Title: I'm With Her

Author: Lint

Email: CrashDarby@aol.com

Disclaimer: It all belongs to Joss.

Rating: PG

Pairing: Wes/Fred. Wes/Illyria.

Summary: Wesley holds up his end of the bargain.

Notes: Post Shells.

**

Their first conversation is a kind of stain in his mind.

The actual words, the actual sentiment itself, a strange mix of pain, rage, and compliance. He'd

had no time to really process just what was happening during the talk, or the time shortly afterwards. When he'd continued packing Fred's things into small, unmarked boxes. The most he'd really understood about what had happened between them was the fact that he'd agreed to help her. He'd agreed, to help the thing that had stolen his love away. His mind and heart aching to fill the emptiness left behind.

He thinks of it now. His hidden eagerness. His denial to himself that he was capable of keeping a protective distance from the task. He knew she'd suck him back to hell with her. He stood waiting, ticket in hand, as she looked so lost and almost, he doesn't quite grasp this now, afraid.

It only lasted minutes. A mere tick in her easily controlled concept of time.

He can't believe he let himself agree to her request.

He can't believe he wanted to.

**

For lack of the only other alternative, his place, he takes Illyria back to Fred's.

Opening the door and making his way into the living room he glances back at her, finding small amusement in her appearance. He had given her his coat, hoping to avoid any unwanted attention her red leather suit may have cited, and snuck her out of the office. Once out of the duck and parry environment he can't help the grin stretching across his face. The small amount of satisfaction that the old one, who just hours ago was hell bent on world domination, simply looks ridiculous. He sets down the box of things he'd collected from Fred's office onto a small table next to the door.

Illyria's eyes wander about the room, taking in her surroundings. She knows she's been here before, there is recognition in her gaze, but was hardly around long enough to fully see it. She wanders over to a shelf full of porcelain ballet dancers and runs her fingers slowly across them.

"You accumulate so many trinkets," she says. "As if they are a measure of your life."

"Some people do measure it that way," he replies.

"Pointless," she says, her back still turned.

"You'll need some regular clothing," he offers. "It will help to blend in more."

She nods absently, wandering slowly around the room, and shrugs off his coat letting it fall to the floor. He leaves it there, leaves her there, and makes his way into Fred's bedroom.

Making a beeline for the closet he tries his best to ignore the bed, that small space on the carpet where death and rebirth circled in an unwelcome cycle. Pulling open the door he chuckles brokenly to himself. Her clothes are color coordinated. Darks to the left, colors in the middle, and whites to the right. That was her, meticulous as science.

He raises a shaky hand to the various articles and materials. So much of her is left over. So many things to choose from to let the shell of her masquerade around in. A sudden wave of revulsion tears through him. The tears slip down his cheeks before he even realizes they are forming, and the choked sob escapes his throat in the same manner. He's not sure if he's truly capable of this. He falls to his knees, burying himself in her things, the scent of her wafting over him.

He can feel Illyria behind him.

But he doesn't turn to see.

**

There isn't a single doomsday prophecy, ancient spell, or collected work of demon lineage that can hold his attention. He can't focus on anything but the growing emptiness inside his veins. A black rift threatening to tear him apart. He is different. He is changed.

At his desk is a mountain of paperwork. He tries his best to get though it, welcoming any form of distraction. He goes through a page or two before the words meld themselves into incoherent black lines and whips off his glasses in frustration. The yellowing pages before him, the leather bound books, and mystical texts serve only as props to the occasional passer by.

He can feel them out there. Walking tentatively past his doorway, afraid to look in, but still finding themselves attempting a small glance.

He sighs; the overwhelming thought that he'll never be able to focus again, ringing in his mind. He glances around his office thinking that nothing at Wolfram and Hart was ever free. He's said it before. Knew it rang true with every syllable. The price, he thinks, far too much to be paid, and yet it was. Paid in full with Fred's blood.

Outside of his office no one looks him in the eye. Not even Harmony. He walks through the lobby a ghost of a man.

If he closes his eyes he can see her.

Fred.

Asking if he's noticed anything different about her. Coming from her. That's she seeing him in a whole new…

Her lips are softer than anything else he's ever felt. The happiness swelling inside of him is akin to an atomic bomb.

Something that he's wished, and yearned, and hoped for years is finally coming to pass.

She looks at him and finally sees everything he's wanted her to see.

The memories are just another lash on skin that's been whipped for days.

