Disclaimer: Joss loves fanfic, but that still doesn't make it mine. g

Rating: PG

Spoilers: Angel 5x22 - "Not Fade Away" with some dialogue from 5x16 – "Shells" and 5x17 – "Underneath"

Summary: "And then there was her. It seemed his thoughts, even in death, always came back to her . . . ."

Author's Notes: This little post-finale ficlet was first published on my LJ. Normally I'm a steadfast S/B fan, so it's funny that my first posted Buffyverse story would be anything but. However, it begged to be written, now. Unbetaed and spur of the moment, which really isn't my style, but when that muse starts cracking the whip it starts to hurt after a while. (Oooh, a rhyme!) Love to know what you think.


by Rummi

One thing he would admit to – the Ether was certainly . . . ethereal.

Milky-white and weightless, without defining contours, and womb-warm.

He hadn't been afraid of what he'd find. Not really. Some part of him always knew there'd be something here – that Watcher portion of his brain who understood the vastness of things and catalogued the logistics of subsistence beyond death. There was that. And the evidence of all he had seen and done. The texts he'd read. The magicks he'd wielded.

But then there was also her. She had told him of its existence, promised of a place where the pain would end. But those words hadn't been whispered to the Watcher, who was already assured of such things, but to the Man – the mortal portion of his mind who was alone and frightened and infinitely less sure. The Man believed her assurances because the part of him who was Watcher knew they were true. But the flawed mortal part of him sought something else in her words that the other element struggled against. Asked for a lie that the pragmatic Watcher never would have sanctioned. And she had given it. As his last mortal thoughts swam in his head and her lovely face began to blur before his eyes, she'd said they'd be together here. With his last bit of consciousness, the Man believed her, even as the Watcher knew better.

And so, he found himself here. Though the idea of 'somewhere' was fairly certain, exactly where the soul would ultimately dwell was another question altogether, but one which, in all honesty, hadn't concerned him as greatly. Theoretically, there were any number of otherworldly planes in which a person's essence might finally reside, both heavenly and tormenting. With the recent influx of restored memories and his feelings of guilt over a long-forgotten betrayal, he wouldn't have been surprised if his ultimate destination had been one of the latter. So it was with no small amount of release that he initially allowed himself to be absorbed by the tranquil surroundings of this place. He felt formless, shapeless, – though still like himself. But most of all, he began to feel peace.

He was also fully aware of who he had been. There was no sleepy lethargy or indifference toward the still-turning world of the living. He was not simply basking in the aura of a blissful Heaven like some eternal Lotus-eater, content with nothing other than his own forgetfulness and happy indolence. He felt concern for what he'd left behind, and sorrow that he could no longer help them.

He felt some relief, though, at the fact that he could not sense the passing or the presence of any of the others yet. Which meant they were fighting on. That they may still defeat the Goliath who sought to crush them. He prayed for this – the only thing he had left to give them.

He felt some joy at the fact that when the battles (both literal and figurative) were over for those he had loved, he would sense many of them again. As he became acclimated to this plane, he could feel himself becoming aware of the presence of some of his loved ones already. Things were beginning to feel more solid, more real, less like floating in a warm milky pool, and more like he was standing on his own two feet again. He detected many presences at once. People he had loved – friends, family, . . . Cordelia. He could feel her, here somewhere, and he felt himself smile at the thought that he may see her soon. One day, perhaps his mother would enhance that feeling. Maybe even his father. Gunn. Other friends he had known in life. One day.

He felt a definite grief for those his heart told him he may never encounter again, those whose destinies were now separated from him forever. This plane would not be a likely reunion spot for vampires, even those with souls. Although that, he couldn't know for certain. At least not yet. Not while they were still fighting on. He knew with greater certainty he would not see Lilah here. No matter how she had changed, she was bound to forces stronger than his sorrow for her could ever break. Nor was he likely to encounter a certain Old One, a demon who hadn't been given a soul, but almost seemed to grow one through her inescapable connection with the dearest human being he had ever known.

And then there was her. It seemed his thoughts, even in death, always came back to her.

His mind recalled a cold truth, one he had faced with averse certainty following her death. Her soul, the purest and brightest and most dear in his life, had been utterly destroyed in reviving the demon who now inhabited the shell of her body.

Consumed by the fires of resurrection. Everything she was is gone.

This bitter reality staled the peace and beauty that surrounded him, knowing the one person who had deserved Paradise, who had earned Heaven, was lost to it forever. Not even a shred of existence left, as though she had never been. If torture was possible in Paradise, he'd found it. Perhaps it was what he deserved, after all – the knowledge that, however unworthy he may have been, he'd taken the place that should have been reserved for her, the Heaven that should have been hers. Illyria's lie had promised him this place, but to spend a blissful eternity without her meant damnation indeed. Making Heaven into his own Hell.

Yes, it was certainly what he deserved.

