I blinked. I took off my glasses and wiped them on my shirt sleeve then replaced them. I blinked again. I wasn’t imagining it: printed on the wall in front of me - in bright green letters no less - were the words ‘Welcome! Everything is fine.’
“How reassuring.” I muttered. “Because it’s perfectly normal to wake up in a strange place with no memory of how one got there, and sudden memory loss is no cause for concern.” The mystery of how I got here wasn’t the only memory I was missing either: I had no idea where I’d been a few seconds ago - as I didn’t feel like I’d just woken up - where here was… or where any of my friends were. I glanced around the room. Vases with tasteful flower arrangements. Plain cream walls. A strangely relaxing noise coming from a small gurgling fountain. The sofa I was sitting on was comfortable.
Two doors. One set of light, wooden double doors. Another set of glass doors on the opposite side of the room, my right. Outside was what appeared to be a normal street. The sun was shining. It looked more like a quaint suburb than anywhere in Los Angeles. Green gardens, trees, small homely looking buildings… deeply strange.
Well, I suppose if I had been kidnapped and thrown into a hell dimension it was one of the nicer ones. I strained my mind, desperately attempting to remember anything. I remembered visiting the ridiculous talking burger. Getting back to the hotel. Talking with Angel, being relieved that I could finally wash my hands of the nonsense prophecy…
I stiffened. The three signs. The Father will kill the son. I had to get out of here, figure out what happened to me and get back to the hotel. I’d wasted enough time: I had to tell Fred and Cordelia, if the latter was back. If Cordy wasn’t back, Fred would be enough: she’d know what to do. Together we could go to Gunn, then Angel and sort this out.
If she believed me. How likely was that, after how petty and awful I’d been to her about her and Gunn? God, I’d been such an arse. I’d have to apologise. First things first: was I tied to this _really quite comfortable - sofa by some kind of mystical energy? I shuffled to the end of the sofa and stretched my arm out as far as I could. Not vaporised. I slowly extended my legs forwards as far as they could. Nothing. I waved my arms wildly: not vaporised. Perfect, now to -
A slight creak from the left: I whipped my hand round, arms and legs frozen in place. One of the wooden doors had swung open: beyond the doorway was what looked suspiciously like an office. But I honestly couldn’t tell you what was in the room, why I should care or what my name was. Because Fred was standing in the doorway.
She had the tiniest, cutest frown on her angelic face, biting her lip like she was thinking through a problem. One hand still on the door handle, ready to pull the door closed behind her. Eyes almost glazed over, a faraway look: like she could see a whole other world beneath the surface of this one. (Admittedly given her extensive knowledge of quantum physics and alternate realities, she probably had a better claim to that than anyone). She was wearing a pale blue, long summery dress with plain sandals and a simple seashell necklace. She was effortlessly, achingly, impossibly beautiful. She’d see me any second.
And my arms and legs were still frozen in their windmill extension where I sat on the sofa, looking like an absolute idiot. I frantically tried to assume a normal pose in the microsecond I would have before she noticed me. I was halfway back to normal when she did.
And her whole face lit up, eyes practically glowing with childlike wonder, sucking in a shocked breath, one hand actually going to her chest as her mouth formed a perfect ‘o’ of surprise. She really was unfairly beautiful. “Wesley.” She whispered, taking a few shaky steps forwards. “Is that… is that really you?”
I withdrew the rest of my limbs, stood up and smiled sheepishly. “Who else would I b-“
I was cut off when she sprinted across the room and threw her arms around me, burying her face in my chest. The air was driven out of me, less by the impact and more by the… well, emotional impact. I didn’t finish my sentence, but I was fairly happy with how it had worked out. I reciprocated the hug. She rocked gently in my arms, and it took me a few seconds to realise she was sobbing: soft aching sobs that spoke not of simple pain, but genuine loss: heartbreak, even.
“Fred,” I said gently. “It’s ok. Don’t worry. We’re ok. This is going to be fine. What’s wrong?”
