Title: Separation Anxiety
Author: babies stole my dingo (agilebrit)
Fandom: Angel
Rating: PG-13
Length: Short story (4000 words or so)
Disclaimer: Joss is the genius behind these characters; I am but a lowly follower. I make no money from any of this, so please don't sue me.
Written for: The Choose Your Author ficathon.
Notes: Request was for Spike/Fred or just as friends. Illyria. Characters/Pairings you want in the story too: Brownie points for having Connor in there, but it's not necessary. Things you want: Fred and Illyria separating somehow, Fred angsting over the whole Illyria stealing-her-body-and-almost-killing-her thing, Spike helping Fred get over her angst. I'm not sure this is exactly what my requester wanted, but it's what came out. As usual, the scope of the thing kinda got away from me, since certain ramifications needed exploring here.
"Well, personally," Angel said, "I kind of want to slay the dragon." The demon horde charged through the pouring rain, howling. "Let's go to work."

Gunn hefted his axe, Angel raised his sword, and they waded in while the dragon flew overhead and roared. Spike found a demon with a broadsword and simply snapped its neck and appropriated the weapon for himself, grinning maniacally. Illyria fought barehanded, almost casually taking her opponents apart, a serene expression on her face.

The demon army, while large, was composed of demons, after all, and soon they were fighting each other as well as Angel's team. The battle settled into a rhythm; none of them escaped unscathed, but they held their own and actually seemed to be winning.

Out of the corner of his eye, Spike noticed a demon holding a rod. "Odd weapon," he thought, until the demon pointed it at Illyria and the tip of it glowed. A second later, a grapefruit-sized fireball hit the Old One in the chest, knocking her back a few steps.

The effect on her was immediate. Her arms split into two tentacles apiece, she grew to a height of thirty feet, and more tentacles sprouted from her sides. As the dragon made another pass overhead, she reached up and swatted it out of the sky. It crashed to the ground in front of Angel, who began hacking at it with his sword.

Illyria made a complicated gesture with her tentacles, and time slowed for the demon army - but not for the AI team. She faced off with the giant, and the rest of them tore through the slow-motion demons as if they were tissue paper.

Spike caught a glimpse of movement from behind where Illyria had been standing when the flash from the rod had hit her. Brown hair, pale arms... "Bloody hell," he muttered. He took a stance in front of what was, as far as he was concerned, an apparition, and killed the few demons that got past the others.

Once the battle was mostly over, he turned around to see if he'd been protecting a hallucination or not. And there she was, unconscious and naked on the soaked asphalt. Stripping off his duster and covering her with it, he fell to his knees beside her and took her in his arms, rocking her back and forth and saying her name over and over again.

The rest of the team finished mopping up and gathered around to see what Spike had found. Illyria had changed back to her human-looking form, and she was just as startled as everyone else. Spike looked up at them, as they gazed down in shock, and said, "It's Fred. Our Freddi's back."

"Let's get her into the Hyperion," Angel said.

Angel brought the rod that was apparently responsible for Fred's return, while Spike scooped her up and carried her, feather-light, into the hotel. He laid her on the couch in the lobby, knelt next to it, and smoothed back her wet hair from her face. He heard Connor's voice behind him. "That's Fred! Is she okay?"

"What're you doing here, junior? She's breathing, heart's good, and not bleeding. I think she's all right."

"Da - Angel didn't want me to fight, but I thought I'd set up here with some first aid in case anyone needed it."

"Go help Charlie, then. I'm surprised he's able to keep upright."

Illyria spoke. "This is the shell. How did this come to be?"

He clenched his fist, keeping his gaze on Fred. "No bloody idea. But the last thing she needs to see when she wakes up is you, Bluebird. Why don't you go help Connor with Charlie? Looks like you've got your powers back; maybe you can do him some good."

"They told us - " Angel started.

"You think I'm not beating myself up over that?" Spike interrupted fiercely. "We believed them, why, exactly? Bloody hell, of course they lied. They didn't want us trying to bring her back and killing their goddess in the process. We're stupid wankers, the lot of us. Wouldn't be surprised if Freddi told us all to sod off when she wakes up..."

