Disclaimer: Want? Take. Have. Okay, just borrowing -- for entertainment and non-profit purposes only. In other words, Joss's world. Not mine.

Rating: PG

Pairing(s): Spike & Illyria friendship, implied S/B and I/W

Archive: I'd love to know if it's wanted. Drop me a line!

Author's Notes: Written as part of the And then… Post-NFA Ficathon for babyelvis, who wanted Spike and Illyria, some happiness, setting a future direction, and not a lot of angst. (Though I couldn't resist a little!) I hope the story does justice to anything you might have envisioned!

Several random references made, including various episodes of BtVS and AtS (through "Chosen" and "Not Fade Away"), as well as Shakespeare, Irving Berlin, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Summary: After the battle, Spike and Illyria share a moment…and a pack of cigarettes.

Life, Unfiltered
by N.L. Rummi

Silence surrounded him and yet he knew he wasn't alone. Funny how there was more anxiety in the stillness than in the clamoring roar of a demon horde. At least there you knew where you stood – in the middle of a pack of bloodthirsty monsters who wanted your head on a stick, but still. Some comfort in knowing what to expect. The quiet is where you have to worry. Where suspicion lies. No wonder Spike had always found comfort in a good, solid brawl.

For the time being, however, the only beastie stepping out of the silent shadows was the one whose presence he'd grown accustomed to months ago, one who'd practically been his shadow for the past few days. Her he would know a block away. All the other nasties seemed to have retreated to their corners for the moment.

Spike heard her behind him, but he didn't turn around. Not yet. He sat where he was, on a large block of fallen cement in the middle of the cluttered courtyard, which had been slightly overrun by dried weeds, crumbled masonry, and simple neglect. She did not address him either, though her presence lingered somewhere at his back for what felt like a very long time. Spike finally straightened a bit and turned his head in her direction, though not enough to see exactly where she was. "Goin' or stayin'?"

Illyria stepped around him, into his line of sight, her attention drawn, not to him, but to the brownish vines and weeds that blanketed part of a brick wall. It occurred to Spike that she had been attempting her Vulcan mind-meld with the shrubbery again. And not getting very far from the looks of it – especially since, even after the recent heavy rain, the plants still looked so dry that they might crumble to dust at the slightest touch. Place had to have been pretty neglected if even the creeping weeds wouldn't thrive. It had probably been a garden once, there was a smell of something that hinted at lingering jasmine, but it didn't look as though anyone had tended to it for a long time. Watching her regard the desiccated foliage, Spike snorted a bit. Illyria straightened stiffly as he addressed her again. "Double or nothin' that all they'd have to say anyway is, 'Leave us alone, lady, we're soddin' dead.'"

He placed a booted foot against one of the overturned wrought-iron lawn chairs and shoved it into an upright position. "If you're gonna be lurkin' about, might as well take a load off, Highness."

She faced him then, ice-blue eyes wide and unblinking, head tilting to the side with jerky birdlike movements. She regarded Spike in his seated position, his foot still resting against the chair he had righted for her, his own head tilted to match hers, though at a much softer angle. "I grow increasingly weary of your insolence," she muttered coldly. "You still fail to show me the respect I am due, Half-Breed."

Spike grinned. "We're all living in the same glass house, pet," he replied, casting his gaze up and down her slender human frame before returning to her eyes. "So I don't think you should be the one to throw stones. 'Sides, way I figure, you fought at my side tonight, I fought at yours. Makes us about equal now." He shoved the chair another inch toward her in invitation, causing a metallic screech to rent the otherwise quiet night from the scraping of iron against the flagstone, then allowed his foot to fall.

Illyria's eyes narrowed a bit, regarding him with a hint of suspicion, but she stepped forward and around the seat. After a moment's pause, she lowered herself somewhat robotically. Spike was amused by how gawky she looked doing something as simple as sitting in a chair. She didn't lounge, like most people. Her back was poker-straight, her legs bent at the knees, but stiff and together, and her hands seemed undecided as to whether or not they wanted to hang stringently at her sides, or settle upon her thighs. They ultimately chose the latter. Funny how, little over a century ago, her posture could have been that of a prim Victorian lady. Spike raised a curious eyebrow at the thought of Violet Beauregarde, here, in a big frilly hoop-dress with her hair all done-up in an elaborate pouf. Then he barely stifled a laugh.

