Disclaimer: None of the characters are mine. They belong to Mutant Enemy, so moving on...
Author's Notes: Okay, so I'm not sure about this one, but what the heck, here it is. It takes place in the seven (or so) years following "Not Fade Away," so there are spoilers straight through. (Not sure if this matters anymore, but ah well.) I hope the tenses are clear, because I've never written in more than one tense in the same story! Basically it is all reminscing until the end, when it reverts to the present.
Oh, and for anyone reading "Sacrifice," I'm working on it. That lastest chapter was not the end...
He is hers now.
He has been ever since that day years ago when he woke in his own bed, knife-ripped body sending out a dull scream of pain, to find her crouched over him. She'd claimed ownership in no uncertain terms, speaking into his face while she cradled it between her hands.
"I've brought you back and you are mine," she'd said, silencing his questions with the firm gravity in her voice. "You're under my protection."
It was an offer she'd made countless times in countless years, that he knew well. Illyria—the Dread Protector—only one of the reams of titles for her found in the forbidden texts. Protection for submission. Accept or be destroyed.
"And if I refuse? Will you just do away with me then?"
She'd frowned at his weary joke, head tilting slowly. He was not sure then how badly he even wanted to live, and she must have known it.
"I might," she'd answered.
She'd been joking, too. He'd wondered when she had learned to do that.
The questions had come in a torrent those first few weeks, swarming in his brain like gnats. He'd had some idea of having died, but it was all too vague and unreal for him to wrap his mind around. In retrospect, it was probably better that way. Illyria had offered no explanations and refused to do so, so he'd had to make meager discoveries on his own. His wound had been sealed closed-- mystically, by the looks of it—that much he could tell. Even so, he'd been by no means fully healed, and would have certainly died for a second time had not Illyria tended him so thoroughly as she had.
The idea of a hospital probably did not occur to her, but even if it had he would have received no finer care than he did in her hands. For the first few days-- when he'd still been slipping in and out of a pain-hazed consciousness-- he woke every time to her unblinking eyes upon him, to a cool cloth bathing him. He could only imagine what she must have thought of some of the more unpleasant aspects of his nursing, and he'd mentioned that one day. It came out more caustically than he'd intended, and his words were met with indignance, tinged perhaps with hurt.
"I told you that you are under my protection. Do you think I will not care for my own?"
He'd thought then, briefly, of Knox. Illyria had looked after him well enough for the short time he'd served her, but the young priest's death at his own hand had scarcely merited a second glance from the newly-arrived god-king. Knox's death had been an annoyance to her, if that.
But he, Wesley, she cared about, and for. His every human need she'd provided in abundance.
Three times a day there'd been a spoon against his lips, and her voice in his ear all but commanding him to eat every bit of the oatmeal she offered. She'd sounded as if she were ordering an army in the field rather than coaxing a wounded man to accept food into a sometimes unwilling stomach, and so he did not refuse her. It was difficult going at first. Illyria's hands had still been new to her after millennia of tentacles and talons, and they'd been hardened for war—though he'd noticed very early on that she'd let the gloves of her body armor dissolve back. Her skin beneath them was cool, dry, and much softer than he'd expected. Even so, gentle touches were unknown territory, and she'd often been too rough, causing him to gag on the spoon. The grain cereal was completely unsweetened, and after several days of it he'd no longer been able to hide his distaste at the bland flavor. At that time eating was a new concept to Illyria—up until the draining of her powers she had been able to generate her own energy—and the idea of food tasting pleasant as well as nourishing the body was simply not something she had given thought to. He'd said nothing, not wanting to hurt her—still remembering the time when he would say anything to hurt her. She'd caught on as time passed, adding dried cranberries for flavor. Eventually she'd given him broth as well, holding it in her own mouth first to make sure it was not too hot for him.
One day when she'd eased the spoon in, his lips-- cracked and dry as they were from sickness-- had bled into the broth. She'd looked so upset that it was a wonder, and he'd almost smiled until he realized exactly how distressing the situation was for her. He'd been hurt while in her care, on her watch, and the idea was insupportable to her. Gently, he'd told her where she could find some petroleum balm, and she'd left with such urgency one might have thought that her errand was in a different dimension. There wasn't any balm in his apartment, but the next time he awoke he could feel the thick, waxy emollient on his lips, applied liberally and very soothing. He'd wondered if she'd gone into the shop as Fred but stopped the train of thought as quickly as it had come. She never nursed him as Fred, though he imaged she would have if he'd asked. He hadn't. The night she had held him as he lay dying would be the last time he would ever see the image of his lost love. It would remain always in his heart and mind as a beautiful waking dream.
