Spoilers: Through "Shells," plus pure speculation about the next few episodes (no spoilers.) This takes place a few weeks after "Shells."
Disclaimer: Angel & Co. belong to Joss and Mutant Enemy. Fuck the WB. Some of the phrases were adopted from a Chuck Palahniuk novel, see below.
Distribution: is awesome, just tell me where.
Notes: I love Wesley. That poor boy. The Palahniuk quote seemed relevant. Plus, I nicked some bits from it. Credit where credit is due, and all of that.
Further: I found myself at a loss trying to define Lilah, because I have no idea what these characters' memories have been modified to look like. I've never understood how, without Connor, Wesley's relationship with Lilah would even have come about--or how she ever would have died. So I said "fuck it" and decided to make it vague. And frankly, I don't completely get the Wes/Fred thing. I don't think he's in love with her, but I think that he thinks he is, and that's really what matters.
Feedback: Please, please, please send me feedback. It'll take you like 1/10 the amount of time it took you to read this. E-mail at [email protected].

"This was Helen Hoover Boyle. Our hero. Now dead but not dead. Here was just another day in her life. This was the life she lived before I came along. Maybe this is a love story, maybe not. It depends on how much I can believe myself.

This is about Helen Hoover Boyle. Her haunting me. The way a song stays in your head. The way you think life should be. How anything holds your attention. How your past goes with you into every day of your future.

That is. This is. It's all of it, Helen Hoover Boyle.

We're all of us haunted and haunting."

--Chuck Palahniuk, "Lullaby"

This is Roger Wyndam-Pryce:

He is a cold, careful, antiseptic man. He was always certain that the marks would not show, always certain that his large, smooth hands wouldn't be tainted with the blood or the failures of his only son. I come from a long line of men who cared very little for their progeny, and my father is no exception. He detests me for everything that I am and everything I am not.

He is everything I am or ever will be. His faults are mine, as are his fears and his talents. We are both weak men, prone to bouts of madness, unable to show emotion, occasionally unable to feel it at all. We are the men we were raised to be.

A substantial portion of a Watcher's training is simply learning how to maintain some semblance of sanity. The only way to achieve that goal--a rather lofty one for a man or woman whose sole charge is destined to die a brutal death--is to develop a certain detachment from one's emotions.

When I realized what was going to happen to Fred, I was not horrified. It was simply fact: Fred would die, and it would be slow, and it would be painful. When I decapitated Lilah, it was no act of love. It was an act of duty. A very long time ago, I very clearly understood the difference.

This was Lilah Morgan:

She was beautiful and sensual, with her stiletto heels and tailored suits. A propensity towards drinking far more than is advisable--but then, who doesn't revert to such measures in extreme circumstances?

I hated her with every ounce of reason I still possessed and loved her with everything else, I think. That may be a mortal sin in and of itself, loving her. Still, I don't admit that sin aloud, so it seems less damning.

When I wake to memories of her dead body, I know with certainty that I am damned.

She may be the only woman for whom I have ever been more than a substitute or a second choice. The only one who ever understood precisely what I am: every idiosyncrasy and psychosis. The only one who wasn't ashamed of the things I am capable of.

In some ways, I believe she took comfort in the darkness I possess, because it meant that she was not alone. There was at least one other person as lonely as she, and so the two of us were, at the least, alone together. Occasionally we were not even alone.

People like Lilah and I don't like to be alone. If we must be miserable--and we must--we would much prefer to share that misery with others.

Or, alternatively, find someone pure and perfect, in the hope that some of that contentedness might rub off.

This was Winifred Burkle:

She had the loveliest hair, and wore it simply. In the photograph her mother sent me, she wears a long green skirt and a delicate blouse. Her hair falls carelessly about her shoulders. This was when she was at university, before five years of fear in Pylea, before she joined our fight.

Her smile was enchanting and innocent. She was everything that was worth fighting for in this world: all of the goodness, all of the truth, all of the beauty.

She was my one chance at joy in this life.

I wrote Fred's parents four days after their daughter's death. I explained to them that she had died of a rare illness, one for which there was no cure. I told them that she had been brave--and oh, she had been brave--and that it had not been painful. I told them that there was no body: as the virus was still present, we were forced to cremate it. I did not tell them that her soul had been destroyed, or that a demon now wears her face. Or that the same demon now haunts my lonely flat.

I could not explain any of that.

Patricia Burkle responded with a hand-written letter overflowing with run-on sentences and Texas slang. She spoke of a Fred none of us ever knew: one unscathed by the supernatural. A girl utterly unafraid of the world, and excited to discover what it had to offer.

What did it offer her? She should have stayed home, where she would have been safe, where the light that was Fred could have shone without fear of darkness or death.

Mrs. Burkle wrote of Fred's graduation from university. It was the proudest day of her life, she said, because neither she nor her husband had ever received so much as a high school education. It was also the worst, because that was the day they lost Fred forever. They knew Fred was meant for something larger than her birthplace.

She certainly found it.

