrow.

"Oh come now, you know that duo needs a nickname. Two vampires with histories and destinies as entwined and as muddled as theirs?"

"But Soul Brothers, Doyle?"

"Or The Blood Boys. The Fang Gang. It's a work-in-progress."

Cordelia snorted emphatically, then sighed and leaned back against the tree trunk as well. Her shoulder touched Doyle's, and she welcomed the contact and didn't pull herself away. "So, is that what you've been doing here, all this time?" she asked. "I mean, not the name thing, though I'm sure you did spend a good couple hours coming up with those gems. But...did you just watch us all this time?"

"O'course not. There are other things to do here, y'know. I just checked in from time to time. I did see some interesting stuff though. And by the way, that was one helluva kiss you gave Angel, just before you got here."

Cordelia looked down at her hands, feeling exposed to know that he had witnessed such a private moment. What was more problematic was that, for the life and death of her, she could not riddle out Doyle's tone. It wasn't quite serious, but not quite joking, either. It wasn't happy or sad as far as she could tell. If anything, it was...careful. A careful observation.

She swallowed some bravery and finally looked up at Doyle, searching for answers in his face. All she found there was sincerity, but to what end, she wasn't sure. They had never been a couple in life, but he'd left her with a passionate kiss, a parting gift, and a thousand possibilities they'd never gotten a chance to explore. In the years after his death, she'd often wondered how it could have gone, how it all could have been different. She'd been through so much since then, changed so much. And now, there were questions she needed to ask about him, them, this place. Had he held onto those feelings for her as though no time had passed? Does romance even matter here? And in a place where 'for eternity' is not poetry but factual, does commitment in love mean, quite literally, forever?

But those questions, she realized even as she thought them, were not for Doyle to answer. They were for her to discover on her own, and she had time, endless time in which to do so. So instead, she asked him something simple, a question that his 'observation' had sparked instantly. "Is there jealousy here?" she asked suspiciously, still hoping to gain insight into his feelings from his expression.

Doyle gave her a funny look and cocked his head to the side. "Sorta," he replied, looking as if he couldn't find the right words to explain it. "It's an emotion like any other, and we've certainly got those here. And it feels real and powerful, it just always comes with...understanding, I guess. And acceptance. It's like how y'know your friends are gonna be okay. It all works out here, one way or another, and you just know. If it's meant to be -"

"It will be." she finished, and Cordelia felt the full truth of it in her heart. It was such a simple answer, almost cliché, and yet it meant so much. It meant she could still love Angel, and she could love Doyle here, too. She could worry about her friends and cheer them on from afar. She could miss them, be angry at them, be jealous, be strong. All the human emotions that made life worth living, even the painful ones, could still swell inside of her here. But the hardest battles were over for her and Doyle, and there was comfort in the idea of finding peace and enjoying this heaven with him.

The others would fight as they should, like a hero's work was never done, but when the time came, she would welcome them each home with open arms.

This wasn't their place yet, but this was where she belonged, and when Doyle smiled at her, it didn't feel like an ending at all.

"So, you mentioned other things to do around here. Like what?" she asked lightly, looking around at the grassy field stretching out before them and wondering what lay beyond.

Doyle grinned. "Anything. Everything. Ready for the grand tour?" he asked, standing up and offering her his hand.

"Yes. I'm ready," she smiled, taking his hand and, upon standing, linking her fingers with his.

A/N: I think the picnic aspect was my simple but desperate desire to give them the date they never got to have. Anyway, thanks for reading, and reviews are much appreciated!