He'd instructed Illyria too as best he could manage on the dressings and potions she could prepare to relieve his pain and aid his healing... and her own. It had taken two days for his eyes to clear at first, but when they had he'd noticed not a few gashes upon her, shredding right through the thick leather armor that encased her form. She hadn't taken the time to tend them, and caked blood lined the torn edges. He'd noticed also the way she favored one leg, how she tried to hide winces of pain as she clutched at the cage of her ribs. He'd assumed she'd received the wounds in some further battle with the forces of the Senior Partners, though it amazed him that she had come away with such relatively minor injuries. It wasn't until her hair fell back one afternoon that he'd seen a particularly nasty cut gaping across her neck, with only a soaked bandage loosely covering it. It would have killed a human instantly, and even with a healing paste applied daily it was slow to close. He knew from her incident with Hamilton that the paste, coupled with her super-human strength, should have healed her within a few minutes, so when the second neck wound took days he'd known fully how she had suffered. It hadn't helped that she never allowed herself a full rest. Sleep was also a new requirement for her after losing her powers, though in a much more limited manner than humans. She'd been awake whenever he was, and if the needs of his body were all tended she would lie beside him and read to him. Her voice was made for poetry, he discovered.
When he'd asked about her hurts she would not explain, only to tell him that she had undergone trials in order to win him back. That was very like her, for despite her tender care of him she was not so selfless that she would not want him to know of his debt to her. He'd been full of questions as soon as he was aware enough to ask them, but she would tell him little at first. His friends had survived the battle and defeated the Circle, she would say, but would not offer detail. Gunn had been gravely wounded but was healed and moving about. Angel was eager to have him back at work at the Hyperion when he was well again. Spike had decided to stay; Lorne had made his peace with the gang but chose to start fresh in another city. They were all under the radar of the Senior Partners, but not much more than before. She'd not said more than that, and he'd known it was because she did not want any distress hindering his recovery.
She would not tell him either why there had been sand stinging at the seal of his knife wound when he first awoke in the apartment, or why dark bone-bruises spread across much of his body, or why his entire being felt rattled. He had died of a single vicious knifing and bled his life out onto cold hard tile—so what had happened afterwards?
He still does not know exactly how long his recovery had taken, only that she'd never left his side, and that, save for the brief visits she'd allowed his friends, they were alone for the whole of it in his dim apartment bedroom. Perhaps it was because of that that she'd finally let her shields down, and no longer had she attempted to conceal her concern for him.
Or her love.
The realization that she loved him had hit harder than the punch of Vail's knife in his gut. How could it be? He hadn't been able to fathom it-- how an Old One, to whom love was a low, weak emotion found only in lower beings, could feel such for him, but her love was strong and certain. It could not all be memories, could not all be the influence of Fred. He hadn't understood any of it, save to know that he'd wished he could deny it away.
He did not love her in return. His heart had not been hers, even if she did claim all of him. He could not love her, knowing even that her killing of Fred had not been malicious, not even sentient. She was still the instrument of his beloved's death. He'd still mourned Fred too deeply—he could not have loved any other woman then, let alone the creature who had hollowed her out and crawled inside. It was not until he'd discovered the truth about her re-birth that the binding around his heart could even begin to loosen.
The truth had come, as it usually did to him, in a book. He'd kept the source book from Wolfram and Hart, and once he was well enough to hold the heavy tome on his chest he'd gone right back to perusing it for hours. The most ancient annals were full of passages concerning Illyria, once one knew where to look, but any mention of her defeat and death was strangely absent. He could only suppose it was because she was such a great power that to speak of her downfall would be the most gross form of disrespect. Nevertheless, one long afternoon, he had found it. Two pages of text and an ancient engraving that was captioned 'The Death of Illyria.' The image was horrific, all thrashing tentacles and anguished screams and the triumphant twisting smiles of the victors. He'd stared at it numbly, wondering how that tortured monster could be the Illyria he knew, who at that very moment had been burning her fingers trying to make his lunch in the microwave.
What had caught his eye next were the grouped, robed figures in the background, and what looked like a chant he found inscribed on the opposite page. He'd quickly asked for an English translation, scanned the pages at a gulp... and felt his entire view of her turn over like a lump in his stomach. When Illyria came in a few minutes later with his food he'd shown the pages to her, starving for confirmation.
Her reaction had been far worse than he'd expected. Dropping the bowl onto the floor with a steaming clatter, she'd torn the book from his hands and flung it into the wall—into it– sending bits of plaster flying in all directions.
"Blasphemy!" she'd snarled, reminding him that she was still that creature in the book, no matter that he couldn't see it. "All lies!"
She might have gone on had he not spoken, his voice full of grave discovery. "You didn't do it."
"What do you speak of?" Her eyes had flashed, and her voice went guttural.
"Your escape plan—your re-birth. Turning your essence parasitic. Arranging to have your sarcophagus teleported back to Vahla Ha'Nesh. You didn't plan any of it. Your priests did—that was the chant. You didn't know their intentions until you were dying."
He'd expected another outburst, but it didn't come. Illyria only waited a long moment, then nodded.