The Watcher in his brain hadn't been surprised. Though the stab of grief at the reality of what he already knew was no less severe, he hadn't expected otherwise, however much he hated it. The Man, on the other hand, still wished to desperately cling to the lie, a lie he had asked for. One he'd desperately needed in his last moments, but one that now stung more fiercely than the pierce of Vail's blade as it revealed itself for what it ultimately was. A pretty lie.

It won't hurt much longer. And then you'll be where I am. We'll be together.

He stood with head bowed, surrounded by ethereal beauty, knowing it would never be true. He felt love all around him, but inside he felt as hollow a shell as the one she had left behind. They wouldn't be together. He'd never be where she was, because she wasn't anywhere. And it would hurt . . . for eternity.

He tried to shrug off the loving caresses of this place, touching him everywhere, pleading with him to forget, to receive his own peace, the peace he had almost accepted which he now cast aside. The Watcher, knowing the order of things, would have taken it, but the Man no longer wished for serenity that had been bought with a lie. He tried to ignore the gentle touch of Heaven on his shoulder.

That is, of course, until Heaven spoke to him.

"You have a visitor."

His stomach clenched. Was that even still possible now? He was dead, yet he felt his gut swell and squeeze at the gentle pressure on his shoulder, slim fingers pressing shallow dents into his solidifying flesh. The milky haze around him began to part like a lifting fog and the overall formlessness of everything finally dissipated. His surroundings were still white, brilliantly white, but solid as the hand on his shoulder, very real.

His words came as though channeled through time and space, familiar words. "I thought I was in isolation."

Heaven's voice tinkled with subtle laughter, as if she found his statement amusing, especially in a place where love surrounded on all sides. "Whose fault is that?" she pointed out.

He continued to stare straight ahead, afraid to turn to the source of the voice, afraid to accept more pretty lies which now seemed to paint his world in so many colors that everything around him turned white. In this place of peace, he was afraid.

Until she spoke again. "Tell me a joke."

He felt his head tilt as though soothed by her simple request. Familiar again. His words came without thought. He had done this before. "Two men walk into a bar. The first man orders a scotch and soda. The second man remembers something he'd forgotten . . . ." He stopped. Without finishing the words that were scripted in his head he turned around. And the eyes he had been afraid to face, the eyes he'd feared would only serve to reinforce the lie he'd asked for the last time he'd seen them, the ones he'd thought would vanish and perpetuate his torment, . . . were right there. Watching him lovingly.

". . . But here you are," he concluded in little more than a breath.

She smiled. "You always know where you are."

He broke the scene, trailing his hand up to the fingers that still rested on his shoulder, touching them for reassurance, but never once breaking her gaze. "It was where to look for you . . . that I didn't know," he said, his voice choked with emotion. "Fred."

The peaceful serenity that had enveloped her also broke, her face splitting into one of those genuine, more natural and playful, smiles which only she could give. Fred's hand left his shoulder and touched his face, her eyes squinting with the beginnings of happy tears. "I missed you, Wesley," she said.

Wesley shook his head in disbelief, before hurriedly and frantically gathering her hands together in his. He kissed her knuckles and squeezed them tightly, casting his eyes down to the white floor to hide the tears which had begun to flow down his cheeks. Distantly, the Watcher wondered at how that was possible here -- tears in heaven -- but it was a phenomenon that would have to wait. The one that mattered was before him. He raised his eyes. "I never thought I'd see you," he whispered.

She smiled again, and Wesley noticed so many things at once: the warmth of her hands in his, the pinkish blush to her cheeks, the sparkle in her eyes – all things even Illyria had never possessed, even during her most convincing masquerade as Fred. This was real. This was her. But how? "I believed . . . I – I was told . . . ,"

Fred liberated one of her hands from his grasp and brought a finger to his lips. "They don't always know everything," she said. "Even if they think they do."

Wesley lowered his eyes, still not sure he could allow himself to believe what was happening. Afraid of what might happen if he did. Could he bear the anguish of seeing her, only to have her snatched away again? If that was to be his torment, he guarded his joy behind steel walls. If he didn't, and he lost her again, he'd be eternally broken. He looked back up into her dancing eyes.

"At the end," he said, "she'd told me that I'd see you, but I'd thought it was a lie." Unbidden, a flicker of hope emerged. He tried to force it down before it could be his undoing. Pretty, beautiful, radiant lies.

Fred smiled gently. "Illyria," she confirmed with a nod. "She would lie to you, Wesley. To help you. But parts of her are me." Then the smile disappeared and her face was filled with the same truthful emotion that she'd worn that day in his office, the day she'd first reciprocated his feelings. "She would lie. But I wouldn't."

The steel walls fell like those of Jericho.

And then she was in his arms, the perfect whirl of Paradise closing in all around them. For Wesley, the peace came back, and this time he didn't shut it out. The thing he'd imagined he'd lost forever had been returned to him, and he to her. He had never been, nor would he ever be, more grateful for any gift.

As she pressed to him, her body, her heart, he welcomed the wash of peace, love and completeness that Paradise offered. And this was only the first layer of their Heaven. Their Ether. Their Eternity.

Wesley couldn't wait to see how deep it went.

The End