Spoilers: Through "Shells," plus pure speculation about the next few episodes (no spoilers.) This takes place a few weeks, maybe a month, after "Shells."
Disclaimer: Angel & Co. belong to Joss and Mutant Enemy. Fuck the WB. "The Science of Things" is a Buish album.
Distribution: is awesome, just tell me where.
Notes: Kind of a follow-up or companion to "Haunted and Haunting." However, it is in no way imperative that you read that first. Basically, Wes and Illyria skipped town and they're hanging out at random motels. This piece is more Illyria-centered, though it's structured similarly, and I'm taking some liberty in referring to Illyria as "she"--Wes couldn't seem to decide between "it" and "she" in the show, but "it" made me a little uncomfortable. There's also some weird verb tense stuff going on, but it's all intentional.
Feedback: Please, please, please send me feedback. It'll take you like 1/10 the amount of time it took you to read this.

The shell had known a great deal about the world she inhabited. Winifred Burkle had understood the way things were put together, and the way things fell apart. She had understood what forces allowed the world to exist.

Still, the resources of the shell's mind barely begin to answer Illyria's questions.

Her chosen guide, a man named Wesley, has proven less than adequate. He had been devoted to the shell, which Illyria had hoped to work to her advantage. Unfortunately, his grief over the loss of Winifred consumes much of him.

Sometimes, the only way Illyria can get his attention is to bring forth one of Winifred's memories. Illyria discovers more of them every day and watches them over and over, hoping to gain insight into Wesley, into humanity. Particularly, Illyria wishes to gain insight into the inexplicable feelings she has possessed of late.

At night, Illyria sits in her room alone. Wesley is a very private man. Still, the paper-thin walls betray all the secrets he believes he is keeping. She hears his keening: a hollow, horrible sound that makes Illyria want to vomit. It also gives Illyria the strange and disgusting urge to enter his room and wrap her arms around him. Illyria knows that this impulse belongs to Winifred. Illyria remembers the shell standing in the hall outside of Wesley's home, hearing the same sounds. Wanting to touch him.

Illyria finds it horrifying.

It becomes harder every day to put aside the fragments of Winifred. Though Illyria knows it is impossible, it sometimes feels as though a part of the shell remains, beyond just a body and scattered memories. She feels it especially when she hears Wesley in the next room, or when he enters her room the next morning with his eyes bloodshot and his clothing wrinkled. He never knocks. Illyria knows that this is rude, but she does not question his actions. She does not particularly care for niceties.

Illyria gets up off the bed and stands in front of a long mirror. She undoes the buttons of her blouse and takes off her pants. She looks into the mirror and examines the body she is in. Illyria finds herself fascinated by humans against her will. They are so weak--this body is nothing, Winifred had known, but thin layers of cells working together in perfect, fragile unison. The skin is brittle, though Illyria knows it was soft when it belonged to Winifred. She knows this not because Winifred knew it, but because Winifred vividly remembered the softness of Wesley's lips and Wesley's hands, and because Illyria sees that Wesley also remembers the softness of Winifred. The weakness.

Though Illyria would never acknowledge it, it upsets her that Wesley finds her lacking. She, an ancient goddess, a supreme being, compared to a frail little child and found lacking? Impossible. It still appalls her that no one will fall to their knees and worship her, as she deserves. The impudence of it makes her sick.

Illyria wonders at the fact that it matters; that she has allowed the opinion of one low, base creature to upset her.

She puts the blouse back on. Buttoning had been a difficult skill to learn. Illyria had enjoyed Wesley's discomfort as he stood close to her and worked his fingers around the buttons himself, demonstrating the task for her. Illyria had made certain that she caught on slowly. She had found that she did not dislike the sensation of his body next to hers.

Winifred had been interested in pheromones some time ago, when she had studied chemistry in college. Illyria finds this idea acceptable: that Wesley matters because the shell's body says he does. There is some chemical at fault; it is not a strange and revolting remnant of Winifred, nor any feeling of Illyria's.

Illyria appreciates the shell's mind for the many plausible explanations it offers. Winifred was capable of explaining a great many things through science. She did not rely on emotions to guide her understanding of the world. Still, Winifred had often found herself worrying about those things that could not be explained, and it is those worries that Illyria now possesses.

Illyria worries about what it means, precisely, to be alive on and a part of this strange, ugly world. There is nothing in Winifred's memories that offers Illyria any answers, and Wesley's response had not been helpful.

There's love. There's hope, for some. There's hope that you'll find something worthy, that your life will lead you to some joy. That after everything, you can still be surprised.

Illyria knows very little of love. She understands devotion: the devotion of every Qwa'ha Xahn, of her long-dead followers, of Wesley. Illyria believes that devotion is part of love, but there is more than just that. The way she felt when Wesley's fingers toyed with the buttons of her blouse--Winifred's memories imply that this, too, may be an element.