The buzzing mumble of voices gradually resolved themselves into words as Fred came to. She opened her eyes to see Spike's concerned face staring down at her. Memories crashed back through her mind, and she abruptly sat up and shoved him away from her. Leaping to her feet and clutching Spike's duster around her, she ran up the stairs into her old room and sat down on the bed, after locking the door behind her.

"Ohgodohgodohgod. How did this happen?" she asked the bare walls. Bare walls. Couldn't have that. Numbers. Numbers were solace. Numbers were predictable. Numbers were her friends. Numbers wouldn't leave her trapped inside her hollowed-out shell of a body, infected by an Old One, unable to communicate.

She scrabbled around in the bedside table and found an abandoned Sharpie. Uncapping it with her teeth, she went to work, writing formulas across the paint in orderly rows. Order. That's what she needed right now. Orderly order.

She lost herself in the math, and was startled by a knock on her door. She blinked a couple of times. Without even knowing she was doing it, she'd covered all of one wall, and half of another, with rank upon rank of equations. How long had she been doing this? "Freddi? Let me in, pet. Please?"

She solved another problem. "Go away, Spike."

A beat, then: "I brought tacos."

Her stomach clenched, and she realized that she was, in fact, ravenous. Heaving a giant sigh, she put her marker down, opened the door, and fixed him with a glare that would have melted steel. "Why'd they send you?"

He leaned on the doorframe and dangled a paper sack of take-out and a plastic bag containing clothing. "They didn't; I volunteered. Bluebird and the boy are having some kind of confab, and Angel and Charlie are a bit afraid of you right now." He grinned. "I'm used to getting pummeled by girls." His expression darkened. "Anyway, Angel left to go get our Wes, because he didn't want to leave him where he was. And Charlie's resting. I figured maybe you could use a friend and some grub. You've been up here bloody hours."

"I didn't notice," she said, taking the plastic bag from his hand and slamming the door. A few minutes later, she opened it again, fully dressed, and snatched the sack of food. She sat on the bed and dug in. Her mouth full of taco, she saw that he was still standing in the doorway and lifted her eyebrows inquisitively at him.

"Need an invite, pet. I'm still a vampire, and this is apparently - " He tapped the heel of his hand on an invisible barrier. " - your space."

"Oh." She swallowed and took another bite. "Come in, Spike."

He stepped through the door, closed it behind him, and shrugged into his discarded duster. "Ta, luv." He sat in the only chair in the room, crossing an ankle over a knee and slouching.

"Mmph," she grouched. "I'm not real happy with any of you right now anyways. Not rescuing me from that, that thing."

Spike looked suitably ashamed. "They told us your soul had been destroyed. Maybe they even believed it. No excuse that we did; we should have known that the destruction of a soul would take more than a little resurrection fire from an Old One, but we didn't have your big brain to pound the logic of that into us. I'm sorry, Freddi, really I am."

"Yeah? You sparred with it. You patrolled with it. Like, like I hadn't meant anything to you, like it didn't matter that it ate me alive from the inside out. None of you even tried to get me back." Her voice faded to a whisper. "Like I wasn't worth saving."

Stricken, he moved from the chair to the bed and gathered her in his arms. She shoved at him, even pounded his chest a little, but he just held her and stroked her hair, murmuring soothing nothings into her ear until she broke down and sobbed. "And it stole Wesley from me. We were so happy. I never knew I could be that happy."

"It almost destroyed him. He was never the same after Illyria took you, pet."

"I know. I was there. Trapped in my own body, looking out, while it walked with my legs and talked with my mouth. I couldn't get out, couldn't say anything as me. It was all it. Even when it pretended to be me for my parents - and when Wesley died," she said bitterly, scrubbing at her tears. Then she frowned. "Connor..."

"His parents came to Evil, Incorporated looking to see what he is. Seems the boy has some superpowers of his own."

"Well, that's not surprising, considering that he's Angel's and Darla's son. Oh my God. I can't believe Angel did that to us. That son of a bitch."

"Wait, what?" Spike was shocked. "Vampires can't have babies, and I thought Darla was dust long ago. You sure you're firing on all cylinders, luv?"

