Disclaimer: All characters in this fic are the property of Joss Whedon,
Mutant Enemy, Fox, and the WB. They are not mine.
Spoilers: Hero, a little bit of Parting Gifts.
Summary: Yet another bring Doyle back fic. I actually think someone
posted a challenge along these lines, but I can't remember who. I had
started writing this before the challenge, but it inspired me to finish
it. Thanks.
Dedicated to Christine, for all her help with this, and for lots more.

Almost a Very Good Life

by Andrea

Part 1


The night Doyle died, I didn't sleep. The day after, I still couldn't.  Cordelia had gone home hours ago; her tears fading into a numbness that frightened me. I let her go though, because I didn't know how to make her stay. I knew what she was doing, I'd done it myself time and again, but somehow, this time, I didn't want to hide.

I was still sitting in my office when she arrived back for work. I hadn't expected her. There wasn't any one for me to save today. Not that there would be anyone to save any other day, without Doyle I had no contact with the Powers that Be; and no hint of people in trouble.  Tonight I would be back on the streets, searching alleys and dives, but for now, I was going to watch the tape again. Offering Cordelia a somber smile, I motioned to the seat next to me. "I was going to watch it again..."

"Why?" She asked coolly, walking over to the VCR and pressing the eject button. "He's not on this tape. He's gone, and we have to deal." Her eyes met mine for a moment, and I saw the pain that we shared, the pain she was desperately trying to deny.

Walking briskly, she crossed the room, opened her desk drawer and dropped the tape into it, and if her hands shook as she did it, I didn't mention it. Closing the drawer she turned to me, her eyes pools of darkness. "Are we..." Faltering slightly, she shook her head, anger at her weakness apparent in the clenching of her jaw. "Are you still doing this?" She encompassed the office with her arms before crossing them over her chest and staring at me. "I mean, do you still want me here? Or are you going out on your own?"

Her voice was calm, classic Cordelia demeanor, but now I understood the cover for what it was. Doyle had seen it right away, but it took this for me to see her for more than the persona she wore, to see the frightened, lonely woman inside. "Yes." Simple answer when there was so much more I should say.

"Fine." She nodded, blowing out a determined breath. "First thing, we're going to have to find our customers some other way." Slipping into her seat, she flicked on the computer, her eyes focusing desperately on the screen. "I can check newspapers for strange attacks. And maybe you could talk to Kate..." Her voice trailed off and she looked down suddenly in defeat. "Or maybe we should wait. You're still all sad about Buffy, and now..." She cleared her throat, her voice hoarse as she tried again.  "Now..."

"Now it's worse." I finished for her, walking over to stand behind her. Reaching out tentatively I set my hand on her shoulder, trying to convey what I couldn't find the words to say. "But it will get better."

Cordelia shrugged my hand away and turned the chair around until she faced me. "Of course." She said firmly, rolling her eyes at me as if I said something stupid. "You barely knew him. I barely knew him. It's not like we lost..." She faltered again, her eyes welling with tears. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut for a minute before she pushed back from the computer and stood. "I'm going to get coffee. Do you want one?"

"Cordy?" I began. She was the only person I had. The only one who could begin to understand who Doyle was, and why his loss hurt so much. I knew she was hurting, and as much as I was grieving, it was worse for her. She never had to deal with a loss like this before, never had to face all the regrets, the things you wished you had said and done. It's a bigger loss of innocence in some ways than finding out that demons are real. This is fate ringing the buzzer to end the game, when you didn't even realize the first half was finished. Time runs out, and you never did make your big move. Up until now, I don't think she understood that time isn't always your friend. Funny how I've learned that, I've got much longer than most people, and still, somehow, it's never enough.

"Angel." She returned, her nostrils flaring slightly as she fought for composure. "What?"

"How are you?" I asked lamely. My people skills weren't up for this. I don't know that they ever will be.

"I'm fine." Fiddling with her limp hair, she tucked it behind her ears before adding, "I lived in Sunnydale. I've seen death before."