Suddenly it had all made sense, all the pieces sliding and locking into place. Illyria was far too arrogant to have ever planned an escape—the idea of her own defeat would not have even occurred to her. Her priests were not so high-minded. He'd already learned that turning an essence of an Old One parasitic had been a very common practice—without it, the essence slept forever in its sarcophagus and there was no fear of its escape. Had not so many of the essences been in parasitic form, there would have been no need for a guardian of the Deeper Well. That explained why, even though she hadn't planned her escape specifically, she'd known exactly what had happened to her upon her re-birth. She'd known of the plan as she was dying, and he could imagine it had suited her at the time... but she had not done it.
Illyria was guiltless of Fred's death. He'd known all along that she'd killed Fred but not murdered her—Knox and Sparrowe had done that. She'd killed her in the form of a dormant virus, with no more malice or knowing than a virus. She would have infected a fruit fly had it been the first thing in contact with her essence-- infected any living thing, or any dead one. Still, he had always thought that at some point, countless years before, she had known she would kill something or someone. But the new knowledge had changed all that.
When someone kills your loved one with a gun, you can't hate the bullet that was used to do it. Or you can—but it is pointless. And that was all Illyria had been—the bullet.
Of course she had known that all along, but it certainly wasn't something she would have been likely to admit—not until it mattered. That she had not forged some great escape plan but had instead found herself tossed about by the whims of fate just like any small human... it had been too great a blow to her pride.
"Why didn't you tell me before?" he'd asked her, hurting disbelief creasing his features.
"At first I did not care enough," she admitted. "And when I did care... would it have mattered? Would it have changed anything?"
She'd been right, of course. He's found that she usually is. She'd ruled the world for millennia after all, and that didn't come without some amount of wisdom.
"It wouldn't have. But now..."
"It does," she'd answered softly.... and once again her eyes had asked him the question she was too proud to say aloud.
He'd turned away with a barely audible 'no.'
Even so, that was the day that he'd truly begun to look on her and not see the thing that killed Fred. In fact, as the days went by and he'd returned to work at last, she began to look less and less like Fred at all.
Though Illyria was blameless, he discovered in time that she regretted what her re-birth had caused—or had come to regret. Certainly when she first appeared she had not—one human death to her had been meaningless, and his grief over that death both infuriating and repugnant. That had changed, though outwardly she behaved much the same. He'd had no intimation of her feelings at all until the day he caught her staring at framed photo of Winifred he kept on his dresser. 'A brave warrior,' was all she'd said before she lifted her chin and walked away from him, utterly failing to hide her obvious emotion. He'd known then that she cared for Fred, perhaps even mourned her. It was not so hard to believe. They shared the same body, the same memories... the same love. Illyria knew Fred as no one else could, and he even suspected, as time went on, that she loved her memory.
She had not left him, that day, but had stopped, looking over her shoulder at him.
"I would return her to you if I could, Wesley."
"It would probably kill you," he'd replied, almost dully. He'd thought it a pretty consolation—nothing but words. He'd long since given up any hope by then.
"I would return her," Illyria repeated.
The realization that she was serious brought out a new surge of near-crazed desperation in him. Of course he had tried to restore Fred before, back at Wolfram and Hart, but Illyria's willingness had seemed to open up fresh opportunities. She had always been a block before, and most of the specialists he'd called in had been too terrified of her power to help much. They'd stammered out that he soul was gone, then backed away wide eyed mumbling of Old Ones, bowing and scraping. Their testimony, coupled with Sparrowe's, had convinced him that his beloved Fred was gone forever.
With Illyria's help he'd sent for every reader, seer, sorcerer, wizard, and witch... and they all told the same thing as before. Fred's soul was singed away, gone. The last of these powerful beings was his trusted friend Willow, and though she too had sadly told him that the soul was burned out, she'd offered one variation. There was an imprint of the soul on Illyria's essence, she told him—not one that could be drawn out or made to be Fred again—but there, like a brand burned into hide. She had known Fred, after all, and could sense the traces of her that remained. Fred's influence, part of her spirit, was forever seared to Illyria. All that was left of her existed in the demoness who lived in her skin.
He hadn't taken as much note of that as he should have, focusing only on the utter truth that Fred could not be brought back, never be brought back. He'd accepted that fact long before, but the second dashing of his hopes, however faint, had shattered his heart into shards all over again. He'd held out until Willow left, then broke into sobs that seemed to rack his body apart. Winfred was gone. Gone. Terrible finality.
Illyria had seated herself beside him—awkwardly—and let him cry out his final goodbye on her shoulder, then in her arms. She'd comforted him, even knowing that had the news been different, he would have left her and run straight to Fred.
"I imagine this disgusts you," he'd said, turning away. It certainly would have disgusted his father, who looked on tears as the most revolting display of manlessness and weakness.
"No." A long, silent moment had passed. "This I did when you were taken from me."