She sniffled, head now buried in my shoulder. “I missed you so much. There was so much I wanted to say, so much I wished I’d done differently. So much I…” Then she was sobbing again and I felt the overwhelming urge to grip her tighter and hold her, to say anything - do anything - to stop her feeling this way. “Fred, it’s only been hours.” I smiled. “I’m here now. What do you need to say?”
She laughed hoarsely. “See you haven’t lost your sense of humour. Hours, yeah only been hours - just 1,344 of them, give or take a couple dozen, then I suppose accounting only for conscious hours it’s closer to 896, maybe 1000 when you account for the fact I haven’t slept so well what with all the-”
Just as I was starting to feel content, losing myself in one of her long windy sentences she cut herself off and looked up into my face. “Oh God.” She whispered. “Oh gosh darn. You don’t know yet. I am so sorry, I didn’t-”
A horribly icy feeling was settling in my stomach as I processed the entirety of what she’d said. Thousands of hours? That wasn’t possible. I’d seen her last this very afternoon. Granted by the light outside it looked like early afternoon so it had been at most just under a day, which would have given me time to get away to a suburb… but wouldn’t explain why I had no memory of the trip.
“Fred, what’s happening?” I whispered. “Are you safe? Are we safe? Where are we?”
Fred shook her head and smiled sadly. “Not my place to say. I just want you to know it didn’t hurt a bit. So don’t worry when you find out.”
That icy feeling had condensed into something very much approaching panic, with a hint of righteous anger - not at Fred of course, but whatever was scaring her so. “Fred, please explain. What didn’t hurt?”
“I shouldn’t say any more,” She murmured, a flush creeping into her cheeks. I was suddenly terribly, uncomfortably aware of how tightly we were wound together. I slowly began to extricate myself, Fred following suit after a few seconds with a look of… disappointment? I must be reading it wrong. Maybe it was guilt.
Oh dear lord, had I screwed up.
Fred idly wrapped a few hairs around a finger and twirled, looking at her feet. “I can’t really explain. Best to leave that to Michael.”
“Michael?” I frowned.
“Wesley?” A voice called from the office. I heard the telltale sound of a chair scraping against the floor, footfalls approaching the doorway. I subconsciously positioned myself between Fred and the doorway ready to face down whatever monstrous entity had brought us here, into this… weirdly relaxing waiting area. It had to be a trap: no waiting room on Earth was this pleasant. Especially in America.
An elderly man stepped into the doorway, looked me in the eyes and gave me a charming smile. “Hi Wesley. I’m Michael. Nice to meet you.” I looked him up and down: he certainly appeared human. Styled snow-white hair. An old-fashioned yet charming blue suit with a brightly coloured bow tie and suspenders. A bright white smile. Warm, soft blue eyes. “How are you today?” He asked.
I felt the tension ease out of me, shoulders relaxing and a sense of calm pervading me. It was hard to feel threatened by an elderly, charming man in a bow tie. “Umm. Fine?”
“That’s great.” He smiled encouragingly. “I see you’ve met Wini-, sorry Fred.” He smiled self-consciously and rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. “You didn’t spill all the beans, did you Fred?” He raised an eyebrow, humour sparkling in his eyes.
Fred shook her head. “No of course not, I just didn’t realise, it’s been a really long day, I mean it was night for me a second ago and then I was here, there was a really quite stressful meeting and then I saw Wesley-”
“Relax. I wouldn’t even blame you for spilling the beans,” Michael winked. “We can all get a little excited when we run into Champions.” He raised a clipboard that he’d previously had at his side, eyes flicking down it. “Oh, you two knew each other! That’s wonderful news. Should help ease the transition.”
“What transition?” I practically ran through my next words in my desire to ask questions before even more of the conversation passed me by. “Where am I? How did I get here? Who are you? Why is Fred here?”
He chuckled. “I’m Michael, and I’m going to explain away everything. If you could just step in my office, we can have orientation finished faster than you can say something with five hundred syllables!” Fred snorted from behind me.