After a few more jerky head movements, in which the ancient demon seemed to digest her new position and her new surroundings, as one might try on a new coat for the first time, she brought her eyes back to Spike. He was still grinning. "In my time, you would have never been my equal, Vampire, regardless of where you fought," she said, her tone harsh. "You may have found yourself favored among my warriors. Perhaps. But never my equal."

Spike's grin broadened and he chuckled, shaking his head. "That right? Well, wonders never cease," he said. "Since that's probably the closest I'll ever get to a compliment from you, I'd say that makes for the perfect end to what has otherwise been a pretty lousy night."

Illyria looked away from him and around the courtyard in which they sat. "I know this place," she murmured, her voice losing the jagged edge it had previously held, but still harboring an element of distaste. "The memory of it crawls beneath my skin. The Shell . . . Fred . . . she lived here. Before Angel aligned with the Wolf, Ram, and Hart."

Spike also glanced around. "Never been here, myself," he replied. "But I guess Angel used to own the place a while back." He shrugged. "Or maybe he still does, I dunno." Spike cast his eyes up to the night sky, which was starting to emerge from behind the clearing rain clouds. The stormy weather had begun to break at some point during the battle and was now clear enough to allow the view of a few stars. "Must've been a decent set of digs at the time. Though I'm surprised it's still standin' after the goings-on in the alley tonight." His eyes focused on the place where most of the rear wall of the courtyard had been flattened to nearly nothing, part of it burned away – still lightly smoking, regardless of its rain-soaked surface, with remnants of demon flesh reduced to a mucilaginous ooze coating the brick and ground.

When Peaches says he wants to slay a dragon, he doesn't screw around.

"I wish for Angel to return," Illyria said pointedly, interrupting Spike's thoughts. "I wish to know what has become of the one named Charles Gunn."

"He made it through the fight. That's saying something," Spike said. "Angel'll probably want to stay with him at the hospital just in case we haven't seen the last of the Senior Partners' severance package tonight. But I've got a feeling Charlie'll pull through."

"How can you know this?" Illyria demanded, jerkily tilting her head to look at him. Bloody hell, it was creepy when her eyes stared through him like that.

"Vampire," Spike droned, raising a hand to indicate himself. "We know a thing or two about how much blood a person can live on. Can smell it, most times. Gunn may have been runnin' on fumes when Angel carted him off to the ER, but he seemed to have enough. And he's a strong bloke. He might just luck out."

"Perhaps you have some uses I had not considered," Illyria said, as though she'd made a mildly interesting discovery.

"Call it a gift."

For a moment, Spike looked at the ancient goddess seated next to him on the crumbling patio of the near-dilapidated hotel. Illyria's hair was still damp and stringy from the rain. Pieces of it hung in her face like wavy ribbons, hiding some of the visible injuries she had received in the recent battle, though most of them had actually healed rather quickly. Spike's own wounds had begun to close as well, although not as fast as they might have if he'd had some blood on hand. But beggars couldn't be choosers. He'd have to make due with what he had for now. He reached into the pocket of his duster and pulled out a slightly crushed cardboard box.

Illyria eyed him curiously as his hands worked to unwind the cellophane coating from the small package. When he was finished, he crumpled the clear, crinkling wrapper in one fist, looked around for somewhere to put it, then allowed a casual 'what-the-hell' expression to wash over his face before unceremoniously dropping it to the ground. Some wind caught it and it rolled like a transparent tumbleweed across the cracked flagstones. Illyria watched as Spike straightened the crushed edges of the small box, which was marked with arcane writing and symbols that she did not recognize, then overturned it in his hand and beat it several times against his opposite palm. When he had completed that task, he flipped the lid of the box open and drew out a single thin cylindrical object, little more than the length of a human finger. He placed the object between his lips, closed the box, and put it back inside the pocket of his leather coat.