The longer he sits the more he feels that dark place calling to him. Cold and familiar, begging to be let in. He needs to be doing something, anything. He thinks of Illyria's non-understanding of his pain, and why he chooses to deal with it rather than put a simple end to it all.

He feels the gun dangling against his ribs.

It would be easy to just make it stop.

So easy…

He leaves the building without a word.

**

She is so radiant it nearly hurts to look at her.

The blinding light surrounding them is no help. Angelic luminescence is more annoying than awe inspiring, and he tries to ignore it as best he can. She stands there in a simple black dress, one he can't recall ever seeing her in. Black never being her color. Her smooth brown hair hangs loosely past her shoulders and she smiles at him brightly, taking his hand and pulling him closer to her. Her body feels warm so close him. The scent of her hair, the smooth skin of her bare shoulders, a soft beat of her heart against his chest. He runs a shaky finger along the skin and sighs brokenly. She is here. She is real.

"Fred," he whispers.

"Hush," she coos gently.

"You… You're… You're dead," he says.

"I'm not dead to you silly. Not now, not ever. I'm as real as you need me to be." she replies pulling back so that they are face to face.

He smiles sadly, moving his hand to run gently along her cheek.

"You have no idea how much I miss you," he whispers.

"I know you do," she says. "I miss you too." She grins brightly up at him. "We could have been great Wesley. Like two positively charged ions fighting the forces against them to be together."

They laugh lightly together, the two geeks sharing jokes in the back of science class. He moves in to kiss her and she returns the tender embrace eagerly. He keeps his arms wrapped tightly around her, not wanting to let go. She keeps her cheek resting against his shoulder, something, he noticed, that she made a habit of doing when they hugged for an extended period of time. He feels the tears sting his eyes and he quickly bats them away.

She begins to cough softly, little attempts at clearing her throat. He pats her back gently.

"I was afraid," he starts. " That'd I'd never get a chance to tell you properly. That there'd never be a time…"

"Tell me what?" She asks all smiles behind another small cough.

"That I love you," he says. "That I always have."

"Oh that," she laughs. "I know that. Everyone knows that."

"Yes… But I just wanted to say it again…"

She nods sadly.

"I hope you know that I could have loved you too."

"I'd like to think that," he says softly.

The coughing goes on, grows into hacking. He can feel the warm trickle of blood on his shoulder.

"Fred?" He asks. "Fred are you all right?"

"Too soon," she moans against him. "It's too soon."

"Not again," he pleads into her. "Do not do this to me again."

"Wesley," she cries, pulling back from the embrace, blood dribbling down her chin. "Why can't I stay?"

**

His whole body spasms with the motion of waking, heart pounding so hard inside his chest it threatens to burst, the last gasp of heavy breath escapes from his parched throat. For the first few seconds of alertness he is confused. These are not his sheets he feels. This is not his bed.

The memory of the dream floods into his mind, pulling at his soul. They'd been so close. So painstakingly close. Laying his hand flat against the mattress, he moves his arm in shallow arcs across the surface. Wishing harder than he's ever wished in his life for some kind of miracle, some kind of gift from the gods to bring her back.

The bed is empty.

The sheets are cold.

There will be no Christmas this year.

"You dreamt of her again," her voice states, the tone flat yet curious.

For one fleeting moment he thinks it's Fred whispering softly into his ear.

"Yes," he replies shifting to his side, rubbing at weary eyes until she comes blearily into view.

Not Fred.

Illyria.

His beast of burden.

The bane of his existence.

The sad ironic fact that she is the one who holds onto his last piece of his sanity is not lost on him.

Reaching to the nightstand for his glasses she becomes clearer to him, standing near the door, head tilted in idle curiosity.

"You confuse me Wesley," she says. A small pang in his chest as she acknowledges his name. "Your grief is…" She pauses, looking for the right word. "Astounding. So much so I do not understand why you choose to carry on."

He smiles sadly.

"You've stated your lack of understanding before," he says.

"It has yet to become any clearer," she replies.

"I'm afraid I don't have an answer that will help it become translucent to you." His turn to pause. "Have you been watching me this whole time?"

"I was in the other room," she states in that same empty tone, as if weary of having to make explanations for herself. "You began to make noises in your sleep. I was… Curious."

He nods, absently wondering if it were really her sense of curiosity or just another echo of Fred.

"Do you know how long I was asleep?" He asks.

"Awhile," she replies. "I am not sure of the exact figure. You have yet to teach me of your time keeping device. Though I do think your whole system is flawed."