I hesitated, looking to Fred. She smiled encouragingly. “Go on. I’ll be right here. Everything is fine. Just… keep that big brain of yours open, huh?” She giggled.
Michael hesitated, smile slipping for a few seconds. “I’d really prefer you got to orientation quickly, Fred. I’ll have Wesley there in a jiffy. Lots of people for you to mingle with.”
Fred crossed her arms and shook her head and looked at Michael with that steely expression that said ‘I’m not going anywhere’. I barely suppressed the urge to kiss her right then. “I’m not going anywhere. Fifty-six days is long enough.” Fifty-six days? How could I have lost 56 days of worth of memories? My hand went to my chin: no more facial hair than earlier. So I couldn’t have been in a coma…
Michael’s smile was back. “Sure. Just, ah, wait right there. Call Janet if you need anything. Right this way, Wesley.” He disappeared back into the office. I kept looking at Fred.
She rolled her eyes. “Get in there already, slow-poke. And remember: it didn’t hurt a bit.”
I hesitated. “Right. I’ll errr, be right back.” Fred nodded encouragingly and did a small wave. I waved back, took a deep breath and walked into the office, shutting the door behind me. The room was slightly smaller than the waiting room I’d just left, snugly carpeted and with two windows letting in shafts of light: not too bright, but not too dim either. In addition to a large, impressive wooden desk stacked at the edges with paperwork the room was dominated by what looked like a very strange collection of objects. This was probably the first collection of objects I’d seen that was strange not by virtue of its constituent objects’ weirdness, but because of their sheer mundanity. A tray filled entirely with paperclips, placed so as to obviously be decorative. A glass case full of assorted knickknacks. An oil painting hung in a place of honour that appeared to depict a twenty-something man who was obviously high. How peculiar. I sat down gingerly at across the desk from Michael and turned to face him.
“So, sorry about the disruption out there.” Michael muttered, grabbing a slender folder of documents off the nearest pile and opening it on the desk. “I usually prefer to greet residents individually, I really have no idea what crazy accident of the universe made you materialise a few minutes early.”
“Michael.” I interrupted, leaning back in my chair and crossed my arms. “But before we go any further, I need to know where I am and what’s happened.”“Right.” Michael sucked air in through his teeth and looked me dead in the eyes. “You, Wesley Wyndham-Pryce… are dead. Your life on Earth has ended and you’re in the next phase of your existence.”
I blinked, waiting for the punchline. It didn’t come: Michael was gazing at me, face completely serious. “That can’t be right. I don’t remember dying, I was just at the Hyperion hotel with Angel…”
“After which you have a large gap in your memory with no idea how you got here?” Michael said gently. “Your death - and the evening leading up to it - was… rather traumatic. Painful. In the case of deaths like yours, we tend to erase the memory of the event: prevents you from being burdened or dragged down: helps you to move on.”
“Right. So this is… the Afterlife?” I looked around. “I must admit, I expected something a bit different.”
“Oh, wait until you see the rest of it. It’s killer.” Michael’s eyes widened. “Oh gosh, sorry no. It’s nice. It’s real nice. Oh my, I am such a screwup.”
The realisation that Michael wasn’t lying, and that I was dead hit me like a train, and I sank backwards into my chair. “How did I die?”
“Well, after your meeting with Angel you became determined to save Connor’s life. You agreed to take him to your place for the night, and left the hotel with him fully intending to never return.” I felt a severe pang of guilt: surely I wouldn’t do something like that? Leave, without saying goodbye? Without confiding in anyone? Without saying anything to Fred?
“On your way out of the city, you found Justine. She was on the floor, bleeding from multiple stab wounds. She claimed to have been betrayed by Holtz. You put Connor in your car, and went to help her up so you could take her to the hospital. As soon as you got close, she sliced your throat and took the car and Connor.”
I buried my face in my hands. “Oh God. I screwed it all up.”