Illyria glances at the clock on the table. She is still mystified by these devices, small plastic toys that humans have created to give themselves control over what they cannot understand. The clock flashes 4:00 AM, and Illyria knows that Wesley is asleep. He lies awake for a long time every night, but eventually his body triumphs over his mind and he rests at last. Illyria does not sleep. She has no need for it.

Wesley has not given her a key to his room, but Illyria does not need that, either. She twists the doorknob so that it hangs awkwardly, barely attached to the door, and steps into his room.

He sleeps lightly, and on past occasions she has woken him. This time, his body is so desperate for sleep that her entrance does not rouse him. Illyria watches the way he shifts and turns, sometimes mumbling incoherently. Illyria thinks that she hears the name of the shell.

When Wesley wakes, he is not surprised to find Illyria standing over him.

"Did you dream of her?" she asks.

Wesley, bleary-eyed and unshaven, sits up and looks at her without feeling. "Why?"

"Because I'm curious," Illyria says, and it is true.

"Yes, I did," he says, and this is also true. Illyria knows that Wesley has not lied to her during their time together. Illyria asked him about this honesty once, because she knows that humans are prone to lying. He told her, I will never lie to you. I have neither the energy nor the desire to make your existence more pleasant by sugarcoating the truth.

Illyria asks another question, one that she knows is more important. "Do you dream of her often?"

He closes his eyes. "No."

"But you would like to," Illyria says in a flash of understanding. "You wish that you dreamt of her more often." Illyria sees more closely the agony etched on his face. "It hurts you. Why?"

"I thought you agreed not to ask these kinds of questions," Wesley snaps.

"I have not asked many questions," Illyria replies. "But this I must ask."

Wesley clenches his teeth and looks past Illyria, into the whitewashed wall. She wants to move into his view, but she does not. "It hurts because I dream of things I can never have again. I dream of the dead woman I loved, and wake up to you wearing her stolen body."

It seems to Illyria that these words should be delivered with more malice, but Wesley's voice is simply cold. That, Illyria thinks, is possibly worse. Malice would at least imply some sort of feeling.

"Wesley," she says, and he flinches at the sound of his name. "Why do you go on?"

He looks everywhere except Illyria's eyes. She understands why: if he does not look at her eyes, Illyria looks almost exactly like the shell. He says, "I don't know anymore."

Illyria recalls his voice and echoes his words, the only piece of his explanation she understood. "After everything, you can still be surprised." Illyria knows this from experience. Being here in this room, with this grieving human, on this strange and sad planet--this was surprising. Imagine, Illyria mused, that after millions of years of existence, one could still be surprised. This human was wiser than he knew.

Wesley laughs, a harsher sound than any she has heard from him before. "I think the world may be out of surprises."

"Perhaps I could surprise you," she says, stepping closer to him.

He looks at her uncertainly. Illyria sits down next to him. "Illyria, what are--"

Illyria presses her mouth to his, an intimate action, and one that the shell is familiar with. Illyria does not quite understand what it is about this touch that Winifred was so fond of. The position of her body is awkward, and the short hairs on his face are rough against her skin. Illyria waits to feel something, but Wesley jerks away from the contact.

"No," he says quietly, full of disbelief.

"That was a signal," Illyria says with Fred's voice. "Was that clear enough for you?"

He buries his head in his hands. "Stop," he pleads. "Please. I can't..."


And suddenly, before she senses his movement, his mouth is on hers again, his lips moving over hers, his tongue circling hers. Illyria can categorize this as several things: desperate, hungry, rough. Her body reacts to this contact without any input from Illyria. The arms seem to wrap themselves around his neck, the legs around his waist. Illyria feels a rush of emotion that is not hers, because it is nothing she has ever known. A warmth growing inside of her, a dizziness that threatens to consume. Illyria has a suspicion that this is Winifred--that this is love. This is what Winifred felt when Wesley kissed her, Illyria realizes.

Illyria wants more of that feeling, and she is repulsed by that fact.

She pulls back from him, and they stare at each other until Wesley breaks and looks away.

"Get out," he whispers to the floor. Illyria doesn't move. "Get out!" he cries, and she does.

From the next room, Illyria listens to Wesley. His breathing is uneven and shallow. He does not cry or scream. He does not sleep. Wesley breathes in and out gracelessly in the next room, and Illyria wants that strange un-rhythm to lull her into the sleep she does not need.

Illyria knows that Wesley will be back. Not tomorrow, but soon. There is no hurry. Wesley will be back, because he tasted the shell in Illyria's mouth, and because Illyria is the only creature on this planet that can still surprise him.

Wesley will be back because his body wants to be with the body Illyria resides in, and Illyria now understands how irresistible that pull can be. Wesley will come into her room for reasons that cannot be explained with reason, in search of feeling something that the shell could not explain with chemistry or physics. They are linked together, she and Wesley, linked by pheromones and electrical spasm memories and loneliness.

That, Illyria knows, is simply the science of things.