"Not this close."

"Really?" She asked bitingly, "Did you forget Ms. Calendar?"

Forget? Never. I haven't forgotten anyone whose life I took. How could I? Cordelia flushed, looking down at the floor as she mumbled an apology. "I'm sorry. I didn't sleep well."

I studied her; wanting nothing more than to reach into her shell and mourn with her. She didn't want me though; she wasn't ready to face the reality. "A cappuccino wouldn't be bad." I offered, and was rewarded with a grateful smile as she escaped from the office.

I didn't blame her, Doyle was everywhere, and yet nowhere. The office had never looked so empty; the lack of him was everywhere. I moved around aimlessly, wondering what I should do, if there was anything I could do, to help her through this. Over two hundred years of existence and I couldn't think of a single thing to do other than wait.

Part 2


I spent the first night of my death in more agony than I would have thought possible. Wasn't death supposed to bring peace? The answers to all the questions that haunt you? Mine didn't, that's for sure. I was just floating, my mind screaming in pain.

The second day, it got worse. Voices began to rise around me, calling to me, calling to the PTB, praying for help. I thought it was some sort of replay loop; that I was doomed to listen to the fear in the voices of those I had saved endlessly. It didn't seem fair. I did the right thing, gave up my life so that they could live. So that Angel could continue his work. So that Cordelia's smile would still exist in the world.

I still wouldn't change it. If this was the cost, if I never rest, I wouldn't change a thing. Although, rest wouldn't be a bad thing. The voices are closer now, calling to me, begging me to speak. I'm dead, how can I answer? After a while it got to me, all those people, crying, talking, speaking as if I was still alive.

That's when I realized that something was different. I wasn't floating anymore. My mind was attached to my body again. Opening my eyes, I looked up and saw the instrument of my death hanging quietly from a cable, the wires ripped from it. Moving my head carefully I met the eyes of Reiff. "No." Denial burst from my lips. "I saved you." How could he be dead too? Did that mean that I failed?

"You did." He whispered, reaching out as if to touch me, and then pulling back. "You saved us all."

"Then why are you here?" I asked, my head pounding a symphony of pain a hundred times worse than any vision I had ever had.

"We were wondering the same thing about you." Reiff's father answered, smiling comfortingly at me as he held out a cup of liquid.

"Look," Struggling to a sitting position I took the cup from him, barely noticing the spikes the cup banged against on its journey to my mouth. "I died for you guys, the least you can do is tell me why you're visiting my afterlife so soon."

"Afterlife?" He repeated, his eyes confused. "This isn't your afterlife."

"That's a relief." I muttered, finishing the rest of the drink in one gulp. "Cause spending eternity reliving my greatest, yet last, moment may sound like fun, but the reality is distinctly not."

"You aren't dead." He continued, ignoring my rambling easily. "You have a pulse, you breathe. You aren't dead."

I stared at him in disbelief, unable to comprehend his words. He motioned to the room behind him and I followed his movements with my eyes. The hold of the ship looked exactly as it had on the night I died. The same groups of half-demons still cluttered the space, their eyes wide with amazement as they looked back at me. "I remember dying."

"We thought you died also." Reiff whispered reverently, his eyes lit with worship. "Your friends believed you were gone. We saw you die, and now you live."

And now I live? Looking down at my hands, I opened and closed my fingers, testing that they worked. I flexed my legs next, checking to make sure they were working, before attempting to climb to my feet. A wave of dizziness passed over me and I slumped into the waiting arms of Reiff's father. "How?"

Reiff shrugged nervously, shooting a questioning look at his Father. After a minute he cleared his throat and began to speak. "We don't really know. You..." He bit his lip, looking extremely uncomfortable as he continued. "There was this glow. Sort of." He rocked back and forth on his heels, still chewing nervously on his lip.

I waited, somewhat patiently for him to finish, but when another minute passed with him remaining silent I had to say something. "We're half-demons man, the supernatural shouldn't be a big freaky thing to you."