“No, no, no.” Michael smiled. “You didn’t. The situation is fully resolved now. Some of your friends found your body and concluded what must have happened: Angel eventually tracked down Holtz, spurred on by rage at Holtz abducting his child and murdering you. Holtz is gone, so’s Justine for that matter. Angel has Connor back! And, let’s say you don’t need to worry about seeing Holtz here.”
“And… where is here, precisely?” I looked up at Michael, anticipation coiling in my gut. Surely, with a last-minute betrayal like that there was no way I deserved anywhere good.
“Right. Well. The afterlife isn’t how the theologians or the sorcerers predicted it, Wesley. Suffice to say: there’s a good place… and a bad place.” Michael smiled warmly. “You’re in the Good Place.”
“Thank God.” I murmured. I wondered if “Is there anyone here that I knew….
Fred. She was here. Which meant.
Oh, no. Poor Fred.
“Michael.” I sat up, and stared him down. “Was Fred’s death - in any way - related to… what I mean to say, was it my-”
“I’m gonna stop you right there, Wesley. You. Did. Not. Cause. Fred’s death.” Michael shook his head and chuckled. “You really do enjoy blaming yourself, huh.” He peeked at a page in his folder and nodded. “Yep, sure do.”
“How did she… what I mean to say, was it-”
'I just wanted you to know, it didn’t hurt a bit.'
“She already knew? Out there?” I nodded to the door.
Michael nodded. “Yeah. You’re actually the last person on my orientation list.”
“Wait - if we’re both here together and I don’t remember any intervening time, does that mean Fred… died, almost straight after me? I thought she said months?” “No. Time’s a little different here.” Michael drummed his fingers on the desk. “The Good Place is divided into distinct neighbourhoods, each with a handpicked population designed to ensure eternal bliss. We keep souls in storage until that perfect blend comes up. It’s been about, hmm, 3 months since you died. 1 month for Fred. We figure that forcing some people to sit around in a lonely neighbourhood eating frozen yoghurt waiting for other people to die isn’t really ‘paradise’.” Michael chuckled.
“I suppose not.” I murmured.
“Alrighty.” Michael smiled. “I think we’re just about done here. Ready for orientation?”
“Hang on.” I asked. “What happened on Earth in the last 3 months?”
“Some interesting stuff.” Michael muttered, flipping through his folder. “Specifically with regards to people you know: Gunn almost lost his soul to a casino-operating demon… Giles and Angel charged head-first into an alternate dimension… Plague of demon slugs that really like milkshakes… Alexander almost married a demon… oh, Willow Rosenberg came this close to destroying the universe. Yeah that’s all I got.”
“Willow almost destroyed the universe?”
“Yeah, she read these crazy evil books went emo, full on dark side vibes. ‘Give in to your anger’. Made for great viewing. Lots of drama. All resolved now anyway. Been a crazy few months.”
“Apparently so.” I put an elbow on the armrest and rested my head on it. I smiled wryly: so egotistical of me to assume the world would cease to be exciting just because I was no longer in it.”
Apparently oblivious, Michael stood up and clapped happily. “Well, with that finished we can get started on Orientation!” Michael walked to the door and held it open for me. I went back into the waiting area: Fred - true to her word - had waited. She was curled up in the sofa, glasses on, reading an impossibly thick book. Her head snapped to face me and she smiled warmly, setting the book down.
I walked over and wordlessly embraced her. “It’s okay.” She murmured, rubbing my back gently. “You’re okay.”
“I’m sorry you died, Fred.” I whispered, fighting back tears. “You lost so much because of me.”
“Pfft. Don’t be sorry: wasn’t your fault.” She paused. “I’m sorry you didn’t feel you could confide in me. I never want that to happen again.”
“Do you…” I swallowed. “Remember? Dying.”
“Yes.” Fred replied. “But it didn’t hurt. Not really. Some parasitic slug crawled in my mouth so that tasted gross. After that, I lost any sensation beyond sight and hearing. No pain. Guess it’s the slug’s way of keeping hosts pacified. But I died surrounded my friends. It didn’t hurt, and I knew I was loved.” She sniffled, and I saw a single tear slide down her face.