He yawns, stretching his arms above his head. "I'm sure you'll find that a great deal of things in this world are."

He can tell she agrees, but she chooses not to reply.

**

Back in his office, back to reality, Harmony is standing in front of him, leaning on his pile of books and repeating his name. She asks if he's okay when he finally snaps out of the revere he was lost to. He almost says no. Nothing will be okay. That he'll never be okay. That every second of everyday is a pull in opposite directions, Fred and Illyria's mixed touch on his life haunts him this much.

He waits a moment. He tells Harmony he's fine.

"Are you sure Wesley?" she asks. "You've been sitting here for over an hour not doing anything. That's so unlike you. You're like, hardcore reader guy. You never just sit "

Her eyes are fixated on a spot just left of his head. Eye contact so easily avoided. He can't help but think about the only pair of eyes that ever seem to meet his. Big and round and as cold as ice.

He quickly jerks his chair away from Harmony's non-stare, Illyria's gaze burning into his brain. She makes a startled gasp at the sudden movement. He keeps quiet and hopes she will leave but after a few awkward look backs she hasn't moved at all. He sighs.

"I'll be all right," he tells her.

"That's great Wesley," she replies. "But the real reason I came in here, is that Angel wants you at a meeting."

"A meeting for what?"

"I'm not sure, he never spills the info, but he was pretty insistent that you be there."

"Tell him I will be then."

"Okay."

He waits until he hears her leave before turning the chair back around.

**



Sometimes she is so childlike he nearly forgets the evil she is capable of.

He sits on Fred's couch with a cooling cup of tea. She sits in the middle of the floor surrounded by books of his suggestion. A sort of brief history of the world. He finds it fascinating to watch her read. A predator of knowledge, she tears through each volume as if they were weak willed prey. Devouring all she can.

"I truly do not understand this place," she says, never taking her eyes from the text.

"Is there something of interest to you?" He asks.

"All these words, all this history," she begins. "These millions of years since my reign, you have taken over this planet like locusts. I cannot see why. I look at your species and see nothing but weakness, and yet, you rule everything."

"Human nature, you'll find, is a contradicting force upon itself. Faith and perseverance are easily met with despair and hopelessness. Joy and pain. All these factors drive us. To keep us wanting more until more is achieved."

She seems to think on this, the image of a school aged Fred pops into his mind. He takes a sip of tea, swallows the image back.

"You war with yourselves as much as my kind ever did." She pauses. "Perhaps even more."

He leans forward on the couch. "Something we have common with you then?"

"I find it disgusting," she states bluntly. "My kind warred for a place in their world. For power and purpose and accolade. You, your kind, you war for… For *things. *"

"All war is merely greed for something."

She turns to glance at him over her shoulder. So much of Fred comes out in this gesture. The light in the room being so deceptive that she looks less like a thing and more human than he ever thinks her capable.

"You are not like the rest of them," she says quietly.

It is an unforeseen comment. Almost a compliment. The emotions stirring from it churn violently inside. He averts his eyes. Stares down into his cup of tea, coughing and sputtering like the Wesley of old. The Wesley who never won affection.

He can't *not* do this. He realizes this now. There is something disturbingly comforting; despite the fact that he still thinks he isn't the right man for the job, in educating her.

He will continue this British tragedy to the American dream. This horrifying attempt to live through the sort of life he should be sharing with Fred.

He can never tell Angel of what he's doing. He knows this. Deception, he finds, comes almost naturally. Like a pair of well worn shoes.

He glances back at Illyria.

She is not Fred. She is not human. And they are not friends.

But he can't let this end.

It's all that's left in him to do.

**

He looks at everyone sitting around the conference table. Angel is at the head of it, elbows perched and hands folded over one another. Spike leans back in his chair, feet resting on the edge. They both look at him, poised to say something, but wisely keeping quiet. Lorne sits next to Spike, talking animatedly into his cell phone.

"You wanted to see me," he says.

"Wes," Angel says gesturing at a chair. "Have a seat."

He sits and can't help but notice the two empty chairs that should be filled.

"I know this is a difficult time for you," Angel begins. "And believe me when I say that we all understand what you're going through. She meant everything to us too."

You understand nothing, Wesley doesn't say. You don't know what it's like harboring the very thing that ended your lover's life out of some convoluted sense of responsibility. You don't know how it feels to look upon that face and see nothing but what could have been.

"Illyria," Angel says, freezing the turning gears in Wesley's mind. "Is still out there. Plotting her revenge. Looking for some kind of payback for what we did to her."

