LENGTH: 3,900 words
SUMMARY: Doyle and Wesley work together in the afterlife. Pre-slash.
NOTES: For Katta in the 2010 Doyle Ficathon run from the doyle_cordelia comm on Livejournal, request: Doyle/Wesley, because they're my favourite pairing that never met.
NOTES 2: Many thanks to Wesleysgirl for the beta!
DISCLAIMER: Not mine, no profit, yadda yadda yadda.
Glass Half Full
Two skinny guys didn't do much more than rattle around in Angel's old office building - even, that was, the old, old office building; not the last one, and not the Hyperion, but the dingy, ramshackle place before that, the one that had almost killed Wesley courtesy of most of it landing on him in the explosion.
"-Says you," his companion put in, half gripe and half exasperation. "You guys got a hotel. Why do I get all the short straws? A freakin' hotel."
All in all, Wesley was glad he chose not to comment on their other business premises. "I'm so terribly sorry the Hyperion didn't get blown to smithereens with me inside it, as well," he murmured, absently picking up the rubber stamp from the desk and then, with a touch more focused intent wrapped in a certain satisfaction, stamped the file in front of him CASE CLOSED.
It hadn't struck him before... before he'd died... that a dead building could have a soul, let alone one that could be barred Heaven due to owing a penance of its own. "Well, it's not completely like that," Doyle had said, in one of Those Discussions when he'd first arrived. "It's kinda like that, plus the me-remembering-the-old-place part, so me and it, it's a two-for-one deal sort of thing.."
Wesley didn't completely understand everything that left the demon half-breed's lips, nor did he try, having a suspicion much of it was hand-waving and that, really, his deceased colleague didn't know the answers any better than he.
"Yep. Two dead men in a dead office without even the guy whose name's on the door," Doyle had also said. "Cept it's not quite Blake's 7 or Taggart, you see, bein' more or less an accurate description now. Heh."
"We're hardly angels," Wesley had retorted. Although after several years in the States, he'd appreciated grasping the television reference for once. "Just two spirits putting in a little extra time to balance the books."
Doyle had still laughed loudly at his own joke and punched Wesley in the shoulder in a comradely gesture Wesley could have wished held less enthusiasm.
"Leave off the old place," Wesley suggested, only half glancing up. "You'll hurt its feelings, and then it will lose all the coffee again... or perhaps the whiskey."
Doyle's expression froze, and he silently reached down and patted - stroked - the floor with a nervous smile. "Hey," he said, "You shoulda seen where they had me working from before the grand old place came along. This place is sweet, man."
After a moment, he stood up, and pointed at Wesley with a slightly odd look on his face. "But then, you." The finger jabbed the air. "English." The nickname was a much sharper jab, though thankfully Doyle didn't use it too often, more normally opting for 'Paperwork' or if he was feeling especially shirty, 'Arse-stick'. "You... I'm guessin' that the Powers That Be took notes I had a thing for leggy brunettes, but still bein' typical arseholes, got themselves all confused and sent up the wrong one." He snapped his mouth shut and reformed it into a crooked smile, then grabbed his jacket off the back of a chair and shambled past. "Gonna go do some legwork on the Amelia Richmond case. Find out what happened to that poor kid."
Wesley did pay attention, at that, and craned his neck to shout after him, "Don't go too far into the outer boundaries!"
The response drifted back: "You're as bad as my mother, Paperwork."
There were a lot of people stuck in limbo, and most of them were looking for something - or someone. That vital piece they needed to complete themselves, redeem themselves, or find otherwise move on. Apparently helping folks find peace was Doyle's own 'piece', and despite bloody well dying in the name of it already, he hadn't done quite enough of it in life. Same for Wes, although if you asked Doyle, the English guy had quite a few darker things going on than he did. Getting wasted and letting a bunch of people get massacred was, after all, more a sin of inaction than... Yeah. Action. Whatever.
Maybe that was why, in this setup, he was the action guy, and Wes did the books. Usually.
On the other hand, this deal wasn't so bad, and so long as he wasn't sure if they actually allowed a good single malt to exist in Heaven, he was pretty happy to stay right here, doing the right thing. Especially since Wesley had turned up and things weren't quiet as freakin' death any more. Because that had been a dull few years, in between the stumbling around and the terror.
Doyle walked down the street, doing his best to avoid the flickering shadowy shapes, featureless and indistinct, that were the living, and turned down a narrow, darkened street leading to a narrower, darker alley. The buildings that loomed above were more like towers of mist, looking about as solid - except where other more solid forms superimposed over them, like a double-exposure on an old-style photograph, where they had phantoms of their own. Ghosts of what had once been on that spot, and meant enough to the world to leave a shadow even after it was gone. Not every structure did. Buildings only had the souls that people imbued them with, after all.