"I was there, the night he was born. She staked herself to save him, because, you're right, vampires can't have babies. Pouring rain, in an alley. Seems to be a recurring theme around Angel." Fred barked out a caustic laugh. "He made us all forget. He made a devil's bargain with the Senior Partners and messed with our minds, with our brains..." She leaped to her feet. "I think I need to have some words with the boss man, right the hell now."

"Easy, Freddi. He's not here."

"Then I'll go down and wait for him. You keep that, that thing away from me. I don't want to talk to it." She snatched up her bag of food and stalked out the door, Spike trailing helplessly behind her. Down in the lobby, she dropped onto one of the couches, glaring daggers at everyone and chomping on her remaining tacos as if they were her personal enemies.

Spike wandered over to the corner where Illyria, Gunn, and Connor sat. "How is she?" Gunn asked.

"Pissed as hell. Bluebird, you, especially, might want to steer clear of her for a bit."

"Wesley would be pleased that she is back. Had it been in my power to grant him that, I would have," Illyria said quietly. "I am still unclear how this was accomplished."

"Seems to me I remember something like that rod thing, several years ago." Spike lit a cigarette and frowned. "Some demon or other hit Xander with it, I think. Broke a pretty nice lamp I'd found at the dump, too. No one ever told me what it did to him, though. We might want to call Giles."

"Angel has his num - Oh. Oh, God," Gunn choked.

Spike looked around to see Angel walking in through the door from the underground entrance, with Wesley's body cradled in his arms. As if time itself slowed in order to pay homage to a fallen hero, Spike could see every detail. Angel's coat billowing behind him, the awful bloody spot on Wesley's shirt, the pale stillness of Wesley's face. Fred leaping to her feet, Angel setting the body down reverentially on the couch...Fred's tears as she took Wesley's hand and knelt down beside him.

The spell was broken as Angel joined the others, giving Fred private time for her grief. Spike shot a glance at Illyria to see if she had anything to do with the phenomenon, but her bland expression revealed nothing.

"You got her out of her room," Angel said.

Spike raised his scarred eyebrow at him and ground his cigarette under his boot. "Didn't see the rest of you poncy lot trying." He tilted his head towards Fred, who had risen and was headed upstairs again. "She's off. She wanted to talk to you, by the way. Something about Connor you haven't told the rest of us?"

Illyria and Connor looked smug, while Gunn looked puzzled, and Angel looked hunted. "Um. I guess I'll go up and talk to her then. See you guys..." And he bolted.

Fred had barely sat on her bed, her face in her hands, when she heard a knock on her door. "Go away, Spike," she said, her voice muffled.

"It's not Spike." Oh, great. Angel's voice. "But he said you wanted to talk to me."

She lifted her head. "Maybe I did, at that." She stood and flung the door open. "Come in, Angel." He stepped in, and she closed the door behind him, leaning on it and crossing her arms across her chest. "Have a seat."

"Why do I get the impression that I'm about to have the Riot Act read to me?" he asked, taking the chair and glancing around at the rows of figures on the walls.

"Maybe because you are. You've changed, Angel. Your friends didn't use to be expendable. Drogyn, Wes, Charles - me? Where's Lorne? And for what? Do you really think you've hurt the Senior Partners all that much?"

"The Senior Partners? That was just a bonus. Fred, I killed Connor." He wouldn't meet her gaze. "Wesley's prophecy was right."

"'The father will kill the son,'" she breathed. "But it was a fake..."

He snorted. "Maybe, maybe not. All I know is that after he took the hostages in that sporting goods store, I met him up on a rooftop and cut his throat for him. He was so angry, Fred. So lost. And I couldn't - " He took a deep breath. "I couldn't stand to lose him. Again."

"So you decided to brainwash all of us to give him a normal life? Steal our memories, mess with our minds? Make a deal with Evil, Incorporated? How's that working out for you, Angel?"

"You think I didn't make any sacrifices myself?" His voice was low and intense. "I didn't expect...I thought I'd never see him again."

"After you killed him, you wouldn't have seen him anyway," she pointed out.

"I signed away the Shanshu." He finally looked at her.

In that moment she realized that the Wolfram and Hart deal hadn't exactly been a bed of roses for him either, and she deflated, her belligerence gone. "This whole thing was a colossal mistake. How did we screw it up so badly, Angel?"