She'd wept. He'd had no idea that she even had tear ducts, let alone inclination enough to use them. Then he'd remembered her goodbye to him, as Fred. Really, underneath, that had been Illyria herself, weeping. Giving words of comfort and love. She loved him.
And sometime in the next year, growing more every day, he had felt himself want to start to love her.
Every fibre of his being had revolted at the thought. She was the last woman—if she could be called a woman—on the face of the earth whose feelings he should return. He'd berated himself with what Fred would think, if she still existed to see it. It wasn't until then that Willow's words had begun to sink in. What existed of Fred was in Illyria, was Illyria. It was through Illyria that Fred lived on. Perhaps she wasn't the last person he should love... but the only person he could ever love, after Fred. Loving her could be loving Fred, in its way... and yet completely different. He would be loving Illyria, too, and he could feel himself drawing closer to her. But it was just too difficult, his heart too battered from loss.
He'd kept himself from her until the day he learned how she had brought him back from death, and then he couldn't hold back for one more day.
She'd gone through trials—that was all she had ever told him. Occasionally she would vary slightly—she had fought, she would say. He'd known all along she was hiding something, leaving out some incredibly crucial detail. Illyria, for all the changes she had undergone, was as massively self-possessed as ever. Had she overcome some great test of strength or fierce battle to win him back—and he was sure it had been difficult— she would have never let him forget the fact—let anyone forget it, for that matter. He would be indebted to her and she would see to it that he knew it. No doubt she would have added it as well to the long list of titles and accomplishments that she so loved to recite at any given opportunity. But she was silent, and when he would not leave the subject alone she all but went into a tirade. Once she smashed her hand through a tabletop. Spike had found himself smashed with her fist when he wouldn't leave well enough alone one afternoon. Having gone through trials to win his soul, he'd probably wanted to share war stories. Those two were not a bad match, and he'd often wondered, back then, why Illyria had not chosen the vampire warrior over him.
She'd never told any of them what happened. When he'd found out a little more than a year later, the tale came not from her lips but from those of a captured demon emissary of the Wolf, Ram, and Hart. He'd offered it with a smile, clearly enjoying the terrible story as it unfolded.
And terrible it was.
"She was taken alive, you know," the demon had begun the story as he sat there bound. Wesley hadn't, though he felt sure Angel, Spike, and Gunn would have told him so had they knew. They must not have either, which was strange... and foreboding. "I oversaw it myself, and let me tell you—it wasn't my idea. Killing her would have been easier. Took two centaurs pinning her arms down and a whole rabble to get her loaded up. Killed some of my favorite troops." The emissary didn't look overly bothered. He'd laughed, in fact. "She was worked up—and all over your death. You should have seen her tearing that army apart in your name." Scanned him. "Not sure why that was worth it."
"Thank you," he'd answered, managing to infuse a bit of sarcasm despite what felt like a hard bit of ice rotating in his stomach. Illyria had been taken alive. Being a prisoner would have been far worse to Illyria than death.
"But it was my orders. 'The Old One who has betrayed her kind is to be brought to us.'"
To the Senior Partners themselves, he'd realized at once. She'd fought against the Wolf, Ram, and Hart themselves? When he thought of that, his stomach had turned from merely cold to nearly sick with dread.
The dread was well warranted.
It seemed that the Senior Partners had been really very enraged by the destruction of the Circle and their army, and they'd wanted revenge. Revenge... and a bit of entertainment. They'd thrown a party of sorts at which to lick their wounds, and what better entertainment than to watch their former adversary dangle?
"The trouble with it was," the demon chortled, "she was so inconveniently uncooperative." Facing certain death in a fair fight she would have had no compunction against. But to dishonor herself, to fight for the pleasure of her hated enemies, she would not ever have agreed to. And so they had battered her around a bit—standard procedure, the emissary had informed him—but she remained unconvinced—and even more furiously angry. "The guards had a horrible time with her. They hit her and hit her but it was like she didn't even feel it. Had to give up—she was killing too many of them, even all tied up how she was. Not that the Partners cared about that... but they really do hate a waste."
And so they'd made her an offer—if she fought for their guests for ten minutes and lived, they would return Wesley. They'd provided his body on the spot, to show her they were serious, then laughed cruelly when she could not hide the grief that coursed through her features. And just to be sporting, they'd said, they would make this Wesley Wyndam-Pryce immortal. It meant little to them, this offer, for they would not of course have expected Illyria to survive. Offering immortality for the human that she had inexplicably fallen in love with only sweetened the pot for them—it was so much more amusing to watch her hope be crushed along with her body.
He had been thunderstruck at that point, listening to the demon revel in his tale. Illyria had never told him he was immortal, immortally youthful, like Angel and Spike and she herself. It would have had to have come out eventually. Why had she not told him something so incredibly, life-changingly important? Even now he is still coming to terms with it-- its magnitude.
And he wonders, from time to time, if she would have signed the agreement had his immortality not been a part of the bargain. Illyria is no fool. It seems a bit unbelievable that she would go through such a hell only for what well could be a very limited number of years with him.