Those, though, he could reach out and touch. Concentrate hard enough where he was stepping, and he could venture inside them. But not today, because he had his destination elsewhere. Around him in the alley, more shadows marked out the positions of living vagrants and loiterers, but there were less and less of them, steadily, until he'd walked so far off the beaten track there weren't any shadows of people at all.
What he'd gotten used to thinking of as 'limbo' was less of a distinct place than a sort of veil over the living world, time and space distorted within. This was the place they inhabited, of lingering ghosts and spirits, lives incomplete - and not all of them, or even most of them, were remotely perceptible to even the living who were sensitive to such things. Otherwise, hell, there'd have been a world full of ghosts, rather than the occasional one. The original Angel Investigations would've really had its work cut out.
When Wesley warned him not to stray too far into the outer boundary, it was this he meant - to go too close to the ones who made themselves visible, who let their presence be felt. You could get way too tied to the physical world. And then you'd be lost, isolated and unable to get back. Unable to interact fully with either layer of the world. Those ghosts Angel Investigations had occasionally dealt with when he'd been alive - he was talking about those poor suckers.
Except now he was looking for a phantom child he was very much afraid had done just that, for a mother who couldn't move on until she knew her murdered little girl was safe.
Double homicide, one dark rainy night, walking from a taxi to their rundown apartment. Jesus. The things that people did.
Doyle gazed up at the apartment, bars on the windows, a couple of panes, here and there, broken. He'd given the visions to Cordy, but because he'd been who he was, he could still see the stain on the fabric of the limbo-world, imposed over the patch of pavement where mother and daughter had died. Stabbed thirty-one times between them by some psycho.
The things people did.
The mother, he'd killed out here, pretty quick, most of the stabs inflicted after death. The kid, he'd dragged inside that abandoned building down the alley, and done more even as she was dying in agony. Doyle followed the trail of shadow-blood, and being dead didn't mean he couldn't taste the vomit trying to rise in the back of his throat, but he wasn't Real enough for the closed, boarded up door with week-old crime scene tape to impede him. He swallowed and stepped through to the room where she died, feeling himself getting dragged closer to the boundaries of the veil just by being that close to her.
Yet he had to grasp that feeling tight, if he wanted to find her and bring her back. To Hell with Paperwork.
The room was thick with the terrible knowledge of what had happened there.
He pushed further, feeling the world start to fray into the craziness that happened when you weren't quite in one layer or the other. Saw the small figure start to fade into his perceptions, blood-soaked and ragged, and the small, fearful face turn to him: felt himself seen in return... And something socked him squarely with one of the hardest metaphysical punches he'd ever felt.
Thing about these sort of spirits, the ones who'd died a really violent death.
Size didn't come into it. They weren't given to trust, they weren't given to moderation, they struck first and didn't bother asking questions later, and they could be hellishly difficult to talk down to finding that good memory and moment that would stabilize their existence in the afterlife.
"Good grief," Wesley spluttered. Doyle had a little girl in a yellow dress clutching a teddy bear trailing from his hand, but otherwise had the look of something that had gone ten rounds with a T'Ruk Nesh demon. Or possibly a T-Rex.
"Don't say it," Doyle warned. "Just call up Mrs Richmond on the 'phone."
He did say it, but only later, when the grateful, anxious mother had been and gone, and the shade of the daughter with her. Gone in the literal sense, fading before Doyle and Wesley's eyes even as they embraced. That happened, sometimes.
"...So. You got your arse handed to you by the little girl." But he said it with sympathy, as he worked his hands gently on the damaged soulstuff of Doyle's battle-scarred back in the shower. It wasn't quite like bloody, bruised and lacerated flesh, and it wasn't quite not, either. Wesleys sleeves were rolled up but his shirt - and pants - were still mostly wet. Even if it wasn't quite water, either, for that matter.
Doyle groaned, but there were a pick-and-mix of possible reasons for this. He arched his back. "Man, don't even joke about it," he said, after a notable pause. "That was a bad one. Don't think I've seen a one worse that came back."
"You're good at talking to children," Wesley offered, making peace.
"I should be," he grunted. Oh yes, the half-demon had once been a school teacher, after all.
They weren't always wins. Wesley tried to imbue more care into his fingertips on his friend's ethereal skin.
Doyle swore, and Wesley a moment after, when the other man backed up sharply and almost knocked him over, and did press up against him an awful lot of dripping, naked skin (partially mincemeated, so not so embarrassing as vaguely horrifying). Because it was limbo, not Heaven, and it was the old office building and apartment to boot, the water had run cold. Doyle scrabbled at the shower control, turned the water off, and stomped aside shaking his head like a dog. Wes grimaced and ducked.