Reiff flushed, his eyes flashing with anger. It faded quickly though, back into the almost pitying look everyone else had been giving me since I woke. "We don't know why, or how it happened, but your body just reformed, here, on the floor. We didn't realize what was happening at first." Guilt flashed over his young face. "We haven't called your friends. We were already at sea..."

"It's okay." I mumbled automatically, holding up my hand to stop him from worrying. "I can call them when we get..." A thought hit me then, and I sat up straighter. "Where are we going? An island somewhere?"

"It's off Ecuador." Reiff's father answered, as his arms released me slowly, testing to see if I could sit on my own.

I shook off his concern, grateful for the worry he showed for me. "I'm fine now. In fact, I feel great. Strong, refreshed. Everyone should disintegrate once in a while." Climbing to my feet I stretched, a smile tugging at the corners of my mouth. I was alive. Alive. There were so many things I suddenly wanted to do. Have a beer, have another. I grinned to myself, see Cordelia. Her face flashed into my mind, the shock and pain in her eyes as I left her. Did she mourn me at all? Somehow, I believe that she did, that she still is now. "Do you have a phone?"

"The captain has a radio." Reiff answered, "But he doesn't like us leaving the hold."

"Cause of the demon thing." I nodded in understanding. "How long 'til we arrive?" Angel was right; I really should pay more attention to the details. I smiled then, realizing that I was going to get a chance to ignore that advice again.

"Two days." Someone I hadn't met yet answers, staring at me strangely. Finally he holds out his hand. "I'm Dryan."

"Doyle." I answered, shaking his hand almost gleefully. It felt so good to touch another being, I was reluctant to let go. He seemed tense, his fingers pulled back from my hand before I was ready to let the contact go. I let him go, my hand lingering in the air just long enough for me to see the ring that now circled my finger.

At first I thought I was seeing things, that it just looked like the ring I had watched Angel destroy. Pulling my hand close to my face I studied it, the swirl of fear in my stomach growing more insistent the more certain I got that it was the same ring. No longer smashed into a thousand pieces, but here and whole, on a finger that should have been dead.

I realized then that the room had gone silent around me, absent of even the most casual movements. Stiffening, I looked up into the concerned eyes of Dryan, Reiff and his father. Flexing the hand that held the ring, I addressed them. "I'm guessing that I came back with this on."

"Yes." Reiff murmured, inching closer to look at my hand. His Father stopped him, his hand clamping down firmly on the boys shoulder. "Why does that surprise you?"

I shook my head, not feeling up to getting into the whole Ring of Amara explanation. Especially since I couldn't figure out how the explanation had anything to do with me being alive. I got that it did, I just didn't get why. I felt a sudden need for Angel's musty old books, or even a nice, skull splitting vision. But they were waiting for an answer, so I settled for, "It's probably the reason I'm here." I turned away slightly, needing a second to calm my shaking body. "Which, other than
the fact that I have no idea why, is a good thing. I guess." Reaching up, I moved to run my hands through my hair. I was stopped though; by the spikes that covered my forehead. I think I yelped, and pulled my hands away like they burned. Shaking my head quickly, I waited for the change to occur.

The other occupants of the room had backed away slightly, their faces concerned, but also wary. I shook my head again, almost growling in frustration when nothing happened. Lifting my hands to my face, I pushed at the spikes, trying desperately to drive them back under my skin. Reiff moved forward, his face more open than the others. He wasn't afraid of me at least. "Doyle?"

"I can't make them go away." I whispered, hoping I could keep a lid on the panic that was choking me. "I can't look human."

"You haven't." He replied, his voice low. As if the conversation was only for the two of us; like there wasn't a room full of people hanging on our every word. "You've been in demon form since you came back."

"And you didn't think to mention it?" I asked, my voice rising in desperation. "Something along the lines of 'Hey Doyle, you realize you've got spikes sticking out of your face.' I really could have used the hint."

"We thought you knew." Reiff answered. "You said you healed easier in demon form. I thought you did it to heal." There was hurt in his words, and any other time, I like to think I would have responded to it.