The only thing she's looking for, he doesn't say again. Is to find a place in a world she doesn't belong to.

Angel looks at him, the gesture attempting to be something more than it is.

It's Wesley's turn to avoid eye contact. He knows Angel will see something in him, knows that he has already had a hard time trusting him in the last year. Wesley never quite understood why. There was just some sort of invisible uneasiness between them that was never bothered to be explained. With his actions of the last few days he knows it can only grow worse from here.

Part of him wants to, but he can't tell them of his agreement with Illyria.

Spike looks bored. Lorne hasn't paid the meeting much attention.

Wesley wonders how long it will be before he's allowed to leave.

**

On the way back to his office he pauses in front of Gunn's. He knows it was anger that made him stab. All that pain coupled with loss and an overwhelming sense of betrayal. Logically he knows it was wrong. An impulse better left unsatisfied. And as much as he expects it to come, the pang of guilt never arrives. He is not sorry for what he did. He'll never allow himself to be.

"If you're going to offer some sort of condolence," he says to Spike, who has suddenly appeared next to him. "I suggest you spare me. I'm still reeling from your last attempt."

Spike shrugs empathetically. "Don't reckon there's anything to be said," he replies. "I've been where you are. The love of your life is gone forever. They're aren't words."

"If it's a warning then you needn't bother."

He raises both his hands, stating he has no intention, and gazes into Gunn's empty office along with him.

"What you did to him," he begins. "Plonk you used to be. I didn't see it coming."

"Neither did he."

Spike shoots him a sideways glance, brow arching incredulously.

Wesley hadn't meant to say it, the words so casually slipping out. He stands a little straighter, as if the action will prevent him from another outburst.

"Well, well," Spike says coolly. "Head boy looking to become head man, that it?"

Wesley keeps quiet.

"We've all seen him," he goes on, Gunn's unspoken name hanging in the air between them. "Can't say I've seen any man sorrier for what he's done."

"Let him be sorry," Wesley retorts. "It won't bring her back."

He walks away before Spike has the chance to say anything else.

**

He wakes with a sudden feeling. A fleeting sense that he is not alone. Rolling to his side he can feel through the mattress that the bed isn't empty. Slowly his hand reaches toward her, gently drifting along the sheets. He can just make out the outline of her body. She lies on her back perfectly still. It's as if he's sharing the bed with a corpse in both the metaphorical and literal sense.

In the darkness of the room, stray beams of moonlight reaching in, the strange hue of color that covers her skin is almost non-existent. He's starting to think that these little tricks of the light are not coincidence. It isn't who he wants it to be, he reminds himself. But his hand still aches to touch. The repeating though that feeling something, *anything*, is better than nothing.

Illyria, as far as he's seen, doesn't require a lot of sleep. Perhaps even none at all. He is confused as to why she's joined him here, in this near intimate setting. The act itself so voluntarily human. Is it some sort of mind game? He wonders. Some form of torture on an already tortured soul?

He notices the little white rabbit lying next to her. The one he'd found in Fred's office. The one he'd packed away in the box. He wonders just how many shreds of Fred's memory actually exist in Illyria's shell.

Her skin is so cold when he touches it. She doesn't stir a bit.

This isn't Fred, he keeps telling himself, for fear of willingly wanting to forget.

This isn't love.

He's tired.

He lets himself pretend.

**

There is commotion out in the lobby.

He does his best to ignore it. Once again wishing for distraction though the shuffling of more papers and flipping through more books, and the signing of forms. The feign of ignorance lasts mere minutes before someone falls just outside his office, briefcase skidding all the way to his desk, before he starts to wonder what is going on.

In the lobby all the employees stand in a wide circle, a plethora of awed and scared faces, all staring at a central object. He can't see the object in question, his line of sight obscured by a tall blonde man he doesn't recognize. He shoves his way through the crowd, Lorne's green figure catching his eye to his right.

Once inside the circle Illyria turns to face him, the other ants gaping suddenly forgotten. He wonders what the hell she is doing. He wonders why she is here. He told her to stay in Fred's apartment, to read some more or to watch television for a simple grasp at understanding human nature on her own. He told her to not to leave. That the people who rule this world, would not be accepting of her at first, and that they had to take it slow. All these thoughts race through his mind but mostly he can't help but think how strange she looks in civilian clothing. It reminds him so much of Fred he thinks he will be sick.

The guards burst into the lobby, overtaking the circle of gawkers, surrounding the two of them. Guns are aimed, nightsticks wielded, itchy trigger fingers abound.