But then again, perhaps she would have. He'll probably never know, for that day is one thing that Illyria has not talked about with him.
When he'd heard the rest of the story, he'd known why. He knew also why she would never answer questions, why she could not stand anyone's eyes resting on the scar that twisted across her neck.
Illyria had signed the agreement the Partners' emissary held out to her, scrutinizing every detail before dipping her gloved fingers in some of her own dripping blood and making the ancient symbols that spelled out her name. She'd signed and then been led out not into some throne room or chamber as she had probably expected but into an arena, filled with thousands of beings come to watch her fate. Those from races that had once worshipped her shrieked in laughter at her—a roar of laughter. It rose and made the ground tremble when, as according to the contract, his own dead body had been lashed to her. They threw insults at her and she'd raised her fist at them in defiance.
Illyria had been a feared ruler in her day, and in many ways she had been terrible. She'd enjoyed a good fight—even a good kill of her enemies—and still did. But never had she been so cruel, so sadistic. Her destruction had been swift and merciless, brutal and horrible, but she did not kill for nothing, for sport, for fun. Dealing death had not been mere entertainment to her.
Her opponent on that day had not been random. The Partners were more thorough than that. No, they chose the one most appropriate to their purposes... the very one of her kind that had led her murder, all those millennia ago. An Old One. As the great hourglass that marked her time was turned and the gate had opened so she could see her adversary, she'd let out a cry of rage that was heard even over the arena roar.
The raucous mirth of the crowd had died into a stunned silence as she'd charged out against her foe, weaponless, unafraid even though she could scarcely see beyond its clawed feet. It was a thousand times larger than she, though it would have been an easy enough match for her back in her native form. It had beaten her then only through deception, betrayal, and thousands of crooked allies and sorcerers.
"It was something to see," the demon emissary had admitted with a snaky smile that made Wesley's hands twitch for killing. "Illyria has guts, you've got to give her that." Then he'd turned his eyes to him, his smile widening. "Oh, wait—that's right. She doesn't, does she? Burned them all out of that precious girlfriend of yours. Pity."
Wesley's hand had jerked out to snap the demon's neck, only his burning desire to know the rest of the story preventing the death-movement. The emissary gave a deep, amused laugh and went on.
The crowd's impressed silence at Illyria's courage had not lasted long. For she had not made it far into the arena before the chain that bound her to his own lifeless body had pulled tight, sending her sprawling face-first into the dust. The delighted shrieks came even more as she stood, her human blood streaming from her nose, and went back to collect his body in her arms. That was the terms of the agreement—he would be returned just as he was, gut-wound sealed but nothing else. If he was battered too badly in her fight, she would find herself rewarded only with his lifeless form at contest's end. If she lived herself, that is.
What had happened after that he could not bear to recall any more than Illyria could. It had not been a fight, though she had tried valiantly to strike and kick. The Old One had played with her, taunted her, picked her up in its claws and let her fall again and again to the ground below. It had held her high so that the spectators could rain jeers upon her, throw their garbage into her face. They called her an insect, a parasite, a human-lover, slime. The Old One pinned her to the ground effortlessly as it hissed in her ear the joy it had taken in destroying her temple, toppling her statue, taking over her worlds. She had spat out a reply that no one else but it had heard, but had so enraged it that it yanked on her hair, ceasing its previous mocking play and meaning to twist her neck loose. The demons in the stands had laughed so hard they cried.
The Wolf, Ram, and Hart had been quite pleased with their show, wanting only a finale to soothe the discomfort of their earlier defeat. Illyria by that time had been nearly finished, barely able to move. Her neck was torn open—causing the scar she would always bear.
The Ram had spoken, and when the emissary repeated its words Wesley could not imagine that they had sounded any less amusedly cruel. "What an oversight. We've forgotten to give you a weapon, haven't we—little girl?" And then Illyria, lying bone-broken on the sand, had looked up hopelessly even as she'd crawled over his body, shielding it. The weapon tossed down upon the arena had been her own—an ancient curving blade that spanned the entire length of the stadium floor. In her original form she had easily held it aloft in two of her tentacles, its matching blade in two others, and with them she had mowed down swaths of approaching armies with one pass. But that day she was going to be crushed beneath it. It was the ultimate in humiliation—to be killed with one's own weapon.
And yet she'd borne it, for him. The blade had not killed her, though the blood-crazed onlookers had cheered, thinking she'd been cleaved in two as the last grains of sand drained away in the hourglass. There'd been a minute nick in the blade, and her small size had showed itself an advantage as she managed to roll them under it. The Old One had lifted the blade—struggling to do so—and then roared in disappointment as she'd stirred. When she'd managed to rise—inexplicably—to her feet, the whole arena of spectators had rumbled and hissed so darkly that the stones trembled. Even so, the deal had been signed, and so he had found himself awakening in his bed with Illyria claiming him.