"I have to change back." I shuddered, my hands clenched at my sides. Shaking my head again, praying that this time, it would work. There was nothing. I breathed in deeply, searching the air for the scent of human that usually clung to my body. It wasn't there, and it only took one look at Reiff's face to confirm that he couldn't smell it either. I nodded at him, understanding with a kind of numb certainty that it was gone. I wasn't ever going to pass again. From now on, I would hide in the dark corners of the world, shunned by the humans around me. My next decision was an easy one. Lifting my hand, I slipped the ring from my finger, hoping it was the only thing holding me to this world.

Part 3


I never meant for her to know I was going to see the Oracles. She found out though, saw me leaving the office with the vase I was bringing as an offering. I tried to lie, but I wasn't quick enough. I didn't seem to be quick enough to prevent anything lately. Her eyes came alive when she realized what I was doing; life filling her body as she practically pushed me into the sewers.

Now I have to go back and tell her I failed. That they won't bring Doyle back, or turn time back so that I could die instead of him. I have to watch the light dim in her eyes one more time.

She was sitting on the couch when I entered the office, a full cup of coffee resting on her knee. I walked quickly over to her, sitting down beside her, and ducking my head so that my face didn't give it away.  When I was finally ready to speak, I lifted my eyes to meet hers. Shaking my head sadly, I spoke. "They won't help."

"So that's it?" She asked softly, her eyes begging me not to break the slim thread of hope she had left. I shifted uncomfortably, wishing there was some way I could lie to her, or make it sound less final than it was. Her eyes drifted from mine as I hesitated, her shoulders slumping in defeat. "That's it." She repeated her words, the questioning lilt gone from them. Squeezing her eyes tightly shut she bit down on her lower lip. "I guess I knew that."

"It's okay to want to try." I offered, helplessly holding out my hands out towards her. I wanted to move closer, to break through the circle of her grief and help her.

"It's not okay." She argued brokenly, tears spilling from her eyes. "I don't want it ever to be okay. He's not coming back Angel. I will never..." She paused, her fingers reaching out to grip mine, holding on like it was the only thing she could do. "I'm never going to see him again?"

"We'll remember him." It was lame, and useless, but it was all I had. "You won't forget."

"What if I do?" She asked, her body trembling violently.

"I won't let you forget." I promised, wrapping my arms around her and pulling her to me. "You won't let yourself forget."

She sobbed into my shoulder; her tears hot against my skin. "I'm so afraid I will. I'm afraid that I'll forget what color his eyes were, and how he smiled when he saw me. How he kissed me good bye..."

"Cordelia." I murmured, brushing my hand down her hair soothingly. She stiffened, pulling away to look at me. "You won't lose any of it."

"Yes I will." She whispered, her eyes deepening with sorrow. "Years from now something will remind me of him, and I'll turn to my perfect, rich husband, and I'll mention Doyle, and he won't even know who I'm talking about. Maybe I'll try to tell him, but the memories will have faded, and I'll give up, shrug my shoulders and tell him that he was just someone I
used to know." A single tear fell from her eye, sliding slowly down her cheek. "I won't remember how good he was to me, or how brave he was.  He'll just be one more person that died."

"Cordelia..." I murmured helplessly, hating the Oracles for their refusal, and hating myself more for not being the one who was gone. "It's going to be okay." It seemed to be the only thing I knew how to say any more, and it was empty. I couldn't tell her that she was right, that someday she would move on and Doyle would fade in her mind. Someday she wouldn't want to cry when someone spoke in an Irish accent, or drank cheap whiskey. She would go on with her life, marry her version of the perfect man, and never, ever, know what could have been if he had lived.

Sucking in a deep breath, she pulled away from me, her face closing off. She wiped her eyes slowly, refusing to look at me. "Yup." She whispered forlornly. "It's all going to be okay. Why wouldn't it be?" Standing up, she walked away from me, her heels clicking loudly in the quiet room.