Spike could feel her eyes intently on him. He reached into his other pocket and pulled out a cheap Bic lighter. He frowned at the fluorescent green thing. Nowhere near as nice as his silver one had been, but that one probably dusted when he did back in Sunnydale last spring. Or maybe he'd left it somewhere. Too bad, he thought. It'd been a good one. He stroked his thumb across the wheel of the lighter repeatedly. It took several tries to ignite it, and the life span of the flame was sporadic and unreliable. When he finally got it to a consistent burn, he raised it to his mouth.

"I do not understand this ritual," Illyria said. Spike turned his attention to her and the meager flame extinguished.

"Bloody hell," he muttered with an ironic quirk to his mouth as he realized he'd have to fight the lighter again. Probably his most stubborn opponent all night. He glanced back at Illyria and removed the item from his mouth to show her. "Just a little something to take the edge off, love. Bought them in case we won – victory cigarettes, you know. Most folks spring for cigars when there's somethin' to be celebratin', but me . . . ," He placed the cigarette back between his lips. ". . . never much cared for the phallic imagery of the things."

Illyria's head jerked to the side as she stared intently at the 'see-gar-et' hanging loosely from Spike's bottom lip. Her hand reached toward it in a slight inching spasm, then lowered once again to her lap as her gaze returned to his face. "This is how your kind celebrates victory over an enemy." It wasn't so much a question as a reiteration, as she tried to understand his reasons for what he had been doing.

"'S how I plan on it, at least," he shrugged, mumbling around the object in his mouth. "Way I see it, this is my second Legion of Hell in as many years. I can stand to indulge in a vice or two."

"So this is . . . pleasurable for you." Illyria looked uncertain.

"Haven't smoked since Sunnydale, t'be honest," Spike said. "Couldn't, at first, because of the whole, ghosty thing. After that," he shrugged again, "hadn't given it much thought, really. But then all day today, thinking ahead to what was going to happen tonight, I guess I figured what the hell. So I stopped off and got a pack after leaving the—" He broke off for just a moment. "—bar that I was at. Thought, if I made it through tonight's brawl, it was another way of reclaiming parts of me that I'd lost over this last year thanks to the W-&-H."

"Therefore you light fire to a brown and white stick in your mouth," Illyria mused. "This helps one to reclaim himself?"

Spike smirked. "Bit more to it than that, Bluebell." He dug back into his pocket and retrieved the cardboard box, flipping the lid open with his thumb. "Care to try for yourself?"

Illyria immediately jerked back and stared past him into the night sky, her movements large and bombastic. "I do not partake in the celebration rituals of subservients."

Spike shrugged and closed the box's lid, moving to pocket it again. "Suit yourself," he said. "Prob'ly just as well. It tends to be too much for lots of first-timers."

The ancient one's eyes flew back to him then, burning an icy fire straight into his face. Spike continued to smirk and, as if reading her mind, flipped the box lid back open. His eyes twinkled with challenge. Illyria reached smoothly toward the pack, keeping her gaze on him as though daring him to pull it away, took hold of one of the cigarettes and swiftly whisked it from the box. Spike shut the lid and buried the pack in his pocket once more, smiling all the while. This infuriated her.

Illyria removed her eyes from the vampire and skeptically examined the object in her hands. It was light, spongy to the touch when slightly squeezed, and seemed to be wrapped in a kind of white paper. It also appeared to be filled with dried brown herbs, similar to the silent dead vines which climbed the walls around her in the courtyard. But darker and richer in color. She smelled the thing. Sweet. Almost like the tea Wesley used to make. That scent, at least, pleased her. As did the memory it evoked. She straightened in her chair. She would try the thing – partake in the underling's victory ritual.

Her eyes narrowed at Spike. "There is nothing you can do, Half-Breed, that Illyria cannot."

Spike grinned and held up the lighter. "How very Annie Oakley of you."

"Begin the ritual."