Angel makes his way through the crowd with Spike in tow.

Illyria ignores them too, moves closer to him. Once she is directly in front she stops. Extends a hand to his shoulder.

"Stand down," he tells the guards.

They don't move.

"I said stand down," he repeats, edge and darkness creeping into his voice.

He looks to Angel, who is not happy to say the least, but he nods his agreement.

The guards oblige, guns no longer aimed, and nightsticks no longer primed. Not one of them looks happy about it.

Illyria smiles, the expression looking so foreign on her stolen face.

The crowd is abuzz with murmurs. He can feel everyone staring at him.

Their eyes are like daggers.

**

"What the hell are you doing Wes?"

Angel is not happy. Big surprise. He could see this coming for miles.

He paces behind his big chair, behind hid big desk, in his big office. Making big booming hand gestures to accommodate big booming commentary. Wesley stands firm with arms folded over his chest patiently waiting for the verbal barrage to end. He glances back toward the door, toward his office, where Illyria had agreed to wait for him.

"That thing out there is not Fred. It killed her. It tried to kill all of us."

He sighs already bored with being spoken to as if he isn't aware of all these things being thrown in his face.

"It wants to take over the world. What makes you think that dream is so easily given up? Just because one army is turned to dust doesn't mean there won't be an attempt to raise another. What makes you think that it has changed?"

He bites back the retort perched on his tongue about change. About evil just bubbling under the surface.

"She has given me her word," he says. "That if I assist her she will not harm anyone."

Angel ignores this. Mentions Gunn. Mentions his understanding of the pain overtaking you, the darkness that threatens to take over. Mentions Knox and loss of control.

"We're like a family," Angel says.

For a second he is taken aback. Such ease in expressing his affections for the group is unprecedented.

"One that has been getting smaller and smaller…"

He drifts off, the anger seeming to fade, thoughts of Cordelia and Fred obvious in his expression. Wesley is unsure of what to say, of what to do. Offering comfort is something he can't find in him to give. He has lost all hope because he has lost all love. He can't tell Angel this. He is not in a position to understand completely.

"It's her or us Wes. This is war. Take your side."

He doesn't think he can. Not now. Maybe not ever.

Angel keeps talking and Wesley just lets the words bounce right off of him. He wonders when the act of listening suddenly became so arbitrary. He wonders when the talking will stop.

**

Illyria stands in front of his desk waiting patiently. With the exception of her falling to her knees in despair, and of sleeping motionless, of sitting down reading, he's hardly ever seen her in another position.

"They do not want me here," she says. "They do not trust that I will not hurt them."

"Is there any particular reason they would?" He asks moving across the office and around his desk to face her.

"They trust you do they not?"

He smiles grimly.

"To an extent."

"Humans." Illyria mutters gruffly. "Are far too complicated."

"You'll find no argument from me," he replies. "Why did you come here?"

"I… Do not know," she says hesitantly. "It suddenly felt as if I needed to be here. So I came."

"I don't understand."

"This body," she gestures down the middle of her torso. "These shreds of Winifred Burkle's memory are drawn here. To this place."

She moves closer to the desk.

"To you."

He feels a small, hated, pang of hope and forces it back down.

"You've never told me just how many shreds there are," he replies neutrally.

"Does it matter?"

He stops, unsure of how to answer. Yes for many reasons. No for so many more. He chooses a safe reply.

"It does if you truly want to understand the things that you do."

Illyria does not look as if she wishes to understand this particular feeling. It is something she can't control and doesn't want to bother trying to explain. She moves around the desk until she is standing right next to him.

"They asked me to choose a side in all of this," he says. "To pick them or pick you."

"What was your answer?"

"I didn't have one to give. I don't think I can choose."

"This body wants you," she says, edge clear in her voice. "It is sickening and revolting and I cannot make it stop."

Wesley stares down at her, surprised at the blunt change in subject. That stolen face he still finds so beautiful. If she is recruiting she's doing a fine job.

He closes his eyes, sighing heavily. He is so tired of feeling that his life now is, not so much living, but merely going through the motions. He is hollow. Empty. A shell of a man he used to be. He smiles sadly at her. More common ground between them.

He is so tired of wishing, hoping, and praying.

Fred is dead.

Fred is gone.

Fred is never coming back.

Illyria stands, head tilted upward at him, waiting.

Her eyes are like ice.

Her skin is like stone.

Just like he wants his heart to be.