Part 4


I couldn't be near Angel; it hurt too much to see him. His face, his solemn, sad face just reminded me of all the pain I didn't want to feel.  It was stupid; getting so excited about his visit to the Oracles. I actually thought Angel would come back with Doyle. Stupid, dumb Cordy, unable to believe even now that the world doesn't revolve around her.

God, I didn't even believe that there could be this much pain in the world. I thought what I felt when Xander betrayed me, and my Father lost his money was the worst it could ever get. I can't believe how wrong I was. This pain makes everything else seem like joy. I miss him, every second, every breath. It's all I can do to keep breathing.

Which is why I'm here, at the office, when I'd rather be curled up on my bed, crying until I don't have any tears left. As much as it hurts to be around Angel, it's worse when I'm not. He's the only other person who understands what we lost. He's all I have left, my only connection to Doyle, and to the family we were starting to form together. Stupid Cordy, thinking it could last forever. Living in Sunnydale should have cured me of that idea, if nothing else.

So, I'm here, needing Angel's presence, and yet barely able to stand it. The only way I can deal is to pretend it doesn't matter, like pretending is somehow going to make it true. I miss Doyle. He was my friend, and I want him back. But I'm never going to. The thought steals my breath, twisting my stomach into knots. It's like a piece of me died with him, and I'm not sure I want to live without it.

I should be talking to Angel. I know he's mourning too, and we should be there for each other. He's got it worse than I do in some ways; he was ready to die that night. Instead, he lived, and another death was added to the pile he blames himself for. This one wasn't his fault though, and I should tell him that, if I could figure out a way to form my lips around the words.

"Cordelia?" He surprised me, appearing in the doorway with no noise hinting at his arrival. Damn his silent feet. "Can I help?"

He's so earnest, so desperate to make this better for me. I had to say something. "Peachy." It came out cold and bitter, but he didn't flinch. Making his way further into the room, he came to rest beside me.

"Maybe you should go home. Take a break?"

"No." My response is quick, horror ringing out in my voice. Trying to cover for it, I continued. "We should be working. There's probably a ton of demons out having a party while we sit around and sulk."

Angel dropped his head, his fingers clasping together in front of him. I know this pose, it's the classic, People are in trouble and it's my fault pose. Some other time I might have called him on it, but now, I'm going to use it against him. "Have you checked the paper yet today?" My voice is acid to my ears, but I can't stop now. "Did you think to ask the Oracles how you were supposed to know who to save?"

"They said another window would open." He answered, not reacting in the least to the cruelty of my voice.

"Great. Did they happen to mention if they gave the window your address?" It felt good to be mean. It's what I'm good at, my special talent. In the past, it's protected me against pain I didn't want to feel, and I guess I'm still hoping it'll protect me against this.

"No." He muttered, his shoulders slumping slightly, giving his shirt the appearance of being too big. Like that would ever happen, if he could ever get over his penchant for black, he'd be the best dressed man I've ever known.

"Wonderful." I replied angrily, pacing around the office. It felt too confined in here, like there wasn't enough air to sustain me. My skin was crawling with something, like I suddenly didn't belong in my body.

And then the pain hit. I doubled over in agony, clutching at my head. Images, shapes, flashed in my brain, but they went so fast I couldn't hold onto any of them. My stomach lurched, threatening to empty the little I had eaten in the last two days. Finally, thankfully, it faded, leaving me weak and gasping for breath.

Angel was holding me, his arms the only thing keeping me from hitting the floor. When I had recovered enough to open my eyes, I choked out, "What the hell happened?"

Angel's arms tightened around me, his voice worried as he answered. "I don't know." He paused, his voice changing slightly as he continued, becoming softer. "Did you see anything?"

"Flashes, I couldn't tell what it was." I replied, before the meaning of what he said hit me. Pulling away from him, I collapsed on the couch, tears burning my eyes. "No." I denied the implication, praying that it wasn't true.

"Another window." He murmured, almost to himself. A cup of whiskey appeared in my hand, and I took it numbly, not looking up as I did. "Cordelia? I think you're the window."