After several strokes of the wheel, a flash of orange fire reflected against the glacial torpor of Illyria's eyes. She placed one end of the object between her lips, as Spike had done, and jutted her chin in his direction, an implied gesture of defiance, as though mocking him for ever believing that the great Illyria would refuse a challenge posed by someone her lesser. Another grin, and the vampire touched the tip of the flame to the round thing in her mouth. The edges of the paper curled against the fire and lightly began to smolder.

"Gotta inhale, pet."

She did, and was rewarded by a much more intense glow upon the tip of the smoldering object. For a moment, she found herself intrigued. Far less pleasant, however, was the burning sensation that immediately followed, a feeling like she had just drawn into herself the very fire Spike had offered. The roll of flame cascaded down the esophageal passageway of the human shell she inhabited, making her feel as pyrophoric as the dragon who had destroyed the far wall. The sweet tea-scent quickly vanished, replaced by a poisoned smoky stench that curled into her nostrils from the flaming tip of the object. Illyria sat stiffly, holding the coursing burn within her, staring at Spike as though he was the betraying Judas who had brought forth her destruction.

Spike leaned back upon the masonry that served as his chair, utterly amused at the sight of Illyria -- god-king of the most ancient epochs, ravager of worlds, mistress of time, . . . bloody cigarette virgin. Her shoulders were practically wrapped around her pretty blue ears as she held her breath, fag clutched tightly between pursed lips, eyes wide, accusatory, and thoroughly incensed.

Spike casually brought the lighter to his own cigarette, lit the end, inhaled briefly, then, by way of demonstration, plucked the object from his mouth with two fingers and exhaled the smoke in a thin stream.

Illyria wasted no time mimicking his actions. She pinched the cigarette roughly between two fingers, nearly crushing it, pried it from between her puckered lips and blasted the buildup of smoke into the open air of the terrace. She shot a scorchingly critical look from the object in her tight grip to Spike, who sat back grinning devilishly at her as he nonchalantly took another drag. "You . . . ," she grated, her voice harsh, "you traitorous subversive! I aligned with you this night, Half-Breed, and you have killed me with toxin!"

Spike was laughing.

"Now don't get all 'et tu, Brute' on me, Highness. I warned you the first go-'round was a bit rough. And even so, I don't think the Surgeon General's warning quite applies to demon queenies with pre-liquefied innards."

Illyria appeared affronted. Her eyes widened more than it appeared possible. "You mean this . . . ," She cast her eyes back to the offending relic in her grasp. "The sensation created by this fire-brand – the blaze of unquenched flame in my chest, the tang of pestilence, the foul stink – is the entire purpose of this ritual?"

"One gets used to it." Spike's eyes twinkled at her again as he took another over-exaggerated drag and picked a stray fleck of tobacco from the tip of his tongue.

"Such a small thing, yet my senses are overcome. The abysmal stench. A miasma of ordure. And the taste, like a virulent poison in my body."

"That'd be the tar," Spike interjected. "These are unfiltered."

"They make me feel vile."

"Yeah," Spike sighed with some satisfaction. "And after a brawl like tonight's -- iron-clad proof that one's still alive, innit?"

Illyria stilled, her eyes narrowing ever so slightly. Then, distributing uncertain glances between the vampire at her side and the dented cigarette between her fingers, she tentatively raised the object to her lips again and placed it between them. She pulled it away before she had barely kissed it, but had inhaled enough to create a thin line of smoke as she breathed out. She made a face that suggested her disgust, but said nothing.

Spike smiled again and turned back to his own cigarette, pulling upon it and flicking some ashes onto the ground, watching Illyria mirror his actions. He allowed a few silent minutes to hang in the air of the yard before speaking again. "You did good tonight, by the way."

Illyria very nearly growled in response. "My thirst for violence has not been fully sated."

"Is it ever?" he asked rhetorically.

She glanced at him. "Your performance was commendable as well, Vampire," she said after a moment. "Yours. And Angel's. Even the human Gunn."