When the emissary had finished telling the horrific story, Wesley blinked once, coldly—and then shot him dead. He hadn't cared what Angel would think or say about it, but as it turned out it hadn't mattered. He'd turned to find all three of his male comrades clustered in the doorway, and he'd known from their grim faces that they'd heard it all.
"Don't tell her that you know," he'd told them firmly, reeling inwardly as he tried to absorb the wrenching tale. "We mustn't ever tell her." His eyes locked gravely with Angel's in particular, and the leader had given a nod that showed much more than a simple assent. Angel had never quite approved of his bond with Illyria, and the vampire's trust of her had been shaky at best. Wesley hadn't held that against him, for Angel had rarely seen more than the worst sides of Illyria's personality, whereas himself and Spike had been trusted with deeper, more vulnerable levels. Though she'd been by then an established and valuable part of their team, Angel suspected also that she fought less for the cause of good than she did for her retribution on Wolfram and Hart. With his nod he was accepting her fully at last.
Wesley's heart had accepted her, too, that very night. There was no resisting the kind of love that had given so much, suffered so much. It was the kind of love he understood only too well, and he could not deny her.
Once he'd made that decision, he could not seem to move quickly enough. In the space of the next day he had made arrangements to leave the apartment he'd lived in since moving to Los Angeles. Fred's apartment had long since been given up. They would live in the Hyperion, he and Illyria, and he'd chosen for them a small suite of rooms on the top floor. They'd been in bad repair, that entire floor not having been in use for many years, but the bedroom had wide skylights and a balcony—essentials, for her. The rooms he'd painted in varying shades of blue and filled with all new furniture and decoration.
From his old apartment he'd taken nothing, save his books, papers, photos, and personal items. It was a new life he wished to begin, and that meant leaving things behind. And so he left the bed he'd shared with Lilah, the closet that had held Justine captive that awful summer, the desk where he had composed countless letters of remorse to Fred after the incident with Billy, the chair where he'd sat and downed far too much alcohol, and the table where he had eaten too many sad, solitary meals.
His favorite picture of Fred—the one that graced his dresser—he did take, and placed it on a small end table in the new sitting room. With that, his preparations had been complete, and he'd gone to Illyria and brought her to their home.
"This is our place now," he'd told her, but she hadn't quite understood, or dared to show any kind of hope. Of course she had known from his strange activities that something was changing, but why or how she didn't know.
"I don't understand."
"I want... I want us to have a life together."
Then his eyes could not help resting on her scar with all of his terrible new insight, and she'd known at once that he knew everything. Illyria could sense things, smell things, in people no matter how they were hidden, and in a heartbeat her hand had been around his throat and her eyes sparking with mad fire.
She'd cursed him and snarled, but he'd been unafraid, covering her hand with his, loosening it easily and guiding her fingers to the scar on his own neck. He'd received it when he'd been thought a traitor, and so had she when she'd gone against her own kind. They were so much the same. He'd looked into her eyes and she'd settled. She must have felt the love from him then, coming off him in waves.
There'd been no declaration then, nor a kiss, romantic whisperings, hearts and flowers or engagement rings. None of those things belonged to their world, to the relationship they had. Trite, all of it, for them. Anticlimactic. Foreign. They weren't two people who would hold hands and pick out a silverware pattern. Even a traditional marriage... they were beyond it somehow, even were it legally possible. And so he had found something far stronger, something she would understand, pressed in the pages of one of his ancient texts. He'd shown it to her, and she'd nodded.
It was an ancient bonding spell, old as Illyria herself, and they'd read it out to one another that same night, there in the lobby of the old Hyperion with their three fellow warriors as solemn witnesses.
He had gone first, speaking the translated words slowly and assuredly, meaning every line. There were many of them.
May my weapons break in battle if I break my bond to you
May my sword arm fail me if I fail you
The verses went on in kind-- for the most part martially-themed but many of them not so different from the vows of a modern ceremony. There were promises to abide steadfastly through illness, poverty, and trials. What was missing he'd added himself, as the white streams of magic from the spell began to circle them.I bind my heart forever to yours in love
Illyria had hesitated upon her turn, and he knew why. That very bonding spell had been pledged to her by scores of vassals and knights in her day, but never had she pledged in return. She had had others bound to her in servitude but was not bound herself. Even so, after a moment of looking at him she'd begun, and he'd been taken aback at the sounds that came from her. She'd spoken the words not in the translated English but in her own native language, the language of the Old Ones. He'd never heard it before. The words came from deep in her throat, the sound of them like muted, far-off thunder. Chills slipped down his spine to hear it, as the magic circle binding them came complete.
On the last phrase she'd reverted back into English... for in her original language there was no word at all for 'love.'
And so it was done. They were bonded, soul and essence together. He was hers more than ever... but she was also his.