Michael cleared this throat and shuffled his feet slightly, glancing hesitantly towards the door. “Sorry to pull you two apart, but we’re gonna be late for orientation.”
I laughed: first day in paradise, and already I was late for a meeting. Classic. “Well, we can’t have that.”
“No, gosh.” Fred giggled. “Would be truly inconsiderate of us to delay orientation… is there a video?”
“Of course - what sort of orientation doesn’t have a video?”
“Well, I’m sold.” I looked at Fred. She smiled, gently broke the embrace and linked her arm with mine.
“Let’s get going.” She smiled.
Michael led the way out the door, exiting onto a relatively wide street, lined with houses and shops: a book store, frozen yoghurt, taco restaurant…
“So.” Michael smiled, turning to look back at us. “Before we get going, I just want to say I am a huge fan of your works.”
“Our… works?” I raised an eyebrow.
“Yeah! I mean, obviously you guys saving the world repeatedly was nice and all. But, Fred: that paper you were drafting on supersymmetry…” Michael shook his head. “Truly insightful.”
Fred balked. “You… read my paper?”
“Of course I did! Ooh, did you know after your death your friends had it published? It’s the talk of the scientific community.”
“Oh.” Fred blushed bright red, face almost split open by the largest grin I’d ever seen. “That’s err… nice?”“It’s wonderful.” I interjected. “But not a surprise.” She flushed even redder - something I previously hadn’t thought possible - adjusted her glasses, and stared at the floor, sappy, wonderful grin unaltered.
“Is there anyone else we know here? Any of our friends?” I asked Michael, as we entered into a small park. A shimmering, sapphire blue lake surrounded by a green field on this side and an untouched, beautiful forest on the other, teeming with birds and small critters.
“No.” He shook his head. “The rest of your friends are all alive. My system didn’t recognise anyone either of you knew well here except you two. 1 in 10 million odds you two ended up in the same neighbourhood by the way: these places are opening up near constantly. It’s just…. crazy. I suppose the system just thinks you both belong here.”
“Yes.” I smiled, subtly turning to look at Fred. “I think I’m exactly where I belong.” I immediately flushed bright red: how could I have said that? What kind of idiot was I? What if Fred noticed? What if she didn’t? Fred - apparently, thankfully oblivious to my comment - was gazing out over the lake. “It’s so beautiful.”
Michael chuckled. “What else did you expect from paradise? Ah, my orientation area!”
Spread out on an open area of grass in front of us were several hundred deckchairs, arranged in rows and almost all of them occupied. The people sitting in them were chatting animatedly, laughing and generally seemed to be having the time of their lives. “I’ll leave you two to find your seats. I’ve got to get ready to do my introductory speech!” Michael clapped gleefully and sped off towards the stage.
I couldn’t help but smile. “He’s certainly…”
“Animated?” Fred smiled. “Very. I think I see some seats just there…”
Fred carefully made her way past several people to get to two seats together near the centre of the row, untangling our arms so she could get through more easily. I felt a slight pang of sorrow at the loss of contact. Fred flopped down into the chairs and I followed suit.
“These are incredibly comfortable.” Fred murmured, shifting slightly. “I’m sure deckchairs were never this cosy before…”
“I suppose it’s a perk of the Good Place.” I murmured. “Fred?”
She turned to face me and smiled. “Yes, Wesley?”
“If you don’t mind could you catch me up on what happened at Angel Investigations after my… death?
She hesitated. “It’s a long story.”
I glanced at the stage. Michael was sitting on the front of it, chatting with some people in the front row. Various other seats in the audience were unfilled. “I think we have some time. That is, if you don’t mind telling me. If you don’t want to-”
“No!” Fred interjected, one hand coming up to twirl a strand her of hair around. “When do you want me to start?”
“The beginning? As the song says-”
“A very Good Place to start.” Fred finished, smiling. “Well. It was a dark and stormy night…”