Spike shrugged. "Probably helped that Angel was able to trick the dragon into frying some of its own teammates before he took it down. Though it would've been nice if he could've kept it from singeing the leather." His gaze drifted to a rough swirly patch of somewhat melted hide at the elbow of his duster. "As for me . . ." He took another drag with a slight shake of his head. ". . . they weren't the toughest baddies 've ever faced. Wolfram & Hart must hire their autonomic fodder in bulk. Übervamps, last year, were tougher."

"Über-vamps," Illyria mused, touching the cigarette to her lips again, this time pulling a little longer upon it. "You speak of the Turok-Han," she realized, tilting her head at him. "They were of my time. Brutal. Animalistic. Disgusting . . . but fine warriors."

Spike shot her an irritated glare. "Says you," he retorted. "They may have been the First Evil's fair-haired boys, but add one very determined Slayer, twenty-odd brassed-off wannabes, and a sparkly bauble from the Liz Taylor collection borne by yours truly and the lot of them folded like a cat-lover on poker night."

Illyria stared at him dubiously. "I am quite familiar with the First Evil," she said, taking another draw from the cigarette, this time with only a shadow of revulsion. "You cannot have defeated it. It isn't possible."

"Well, that much is obvious, pet," Spike drawled in reply. "If completely destroying the thing had been a possibility, then we wouldn't be sittin' here right now, would we? And the world would be that 'beautiful, happily-ever-after, candy mountain place where all our dreams come true.' No," he muttered around the cigarette as he placed it in his mouth. "Didn't say that Buffy and I beat The First. Just its army."

"Buffy," Illyria said matter-of-factly. "The Slayer who is the subject of both your and Angel's lustful infatuation."

Spike's eyes narrowed to angered slits. He removed the cigarette from his mouth and released a cloud of smoke from between his lips, heedless of the fact that it drifted directly into Illyria's face. The ancient goddess didn't flinch. "Wasn't lust," he said pointedly. "Not all of it."

"You feel . . . love for her, then."

His eyes dropped to focus on a very interesting crack in the flagstone. "Loved, yeah."

"Do not be diffident with me, Vampire," Illyria said brusquely, taking another drag on the cigarette, this time barely registering any unpleasantness on her face. "You love her still. It rolls off of you in waves. I sensed the same in Wesley whenever he looked at this body."

Spike was quiet.

Illyria cocked her head several times, taking in his profile. "I would be able to arrange for you to see her," she said.

That got Spike's attention. "What do you mean?"

Illyria placed the cigarette between her lips and took a slow draw upon it before answering him, allowing the smoke to escape into a cloudy mist around her head and keeping her gaze locked onto Spike's. He tilted his head. Didn't take Bluebird long to get the hang of it, that's for damn sure. Got the look of a bloody pro.

"A simple alteration of my form," she finally answered. "I appear as I choose, as I informed Wesley. I wished to further explore this concept of human love with him, but my assumption of the Burkle persona displeased him. He did not wish to see it . . . until the end." She paused. "He asked to see it then."

Spike pursed his lips thoughtfully, thinking of how frightening, how lonely, the young former Watcher's last moments must have been for him to ask for such a thing. He brought his cigarette back to his lips.

"My reaction to Wesley's death increases my desire to delve into this phenomenon of love," Illyria continued. "It is a strange emotion. It tastes of sorrow, but is still more pleasant than the odium of grief. I will assume the form of your Buffy and you can show me what I wish to know."

Spike stared at her for a moment, removing the cigarette from this mouth again and flicking ashes from the tip. He wanted to be angry at the demon woman for even making such a suggestion. Wanted to curse at the presumptuous bird for assuming he'd jump at the chance to have at it with a substandard look-alike. Wanted to shudder at the idea of interacting with what would essentially be just another bloody 'bot. Wanted to do or say a lot of things. But what he did, was something he hadn't expected.

He smiled. Not a sarcastic grin, but a genuine smile. Because he realized her offer was not about him. It was about her. Demon or not, the woman across from Spike was posturing, covering her pain. Illyria the ancient goddess, in her own way, missed Wesley, a human. In her own way, she'd loved him.

Spike could never fault her. Not for that. Because it was a situation he recognized all too well.