Later that night, when they had gone together to their new bed, she showed him exactly how much she could surprise him. This was physical bonding, he'd told her, but more than that—it was a continuation of the words they'd vowed to one another. She must not use Fred's memories—must not—if it were to be the fresh start they both needed in their life together. He hadn't told her that it would have killed him inside, knowing she was making love as Fred would have. He and Fred had never reached that stage of their relationship—they hadn't had the chance—and for the first time he'd been grateful for that, in some way. The pain of memory would have been too strong otherwise.
"Then teach me," she'd replied in her matter-of-fact way, holding out her hand. So he did.
She loved being touched-- that had been a startling, almost uncharacteristic, revelation. She had never, in her native form, felt any kind of pleasure at all, not even the simplest ones. No softness, no gentleness—only millennia of battle-strikes. Her invincible armour-skin had held out killing blows but any kind of loving touch as well—though such things did not exist in her day as it was.
That first night she had not seemed able to drink in enough touch—she still can't-- but they had had to go so slowly. The first touch of her skin on his had nearly overwhelmed her-- too much, too quickly. A simple caress over her shoulder or side was like a more intimate touch for anyone else. But once she'd adjusted, much later, she could not stop touching, spending countless minutes plaiting her limbs, almost snake-like, around his. She had a thousand starved lifetimes to make up for. Even when he had been falling asleep, too weary to move and listening to her good-natured grumbling on the weaknesses of humans, his hands were in hers and still moving as she guided them over her.
She investigated him as thoroughly as she did everything, using all of her senses. Taste and smell, he found, were vitally important to her, just as they had always been. She listened to the rate of his breathing, to his heartbeat, and took note of every incoherent sound he made. When he'd breathed out her name she'd heard it. He wondered if she'd thought back to the time when no creature dared to speak the name Illyria, and if she thought it sounded no less sacred as he whispered it. She'd watched him almost every second—tracked all the movements of his hands, studied his every expression. When she was not watching her eyes were locked with his, unafraid and seeking.
The last thing he remembers of that night, as he'd drifted off with Illyria's cool hands touching his closed eyes, was that the impossible had happened. Out of his death—his death in more ways than one—had come a new life, one he never could have foreseen, with the last person in all the dimensions that he could have imagined.
After everything, he could still be surprised.
It has been five years now, and Illyria has not left him. In five hundred and five, he knows, she will not leave him, nor will he leave her.
He's found, more and more with each day, that despite her raging arrogance and pride and megalomania she is easy to love. He still loves Fred and knows he always will, but loving Illyria is loving both of them. They are the same, in some ways; every day he sees glimpses. Both amazingly brave, both insatiably curious. Both loyal and devoted beyond reason. Illyria cannot be separated from Fred, for her influence is sealed in, exerting itself so strongly that it can't be denied. But he also loves Illyria for the things that make her who she is, even those that are not like Fred at all. He loves her posturing, her pride, her direct way of speaking that throws all human niceties and tact to the winds. He loves the contradictions about her. She can look the height of innocence, and yet she's dealt thousands of deaths. She is older than time itself but is so often childlike. She can rend and kill when she finds it necessary, but she can also, when she wishes, tend and heal. At once she can be a coldly vicious instrument of death, or the warmest and most intense of lovers. Her wisdom is beyond ancient, but she is beautifully naive.
His Illyria is terrible and beautiful, just like the world they live in.
He wouldn't want her any other way.
Mostly, though, he loves her because she understands him, accepts him for all and what he is. He can tell her every dark thing in his soul that he'd feared to reveal, and she doesn't look at him any differently. Illyria is not one to be frightened by darkness.
He lays in her arms and tells her... everything. He's told her of his perceived betrayal of Angel, of his affair with Lilah. Illyria on the whole is uninterested by such human matters—or at least says it so—but she'd wanted to know because it was him. He'd nearly laughed at her reaction to Lilah, for the way she'd crinkled her nose in distaste was so like Fred. She did not turn away from him, but it was clear that she had inherited Winifred's intense dislike of his ex-lover. Illyria is possessive and does not care for any of his former loves... except for Fred. Always Fred.
He told her also of what is perhaps his darkest moment—the night he'd shot his father. The fact that it turned out to be a cyborg, and that it was mortally threatening Fred, softened the event but did not take away the truth. When he had fired that gun—not one bullet but all that the gun would hold—he had become a man who was capable of killing his father. Illyria cannot relate to the idea at all—Old Ones being spawned but having no concept of family-- but she accepted it and him—just as Fred had.
He'd told her more, however, than he had ever shared with Fred, though he would have in time. She is the only one he has ever revealed the pain of his childhood to. She'd listened to his tales of abuse—emotional and physical—and trembled with anger in response. He told her how as a young boy he'd shivered, alone and terrified, locked for hours under the stairs—and she'd pulled him so tightly to her that he'd lost his breath. When he'd looked into her eyes he saw that they'd gone dark under all that icy blue.
"If I ever see him," she'd said with deadly conviction, "I will repay him for what he has done to you."