"No." I repeated stubbornly, as the images I had seen began to regain shape in my mind. A vase, dead flowers lining a small box. They didn't make any sense to me. "I can't. Don't make me." I think I was talking to Doyle more than I was to Angel.

"I have to know what you saw." Angel whispered.

"I don't know." I was crying now, tears leaking down my cheeks in a steady stream. I didn't want this responsibly. I wanted to be vain, and selfish, and not have people depend on me for their lives. This was Doyle's job, and damn him, he should have been here to do it. "A vase. A room with dead flowers in a box."

"Did you get an address?" He asked, his tone becoming more businesslike.

"No." Another image sorted itself out in my mind. Nodding, I corrected myself. "Yes. I think. 253 Southhaven."

He nodded, patting my hand gently. "I have to go."

"I know." I replied, to caught up in my own terror to offer to help. Curling up into a ball on the couch, I let the tears fall.

Part 5


When I took the ring off, there was nothing. No change, no falling back into the dust that I should be. I let it fall to the floor, unnoticed, not caring whose hands it fell into next. I wanted to scream, and cry, and curse the Powers for not even allowing me to die with dignity.

I had done what they asked. I found Angel; I made him care about the people he saved. Hell, I made him care about me. And what was my reward? A life spent alone, a life that I couldn't even live in sight of humans.

Reiff moved forward, picking the ring off the floor and holding it in his hand. I watched him, ready to pounce if he tried to offer it back to me. That ring was a curse to me, as hateful a thing as I had ever seen.  "Get it away from me." I growled, backing away from where he stood.  "Now."

He nodded, slipping it into his pocket. "I'll give it to Angel when he comes to get you."

"He's not coming." I replied angrily, my hands shaking with the effort of not screaming. I stepped forward, knowing my eyes were glowing brightly in my face. "You, none of you, are ever to tell Angel that I'm alive." Laughing bitterly, I added. "If you can call it that."

"Doyle. You're angry." Dryan spoke, stepping forward to stand beside Reiff. "We've all struggled to accept our differences. To accept that if we are seen by full humans, they won't understand what we are." I glared at him, but he continued. "You are lucky. Your friends will understand. They know what you are, and accepted you regardless. This will not make any difference to them."

"It makes a difference to me." I whispered, still stunned by the enormity of what I had regained, and now had lost again. I couldn't say the rest of what I was thinking. Cordelia. She wouldn't, couldn't, ever love me now. I would be a freak to her, just another monster that she worked with. Her reaction to learning I was half-demon had given me hope, but this was too much to even ask her to deal with. "I love a girl." I murmured, to myself mostly, but Reiff picked up on my words.

"Cordelia." He stated, looking to his Father for guidance. The older man stepped forward, joining the two in front of me.

"She only found out you were part demon recently." He asked, but didn't wait for my answer. "And she accepted it. Didn't she?"

"She hadn't seen my face." I whispered, leaning back against the cool wall for support. "She's used to demons that look like Angel." And I hadn't been much competition for him in the looks department even when I hid behind a human mask. "Or horrible slimy creatures that are trying to kill her. I can't ask her to accept this." The last word dripped from my mouth full of disgust.

"You owe it to her to let her make her own choice." Dryan said, his eyes meeting mine.

"I owe it to her to let her live her life. A normal life, like she wants." I replied, turning away from them to stare blankly at the wall. God, I wanted a drink, or a thousand. Enough to blur the world so that I couldn't see it anymore. So I couldn't see myself anymore. I wanted oblivion, and emptiness, and death that meant death.

My fist flung out before the thought had formed in my head, smashing into the concrete with a loud crack. My bones broke, but it didn't matter, in my demon form I'd be well within the hour. I let go with a flurry of punches, my screams echoing in the high walled hold. I pounded against it until my fists were nothing more than a mass of bloody skin and shattered bones.

Then I sunk to the floor, curling myself into a tight ball, unable to stop the tears from falling.