Cordelia makes her way down the dark corridor toward the office, reprioritizing her to-do list to add Call bldg. mgt. right at the top. Call schmucks @ bldg. mgt. is more like it. She wonders how long it'll take them to get this one fixed. Maybe not so long if she uses the magic words: Rent concession.
Something she learned from Giles -- it always pays to know the words of power.
Really, this is bad, though. She wouldn't be able to see at all, if it weren't for the light down at the end, spilling through the frosted glass of the office door.
Weird. Angel's not much for leaving the lights burning.
She stumbles only once making her way down the hallway, which is nothing short of a miracle. Cordelia starts to push the door open but pauses, tracing her fingers over the lettering on the glass. Angel Investigations. She'd wanted to go for the gilt edging, but Angel insisted on the plain black. "I've got enough gilt to last several lifetimes," he'd deadpanned, which she'd had to admit was a pretty good one. Who said he was a humorless, brooding stereotypical loner?
Well, she did, and often, but that's beside the point.
The doorknob turns easily under her hand, and Cordelia formulates a rebuke as she pushes the door open. Angel's getting way too lax. Absolutely anyone could --
Like, for instance --
Because there he sits, big as life and twice as rumpled, his face bathed in the cold glow of the monitor. Looking exactly as she remembered.
What's wrong with this picture? Other than Doyle being totally dead? Well, there's the fact that the office itself was blown to Lego-sized chunks, oh, four years ago.
"Doyle, what are you doing here? What's here doing here?"
He finishes typing into a prompt line, hits enter, then swivels his chair toward her. "Morning, Princess. There's coffee."
Princess. She'd totally forgotten. Kind of amazing, when she considers how much it used to annoy her. Cordelia's throat tightens, and she turns toward the coffeemaker as if the routine had never been interrupted. Everything's just like she remembered. The stained mugs, the nasty brown sludge that Doyle flatters with the designation coffee, the plants -- well, actually, the plants used to look pretty lush.
"God, will you look at these?" She picks some browned leaves off a struggling ivy. "Everything in this room is dying or --" She skids to a halt, her gaze flicking onto Doyle and then away.
"You can say it, Cordelia." Amusement thickens his accent. "Heartbeat-challenged. Breathing-impaired. You can even say dead. There's no use me being touchy about it."
"Why are you here now?"
"I've been here," he says. "I'm after waiting for you for a while." Add this to the list of things she'd forgotten: the Irish speech patterns that crept into his speech on rare occasions. I'm after meant I've been, as in I'm after killing demons all night. It had taken her a while to figure that one out. Your man was another one, which meant this guy in Irish. Your man over there, in the leisure suit, he's a vampire.
"Waiting for me? For what?" Oh. Oh. "Doyle, I hate to disappoint you -- well, to be honest, it doesn't bother me at all to disappoint you, not about this -- I have zero plans for the mortal coil shuffling."
"It's all right," he says. "I've nowhere else to be."
"Well, I do, pal. Right now I should be --" Cordelia tries to think, though, and she can't come up with anywhere she needs to be. She can't remember what she'd been doing yesterday. She recalls driving out toward the ocean, but that was -- well, she's not sure when. All she has after that are extremely fuzzy impressions, jumbled up and fleeting. Like a kaleidoscope made of lint. "I'm sure there's somewhere I need to be."
"An audition, maybe?" His pale green eyes dance with amusement.
She'd not exactly forgotten their color, but her memories were a bleached-out snapshot compared to the real thing. Cordelia had grown more comfortable with the intensity of his gaze back when she saw him every day, but she's way out of practice. "It could very well be, Mr. Smartypants. You don't know everything."
"You're not wrong there, Princess." He takes a deep drink from his coffee, just as Irish as him, she'd bet.
Again with the princess. "I'll have you know, buster, that at one time I was --" His cocky smile stops her cold. Had he known? Had he seen her in a vision of Pylea long before she was sucked into the portal? That wasn't how the visions worked -- they were immediate, need-to-know stuff. Weren't they? "So what's the deal here? Obviously this is some fake reality -- really nice on the verisimilitude, I nearly broke my neck coming down that dark hallway." Oh. "Oh, I get it. The dark tunnel, the light -- oh please, cliche much?" Cordelia isn't sure what annoys her most -- being dead, or being so average about it. So by-the-book.
Doyle (to beat a metaphor to death) reads her perfectly. "I went to the Afterlife," he cracks, "and all I got was this lousy T-shirt."
"This is the afterlife? I guess I had greater expectations for the decor. Don't get me wrong, for a P.I.'s office, I always thought it was pretty tasteful, not as heavy on the cheese factor as you'd expect from all the movies. But for the sweet hereafter, I was expecting something a little more pearly, a little less frosted glass."
"Cordelia," he says gently.
His voice stops her, and she plops down in the chair across the desk from Doyle. The client's chair. The supplicant's chair. "I don't know why I'm here." She sounds like a supplicant.
"I know. It's hard."
"Oh, don't give me that. What would you know about it? You were a big damn hero, and unless the PTB did the old mind-wipe on you, you knew how you got here when you got here."
Doyle reaches into a desk drawer and produces a bottle, which he offers her. Ha. She'd been right. "You don't have to go out in a literal blaze to be a big damn hero, ya know."
Cordelia is not so sure. She reaches across the desk to take the bottle, pouring a little into her own coffee. She thinks about it a moment, then splashes in some more.
"You are," he says, so softly she barely hears. "Just for the record, I didn't know when I gave you the visions that they would come near to killin' ya."
"Well, duh," she absolves him. "Though I've gotta say I was pretty pissed at first. Almost as pissed as I was at you for dying in the first place."
"And I'm sorry about that, too." Doyle puts a little extra Irish into the words, and then into his mug.
"You went so fast. There was too much to say, and no time to say it." This is not her style, to be so direct, not about emotional matters. She wonders if it's the whiskey or if being dead just sort of breaks down the barriers.
He nods. "And you fought so fiercely. Were you afraid, then?"
She emits a derisive puff of air. "As if." She cradles the mug in her hands. "I just -- I didn't want to leave them. I wish you'd known the others, too. Wesley and Gunn and Fred. Connor. It was hard letting them go."
"They'll be all right."
She's had flashes. "I really don't think so."
Doyle pins her in his gaze. "They'll be all right." Cordelia gets it this time, that Doyle is all right, and she's all right. That her definition of all right when she was living was maybe narrower than its true meaning.
She looks around the office again. "So this is it, huh? The Afterlife."
"Nah, this is just the beginning. Sort of ... the reception area."
"Okay. But isn't it kind of underwhelming for anyone who isn't us?"
"Well, that's the thing. It's different for everybody. Or most everybody, anyway. It's a place you missed."
Cordelia's breath gusts in a sigh. How could the PTB have known this was the place? Because she hadn't fully realized how much she missed it until this very moment.
"I know," he says quietly, and she gets the strong sense that this was Doyle's place, too. "Are you ready then? For what's next?"
Cordelia doesn't think so. "What's it like, Doyle?"
Shrugging, he quirks that smile she remembers -- lopsided, slightly apologetic, dazzling. "Words fail."
"It's what makes it an adventure, isn't it?" He tosses the bottle, still one-fourth full, into the trash can, where it makes a clang against the metal that reverberates in the small room. Doyle stands then, reaching out his hand toward Cordelia.
End Reception by nwhepcat: email@example.com
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