He'd known that she meant she would kill him. He'd countered that she mustn't, and though she'd agreed for his sake, she does not see why she should not.
It is moments like that which remind him, fairly often, that although she has adjusted more to this world, she still does not see things in the same way he does, as humans in general do. She claims she is beyond the morals of right and wrong, but he does not think she is, not anymore. People would look at her and say she is good because she fights for that side, that she is a champion much like Angel. She is a champion, and he knows that she does fight for good, not just for revenge—though there is that, too. He knows also that she fights against evil because he does. She'd followed him when he first became her guide and she has not stopped following him ever since. Whatever her motives, he feels that she carries both good and evil, just as he does, just as the human race does. And she is more human, that he knows for certain. As her human and demon natures reached a more stable balance within her, her ability to hold her powers had increased. They were called back to her, even from the distant pocket universe to which he had had to send them.
It was her ability to communicate with plants that returned first, so unexpectedly that her eyes flew open wide one afternoon as they'd walked into the Hyperion's courtyard. She'd turned herself in a circle again and again, head tipped, her look one of almost unbelieving rapture.
"Their songs... can you hear them?" she'd asked him, breathless. He's noticed that she sometimes forgets they do not share abilities. They are that close.
Of course he hadn't been able to, until she'd taken his hand under hers and placed it on one of the broad palm leaves. And then how he did hear it—the song of the green—from all around him. It was like a symphony, lovely beyond anything his ears had ever heard. He understands now why she'd been so mournful of that ability when it had been lost, why she'd sadly run her hands over the long grasses in the Wolfram and Hart's lobby until the stems were bent double.
She'd found, not long after, that she could once again open portals, stepping through dimensions as humans would doorways. She's taken him to the edges of other worlds, and into those that she knows will be safe. For the first time he was able to see the fierce beauty of the places she's so often described—places that mortals have not even dreamed about. Certainly he hadn't, and the universe is once again exciting to him, full of the possibilities of discovery.
She is beginning to manipulate time again, and every day her already considerable physical strength grows. That has been an adjustment, as she truly does wake each day not knowing the expanse of her own strength. She does not really need to wake, for she no longer needs to sleep. After her powers were drained she had required some little time to recharge and rest each night, but now even that small need is gone. Even so, she makes an effort to sleep when he does.
She's sleeping now, or is at least pretending to, lying with her face tucked into the curve of his neck. He runs his hand over and over the blue dorsal stripe that traces the line of her spine; he's nearly petting her, the way one would a cat. Just like a cat she arches into the touch and so he knows that she is awake, though her eyes are closed in contentment. A noise comes the depth of her throat that sounds very like the buzz of a rattlesnake, but rather than signifying annoyance it tells him that she is very pleased with the world at the moment. So is he.
He stops, though, shifting himself to get out of bed. Their situation is pleasant, but there is work to do, ancient texts to puzzle out, people to save. Illyria knows this, but she has other ideas. In an instant he finds himself flipped, her arms tightening around his chest like two steel bands. His skin underneath tem is turning white.
"'Lyria, love, you have to let me up," he tells her with no conviction whatsoever..
He knows why and so does she, but he nevertheless lies down for a few more minutes.
"I suppose you could always slow things a bit down there," he jokes with her, though she looks as if she's half considering it. She is not yet fully-powered enough to throw her time-altering abilities around so casually—though even before her power-drain she had not.
This makes him think of a question he's been meaning to ask her for quite some time now, ever since her powers began to return. He asks it now, as she lies back in his arms.
"Illyria," he begins, his more serious tone alerting her to the change in their previously light conversation, "if you could take back the world, conquer it—would you?"
She stares at the ceiling, or at some image in her mind that he cannot see. "No," she replies, monotone.
"No?" He's not sure if he should be surprised by that or not.
"It would be pointless. This world is nothing like it was when it was mine, nor are the creatures in it. I could take it back, conquer it, raze everything humans have built into the ground... but it would still not be mine." She gives him a pointed look.
"That's why you didn't raise another army, when you found yours gone," he says with realization. He's always wondered.
"Yes," she admits, and he kisses her, in admiration. She is so wise, in ways that short-lived humans cannot be. It does not matter that the simple things in the world often confuse her—her wisdom covers a much grander scheme.
"And if you could take over another dimension, where your old kind are, would you?" It's not an impossibility, and they have countless lifetimes ahead of them.
"Yes," she says again, with vehemence. No hesitation. "But I would take you with me."
Illyria is a conqueror and always will be. She's conquered him, but not in the way she would have in her past life. She could have destroyed him, but instead she claimed him with love and gave herself in return.
He is hers, and Illyria has never had a more willing captive.
 I hope I am not off here. Didn't Eve say that the Old Ones that were still alive were driven to a different dimension? And I think Illyria mentioned that if she was to try to go to other dimensions she'd be "but prey to those [she] knew." Something like that. So... let's assume that some are still around.