"Not that I don't appreciate the offer, pet," Spike said finally, gently, "and don't get me wrong, it is a tempting one, at that. I'm just not sure it'd be such a good idea."

Behind Illyria's ice-blue eyes, she appeared wounded. "Explain," she said. "I do not understand the human desire to remain detached from something that they love when it is taken from them. I cannot comprehend the way you discard the comfort of familiarity when it is offered."

Spike continued to smile softly. The goddess's voice had wavered as she spoke and she'd quickly turned her head to focus wholly on inhaling the last vestiges of her cigarette. She hadn't been kidding when she'd said she'd become more human – though Spike wasn't sure it was due to that Mutari-whatzit of Wes's as much as it was to Fred's lingering influence, her spirit, the part of her soul which could never be destroyed regardless of what those know-it-alls said. Illyria was indeed more human, and she was grieving.

"So," Spike said, taking another drag and tilting his head to catch her eye, "you're sayin' you'll be Buffy for me, if I'll be Wes for you . . . ."

"Impossible," Illyria muttered. "You cannot be him. Wesley is dead. There will never be another. Your body would be nothing more than a substitute."

"I think," Spike concluded, "you just answered your own question, then, love."

Illyria looked at him then, her face blank and her head tilting jarringly again, as though the twitching movement aided her thought process.

"Besides," Spike added in an afterthought, "who says I'm gonna stay detached forever? One thing an averted apocalypse will teach you, it's how to make the most of the time you've got." He took one final drag on his cigarette and dropped it to the ground, crushing the smoldering butt beneath the toe of his boot. "The Slayer is capable of a lot of impressive feats, but one thing Buffy was never very good at . . . was getting rid of me." He offered Illyria a roguish wink. "Don't tell Angel, of course."

Illyria continued to stare at him for a moment, then dropped her own cigarette onto the flagstone, twisting her leather-armored foot upon it. When she finished, she offered Spike a smile of her own. It was strange-looking and more than a little creepy at first, but it reached all the way to her eyes in a surprising – and oddly human – kind of way.

With a chuckle, Spike reached into the pocket of his duster and retrieved the box of cigarettes again, flipping the lid open. "Come to think of it, Blue, you wanna learn a thing or two about amore, there's this certain immortal Italian hunk-o'-man. Thinks he's God's gift to women." He drew out a second cigarette and placed it between his lips as he fished into the other pocket for his lighter. "I'd love to see him try to take you on."

Illyria's eyes flashed. "I am a god, Vampire," she announced haughtily. "The gods of gods trembled at the name of Illyria. Show me this male creature who presumes to curry favor in my name. I would crush his skull into paste before he could ever venture to solicit me."

Spike grinned even more broadly than before. "A sight I'd gladly pay to see, pet. Bloke's a bloody wanker." He lit the second cigarette. "And it'd certainly help me with my own love troubles, besides."

Illyria watched him as he drew the new cigarette out of his mouth, casting a stream of smoke into the night air as he replaced the lighter into his pocket. Her face was, again, a blank mask. "Such unpleasantness," she mused, her eyes traveling from Spike to the wrecked terrace around them, to the dark sky, and finally back to the cigarette dangling from between his fingers. "Such vileness and ichor." She eyed the smoking object, her head twitching and birdlike. "Yet you go back for more."

Spike shrugged with a stoical quirk to his mouth, taking another long drag. "Guess that's the thing, innit?" he said, knowing that it wasn't really the cigarettes to which she was referring. "But sometimes it's all the bad that makes the good stuff worth it. After this I'll have to introduce you to spicy buffalo wings." He turned from her as he spoke, going back to his fag and resting his arms upon his knees as he took in the night around him.

It was a decent night, all things considered. And the city not burning down around his ears as a result of the latest apocalypse is always a plus.

After a few minutes, he sensed Illyria straighten further in her chair, inching forward to sit on the very edge of the wrought-iron seat. She lifted her chin as she addressed him. "Spike," she said authoritatively, "I wish to have another 'see-gar-et'."

Smirking, and without looking at her, the vampire dug back into his pocket.

Thought you might.

The End