The walls blinded him with their whiteness when Wesley arrived, although the effect would pass later. The architecture was neoclassical; he refrained from identifying it more specifically. There was no reason the afterlife must hew to history. He set down his shotgun, and found instead his spectacles in his hands. All right, then; he put them on. He looked again and the shotgun had vanished.
He had no more need for weapons, anyway.
"I keep expecting Cordy, you know," a man's voice said conversationally from the shadows to his left. There was--not a breeze exactly, but something like a draft, carrying the smell of cheap beer and wood shavings and, incongruously, pages left unturned upon the shelf too long.
Wesley walked toward the man. The shadows lengthened, but he felt at ease; they weren't that kind of shadows. "What do you know about Cordelia?" he said sharply.
The man in the shadows was sitting at a table, fingers tapping against its surface. "I knew her before you did, man."
Irish accent. Wesley looked more closely and realized he had seen this man before, in rough, hurried strokes of pencil upon crinkled paper, as though the artist had found it unbearable to remember details too closely. "You're Doyle."
The man tipped his head. "Maybe I am. And who are you?"
"Wesley Wyndham-Pryce." It hurt less to say than he would have thought. He had expected that death would offer some kind of anonymity, some escape from his father's name--escape from the man who had failed a Slayer and betrayed a friend.
"Pull up a chair," Doyle said easily. "Not like we're in any rush. If you're like me, you're here because you like to be."
Wesley sat. "I gather you're not here to play darts," Wesley said. He didn't see a dart board in any case. "This is rather unpopulated for a bar."
Doyle said, "There used to be a woman who came through here every so often. Small, blonde..."
Wesley, who was beginning to apprehend the situation, nearly upended the table getting up. "The Sl--"
"Sit down. Slayers have their own places to be. No, this one had a voice like sin--appropriate, really. She sang. We have to make our own entertainment here. But she's gone elsewhere."
Darla, Wesley thought. "And Cordelia's not here."
Doyle shrugged, although his eyes were dark for a moment. "What can I say? Life goes on. Even when it doesn't. I gotta tell you, it's a good thing Phantom Dennis has his own thing going, or life around here really would be hell."
"We forgot about Dennis," Wesley said heavily. "There isn't any excuse."
"It's not about excuses," Doyle said. "It's not even about blame. It's about going on."
Wesley appreciated the irony of that remark. The quirk of Doyle's mouth suggested he wasn't unaware of it, himself. "So," Wesley said, "it's just the two of us." It was better that way, he knew it already, but it didn't feel that way.
(He didn't think about Fred.)
Wesley was bemused. "What do you do to pass the time?"
"Well," Doyle said, "we probably could scare up a dart board."
In the bar there wasn't anything to drink, which was perhaps just as well--Wesley would only have hallucinated about Fred, or Illyria, or both. They talked. Doyle was glib in the way that people were when they were trying not to dredge up their own histories.
"What are we waiting for here?" Wesley asked. "Surely if Darla escaped--"
Doyle's glance was startled. "Is that what you think she did?" He grimaced. "We're not in purgatory."
"You could have fooled me."
"Like I said, you chose something that led you here. You can leave at any time."
And there was the door, standing ajar, with white walls beyond them, and a star-soft white light.
"No," Wesley said, and: "No. You're quite correct."
He almost regretted it a week--a month?--a year?--later, when the door opened again. Wesley had ceased to think of it as a door. It was another wall, made of light and open space. He and Doyle had progressed to poker, which he was worse at than he had thought.
Wesley looked up, and his heart clenched. "Connor," he said.
Connor didn't seem to see him at all. One hand was stained with blood; the other held a mechanical pencil. Of course. Wesley knew about dichotomies, having never resolved his own.
"Well," Doyle said, leaning back and studying the newcomer.
"Connor," Wesley said, more urgently. "Sit down. You don't look well."
Connor didn't look at him, but came over to them nevertheless. After a while, he exhaled. "Wesley. And you--I don't know you."
"No reason you should," Doyle said, looking slightly intimidated. "You have her eyes, but you move like your old man."
Wesley closed his eyes. "Angel. What happened to Angel?" His voice cracked on the last word.
"You tell me," Connor said. He was relaxing, breath by breath. "You were one of the ones with him when he--when he went."
Wesley flinched. "No," he said. "No. I didn't make it. Which is why I'm here."
"And which is why I'm--" Connor started to laugh. "I never thought it'd be like this."
"How did you get here?"
"You mean, how did I die? Oh, come on. You can say the word."