"Goddamn," swore Doyle. "So... they couldn't have given us the luxury hotel?"
Wesley laughed - couldn't help himself - and patted his strange, slightly-demonic, naked friend on the shoulder carelessly... and for some reason, even though he'd had his hands much more intimately on Doyle only a minute before, if for the purely practical purpose of healing, that touch, so much more casual, was a sheer jolt.
Doyle looked up, and there was a moment, but only a short one, and then the other man reached his hand up as if to lay it over Wesley's and, automatically, with a lifetime of withdrawing from unnecessary contact behind him, Wesley withdrew. He raised his same fisted hand to his pressed-closed lips, consideringly, and to hide his expression, then realised and stared at his fingers an inch away.
"Hm," he said. Curiously. Oh-so-eloquently.
Doyle snorted a soft laugh at him and turned away again to grab a towel, and the strangest thing about it was that it wasn't an uncomfortable moment at all.
Who knew that dead dogs could be almost so tough to get back as murdered girls? Doyle swore and breathed hard as the shaggy shape ran before them through the indistinct surroundings. There were buildings here, their presence making the air thick, though they could pass through them. What had been here once was open air and space, but then, of everywhere that much was true. Barely an imprint was left of that, beneath the creations of man, but it was where their canine friend ran free.
The dog looked back at them both and its tongue lolled. It seemed to be waiting for them, until the sprint that Doyle was encouraged to put on actually brought him up close to it. Then, it turned and ran on.
"Oh, bloody-" He broke off. "It's playing with us, damn it. It's playing with us!"
"I-" Wes panted, a few steps behind him "-wouldn't know. This is your area of expertise."
True enough. It was a job in itself dragging Wes out of the office.
"Well, didn't you ever have a dog as a kid? Rich kid like you?"
"My father kept hunting dogs." Apparently he chose not to elaborate. They chased into the spectral grounds of a park-that-once-was, its lands at least clearer to their human perception, and both collapsed against the wall of a bandstand, burned to the ground years past, while the brown and white dog cheerfully chased its tail around the open space, barking.
"I love animals," Doyle panted sourly. "They're fabulous. Great. Wonderful. Jaysus, a dog."
"We've searched for stranger things people weren't willing to move on without." Wesley slumped, eyes shut, banging his head rhythmically against the wall of the bandstand. Maybe he was trying to pin his focus on that to avoid passing out. "I suppose true companionship and meaning come in many forms."
"And all dogs really do go to Heaven," Doyle muttered. He felt something cold and wet on his neck and jumped. "Holy freakin' crap!" He yelped, tripping and sprawling on his side, courtesy of his flinch away from the slobbering, grinning jaws he found in his face. "No - wait - OI!" He got his balance just in time to make a grab that barely missed. "You... you did that on purpose!" he yelled accusingly after the animal as it sped off again.
"I'm pretty sure it did," said Wesley.
"Yeah, but you always think the damn universe's conspiring to get you."
"I do not-" He seemed to realise how defensive he'd sounded in his sudden ire, and swallowed it back, although Doyle hadn't meant it to sting, not really... but his friend continued before he could speak up to mollify him - snottily: "Besides, you can be pretty pessimistic yourself, you know."
"The difference is, I know that the universe just sucks." He stopped, and thought about it. "Only maybe that's not completely true. I don't know... if I think that, anymore." Partway through rising to his feet, he sagged back. "Part of me thinks the world sucks, and then you die... and then... there's us."
"...What?" Wesley asked, staring at him curiously, argument forgotten.
Doyle pulled a face. "Is it weird if I don't think this is that bad... not the bloody dog, I don't mean. I'm dead, and barred from Heaven, and runnin' around doin' God-knows-what for God-knows-who that comes along, with only some English stiff for... eh, no offence... But I don't know, right now, if I'd choose anything different."
Unexpectedly, he caught Wesley starting to nod, a little dubiously, but he'd already begun amending himself, then: "Well, maybe if Cordy..."
"Fred," Wesley echoed, then his eyes went haunted. "No. I know that's impossible. If she was here, it wouldn't really be her. Couldn't be. And I'd know that."
Doyle put his hand on Wesley's where it rested next to him on the ghostly grass, giving a gentle squeeze. That story, he knew. Poor lass... They looked for the lost, but that one, nobody was ever going to find. He sighed. "I guess Cordy outgrew me anyway, from what I've been hearing. Still, we got each other, right."
He'd meant that in... well, somewhat a more joking fashion than it ended up. Wesley looked up at him, soulful eyes morosely grateful, hand squeezing back...