Illyria stands behind me now, her icy eyes daggers in my back. Every glance at her seems a betrayal, every step she takes a mockery. The way she wears Fred's body so uncomfortably, the way she speaks and it is Fred but not Fred. The way she becomes a little more like the woman I loved every day.

Mostly it is the way she says my name. If I close my eyes it is Fred calling for me, excited about a fascinating specimen or a new piece of equipment. Angel hears her from across the lobby and looks at her with the slightest smile. Charles and Lorne watch from a slight distance. I can hear Lorne clearly: "It's a miracle."

I open my eyes and turn round to face reality. Angel will have nothing to do with me. I want nothing to do with Gunn. Lorne is still drinking himself into oblivion. And--Fred.

Fred is gone. Forever.

This is Wesley Wyndam-Pryce:

A broken man. Still alive, more or less, despite the many chances I have had to die. Every gunshot wound and torture device has failed to deliver me. Instead I remain here, with my half-hearted convictions and morals that break far too easily under strain.

I follow the ghost of the woman I loved as though I could be saved by something as ancient and dark as Illyria. As though there is anything in this world that could offer me salvation. I haunt the hallways of my own home--a wretched, cold place that is no home at all--grasping for some meaning in all of this madness. I float through this world, barely touching, never touched. Less corporeal than Spike was after he first came back, if only because he had a desire to feel again.

I want no such thing.

It still bothers Illyria. She watches me with great curiosity, wondering how I have the audacity to continue living despite having lost everything. Even though stealing Fred's body has imbued her with a certain amount of humanity, she still cannot comprehend the way we humans live in search of the next moment of truth or wholeness.

She asked me if that hope of joy was enough to live on. She doesn't think so.

She's right, of course. Beings that have existed for millennia are not often wrong.

Perhaps, then, I only remain alive out of habit. I eat, I sleep, I shower. Not out of any desire to continue this existence. Only because I have no other option.

Illyria steps up next to me. She registers somewhere in my peripheral vision: she wears Fred's clothing now, and her hair is dyed brown. It hurts more this way, with everything but her eyes exactly like the thing I can never have again. I'm not sure whom I am trying to convince. No one would ever believe she was human.

"Wesley," she says, and my heart shudders. She reaches out to place a hand on my shoulder, then pulls back. Always tentative. Not unlike Fred. Illyria understands that the touch of her hand on my shoulder is a particularly human gesture. She also understands that any touch at all is well beyond the limits of our relationship. Teacher to student.

I teach her how to survive in a world completely unfamiliar to her, and she teaches me how to go on without hope.

"Wesley," she says again. "There is someone outside the door. The Champion."

Without a word, I pick up the book I have been reading and place it in a plain khaki bag. I hand her a similar suitcase, and she looks at it curiously for a moment. "We are leaving," I tell her. She requests no explanation. She used to, but she has finally realized that I have no reasons to offer her.

We stand in silence, waiting until he leaves.

"Wes. Wes, I know you're in there. You have to come out, Wesley. You can't--" and he kicks the door in frustration. "Wes, I know you're hurting. Illyria isn't Fred, Wes! It's not her. It'll never be her. Please open the door, Wes." He sounds almost desperate. Funny. I didn't expect him to care all that much, knowing what I am, knowing what I'm doing.

Finally I hear him walk down the hall and open the door to the stairs. It slams behind him with a certain kind of finality.

I lead Illyria out a different door and into the parking garage. She doesn't know what to do with my SUV, so I open the passenger side door. She still looks confused, and then it is as though a light has gone on. "No. I remember." Illyria climbs in awkwardly and shuts the door behind her.

I place the key in the ignition, put the car in reverse, back into drive, and leave the parking garage. Going through the motions. I have to stop thinking in order to take action. We head into a night that is never as dark as I need it to be.

We will stop in a few hours, because I will need to pretend to sleep. Instead, I will open my bag and take out the small white rabbit that Mrs. Burkle mailed back to me, in order to torture me further. I'll look at it for a while, and briefly consider the shell pacing back and forth in the next room.

One of these nights, when I least expect it, her hand will touch my shoulder. Perhaps I will recoil. Perhaps I won't. By that point, it may be the only thing that can touch me at all.

My father is asleep thousands of miles away, unconcerned with my whereabouts. Still, I hear his first lessons: When the soul is gone, there is no good left. No emotions, no logic: only desire and raw passion. Do not ever fall into the trap of believing a demon's facade, Wesley, because it will cost you dearly. He would then proceed to demonstrate what it would cost me, over and over again.

Lilah taunts me with a half-smile. "I didn't think you had it in you." I wonder how it is that she still inhabits the holes in my mind. "Still just a figment of your imagination," she laughs. I wonder what that says about me: that my imagination produces echoes of my dead lover. They reverberate through the caves I have built for myself, within myself.

They are all dead to me now, but Winifred Burkle goes on in fragments. I cling to those fragments because I have nothing else left in this world but echoes and ghosts.

Mostly, it is the way she says my name.

This is Wesley Wyndam-Pryce.