Wesley remembered, then, that Connor had died and come back, in a way. He wondered how he had ever forgotten--but of course, that had its own answer.
"Let me guess," Doyle said. "Fighting demons? Saving the world? Date gone horribly wrong?"
"Sorry," Connor said, more subdued now. "Car accident."
Doyle put his head in his hands.
"I had right of way," Connor said defensively.
"So Angel succeeded," Wesley said, trying to imagine Connor in a car accident. Trying to imagine Connor driving. It would probably have given Angel conniptions. Then again, Angel had been a little irrational about cars to begin with.
(It was easier to think about cars than to think about Angel in the world finding out that his son had died.)
Connor's eyes flicked sideways. "Mostly," he said. "I mean, he never came out, and he would have. Or the others would have. I know that much. And half of L.A. is--" He made a vague motion with his hands. "It's not quite there anymore. And it's always twilight, but the vamps stay away from it. So that's something."
"Half of L.A.," Doyle said. "Who'd have thought."
"Angel changed a lot in five years," Wesley said. "We all did."
"Was I criticizing?" Doyle said. "I didn't say I was criticizing."
Connor looked around. "So who are you? And what is this place, anyway?"
Doyle sighed. "Here we go again."
Connor didn't stay long, but he was young, and life, as Doyle said, went on. And the company was nice while it lasted.
After Connor, Wesley always had half an eye on the door. Who would be next? Gunn, Spike, Illyria? Someone else he had known and, unforgivably, forgotten? Or a face from Angel's past, encountered only in the Watcher's Council's files, or held only in the agonizing lens of Angel's photographic memory?
Doyle became more and more withdrawn. He had been here for five years longer, Wesley reminded himself. They had some small notion of time passing: the quality of the light through the door, the fragrance of flowers or pall of decaying leaves, changes in humidity.
"You should go," Wesley found himself telling Doyle. He hadn't even thought he was going to say it, let alone over a game of seven-card stud.
Doyle raised his head. "It's your turn."
"You know that's not what I meant."
Doyle said, "You know, sometimes I think about Cordy. I never meant for all that to happen to her, you know." He always said "all that" when referring to the whole train of events leading to Jasmine, to world peace, to that final, fatal vision.
"I know," Wesley said, because it was the kindest thing he knew how to say.
"But she's where she needs to be," Doyle said, "and--I mean, who's going to wait with you? I remember my first months, years, whatever--I remember my first years here. It gets lonely. And you don't even have the visions to keep you company."
"You mean you still have visions?"
"They don't hurt anymore," Doyle said. "And they're more like fragments, shadows. Mostly they got passed on to Cordelia. The Powers aren't stupid; they knew I was going to be in no position to help Angel from here."
Wesley said again, "You should go. You've been here long enough."
"No wonder you and he got along," Doyle said. "You both have a taste for self-punishment."
A little miffed, Wesley said, "I can find ways to occupy myself." If he wished hard enough maybe the bar would provide him with some prophecies to pore over.
Doyle's expression was skeptical.
But he left after all, after their next round of poker, while Wesley was half-dozing in the shadows. Wesley could have stirred to say good-bye, but he rather thought this was the way Doyle wanted it, and so he stayed silent.
After the waiting, and waiting, and waiting, Wesley started to forget about the door once more. He did, in fact, find prophecies. Rather, the deck of playing cards replaced itself with several scrolls that he had never seen before. He operated on the assumption that they were not self-devised hoaxes, and threw himself into the task of decipherment. One of them possibly referred to L.A., but it could just as well have been Ur.
He had narrowed down a chevron-shaped mark to one of two possible determinatives in a demonic tongue when a shadow fell through the door. Wesley looked up.
He had thought nothing would be worse than seeing Connor. He was wrong. "Angel," Wesley said.
Angel stumbled through the doorway. His eyes were feral, and he did not set down the sword in his hand. But neither did he attack. And the sword vanished into smoke in a moment, anyway.
There was blood on his mouth.
"Why, Wesley," Angelus said, "what an unexpected pleasure."
Wesley knew, then, why he was waiting; why he had to be the last one here.
"You're alive," Wesley said to another man with the same face, a man who was breathing in the world, whose heart was beating, for the first time in centuries. Doyle had not been wrong; but if living with Angelus was punishment, it was one Wesley could endure for as long as necessary. The prophecy had been his as much as Angel's. Someday he would be able to say that to Angel himself.
Being dead didn't mean being empty of purpose. He had learned that from Angel, too.
To Angelus, he said, "Pull up a chair."