And the dog barrelled through between them, yapping excitedly... and fuck it, Doyle was ready, this time, grabbing for the collar at its neck and hanging on as the bloody thing tried to keep running with him being dragged behind it. "Hey! Lassie! Stop! Good boy! Stop! Sit! Lie! Heel! Bloody stop! Bleedin' hell..."
A moment later, he was sat on the grass firmly clutching an armful of dog that was enthusiastically licking his face, and Wesley was on his feet laughing his damn head off at him.
"Gyaaargh!" Doyle dashed dog-spit from his forehead. Keeping ahold of the collar, he stumbled to his feet, tripping over the dog as it tried to weave his arm through his knees. "Don't laugh... Jesus, I guess I'm walkin' back like this now." He had to take hunched-over steps to keep his grip on the dog collar.
"Well," Wesley said cheerfully. "Mission successful, it looks like, hmm?"
Doyle gave a snort, and they started to work their way back through the ghost city. "Hey, why'd you decide to come today, anyhow? It's not like Hairball here's such a terrific danger to need the two of us, evil incarnate that he is."
"I don't know." Wes kicked his feet. "It just... sounded like something better. Returning an old man a dog. You may be content here, but sometimes... I've had my fill of darkness. Yet the world still wants more of me. Not that," he added hastily, "I'm saying I don't like it here. Or that dealing with those terrible things isn't worthy. But sometimes."
"You're looking at it the wrong way," Doyle said, though it was difficult engaging in a serious conversation while trying not to be pulled over on his face by an enthusiastic mutt. "It ain't darkness we're dealing in. It's the opposite. No moral quandaries here."
Wesley was silent.
"Well," said Doyle, with a determination gritty and bright, "Let's get Lassie here back to the Old Bugger and spread a little bit o' that light."
Wesley was astounded when Doyle produced the bottle of whiskey out of nowhere one day - and it was a true mystery, because the old office only tended to contain the things it had held in their lifetime, and the quality of this offering was notably far better than anything Doyle could ever afford to drink.
"What's this?" Wesley asked, picking it up from the table and prodding at the ribbon tied onto it.
Doyle flushed, then looked determinedly irritated and said, snappishly, "Happy deathday, Wes." He cleared his throat and managed to look slightly less irritated about giving a present. Maybe it was the effort of giving away the whiskey that caused the irritation.
"No," Wesley denied instinctively, confused. "It's not... it can't have been a year already."
"Sure, it is. You lose track of time here. It moves different. You know how sometimes you miss days - days you're not needed on, they just go? You get used to keepin' track, after a while. It's like that. It's okay. Stops it from gettin' boring, anyway."
"Fascinating..." Wesley stared at the bottle's glittering amber depths, and with grimmer reflection, A whole year...
"Anyway." Doyle slapped two glasses down onto the surface of the table and slid them across to him with the grinding of glass against wood. "Here we are, and I figured, 'Hey, ol' Wes has been dead a whole year, we should have a drink to celebrate'. So we should."
Wesley smirked. "You know, in other circumstances, I might think there's something up with that."
"In other circumstances," Doyle snarked back.
"Oh, but," he protested, feeling a sudden distress, "I didn't remember to get anything for yours. In fact, I don't even know when-"
The other man simply flapped a hand, waving off the protest. "Don't remember it myself. If you want, we can pick a day and make it a tradition from now on. But you can be sure I marked the occasion that some other sucker came along for me to shift all o' the PTB's damned paperwork onto, eh, Paperwork?"
"Indeed," mused Wesley.
"Angels. Who knew the real things were such freakin' bureaucratic bastards." Doyle looked down pointedly. "Pour." His impatient hand smacked the table. Wesley popped the stopper and poured. Sat down, contemplating the amber liquid in the glass.
Contrary to what might be popularly held opinion, Wesley Wyndham-Price could appreciate a good whiskey - even a bad whiskey - just as much as his overeager companion. He simply had more restraint. Point of example: he was still savouring the smell, and then the taste of the sharp and sweet liquid as it slid into his mouth, as Doyle was reaching to grab the bottle again.
He sat up straight and snagged Doyle's arm back on the way to Doyle's mouth, curtailing his enthusiasm to propose, instead, a toast.
"To what?" Doyle asked.
Doyle echoed him, more firmly, with a grin as they drank.
"You know," Wesley wondered aloud. "Sometimes I wonder if we didn't really die, but were simply transformed into a state and place where we could become more completely ourselves."
"If that sort of remark is typical, I'm guessing I know now why you don't normally drink."
Wesley moved to kick him under the table, and found instead that their feet tangled together there. They finished their drinks silently. Comfortable.
Still, when the desperate knocking on the door broke them out of it, neither of them was the least surprised or annoyed.
The cellist at the door was searching for her lost instrument, and it was back to work again.
For the rest, they had all the time in the world.