He stood up and took her in his arms. "Oh, Fred. You didn't screw anything up. I should have known better than to drag you all along with me. You gave up so much...It was one thing for me to abandon my integrity. I shouldn't have asked the rest of you to do it too."

"Not like we were unaware of what we were getting into. There's enough blame to go around, I think." She pulled away and wiped her eyes. "But you need to tell Charles. He deserves to know."

"Yeah. You want to come down too? We should talk about what happens next. I know you probably don't want anything to do with any of us after all this, but if you want, I can help you get back to Texas or wherever it is you want to go."

She opened the door. "Don't jump to any conclusions, just yet."

The others backed away from paying their respects to Wes as Fred and Angel came down the stairs. They were all acting stoic, but Fred could see suspicious hints of moisture on their cheeks, and a few errant sniffles came through as well. Illyria, especially, seemed affected, although she tried to hide it with a haughty head carriage and a tight jaw.

Fred took a deep breath. These were her friends. And even though they'd failed her, a part of her wondered...if she'd tried harder to come through, if she'd fought harder in the first place to stop Illyria from taking her, if she'd just sent the damn sarcophagus down to Ancient Relics where it belonged...

Yeah. There was definitely enough blame to go around. Time to start healing. Beginning with - "Illyria?"

The God-King of the Primordium actually twitched. "Wesley desired your return. I would have provided him that, if I could."

"I know. I know that now. And, and I'm glad to have you on the team. I'm glad you gave Wes what you did when he, when he - " Fred choked, unable to continue.

"He did not like me, but he felt responsible, and he was a good guide. A good man."

"What just happened?" Gunn whispered.

"I think our girls just came to an understanding," Spike answered.

;-;-;

By unspoken agreement, they moved their business into the old hotel office. Angel explained Connor's situation to Gunn and Spike. Gunn thought about it for a minute, then said, "Far be it from me to cast any stones, man. My hands aren't exactly clean." He and Angel exchanged a look of empathy.

Spike spoke up. "You should call Rupert and ask him about that rod thingy, Angel. Be nice to know exactly what we're dealing with here."

"He wasn't very helpful last time I called him," Angel replied, making a face.

"You've taken out the Black Thorn and you're not the CEO of Lucifer's Law Firm anymore. He might be more cooperative now."

"Maybe." Angel picked up the phone on the desk. He noticed their expressions. "I kept the phone and stuff going here. Got the Furies to redo the Sanctorum spell, too. Never knew when we'd need a bolthole." He dialed. "Giles? Angel. Yes, I'm still alive," he said, annoyed. "We've got a situation here...yes, another one. Look, we've just taken out the Circle of the Black Thorn - " The phone squawked. "Yeah, all of them. Wolfram and Hart is pretty ticked off, but that's not why I'm calling. Illyria got hit with a bolt from some sort of rod, and now we have Fred back, so it's like they split in two? Spike said you'd know what that was, something about Xander?"

The phone squawked louder this time, just as Spike said, "Oh, bloody hell. Why couldn't you have kept me out of it?"

Angel held it away from his ear and rubbed his forehead. "Why would we have told you, Giles? Last time we called, you weren't too friendly. You never did trust me, even when I worked with Buffy in Sunnydale. Anyway, the rod thing? Any idea what that was, and any residual effects? Could you spell that?" He scribbled on a pad. "Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Interesting. I'll ask him." He looked up at Spike. "Do you want him to tell Buffy you're back?"

"Not especially. Would rather she heard it from me, if it's all the same to the Watcher. I'm amazed that the sodding little hobbit actually kept me a secret."

Angel relayed that information. "Yeah, have her give us a ring. I'm sure Spike would be thrilled to talk with her." Then he went very still. "Um, no. I can't put Wes on." He took a deep breath. "Because he's dead, Giles. I'm sorry. No, we haven't called anyone yet, and we haven't figured out exactly what we're going to do yet either." Pause. "That's all right. It's my responsibility to call them; I'll do it. Thanks for the offer, though. Yeah. See you." He hung up wearily. "Is the day over yet? Can it get any worse?"

A scream from the lobby answered his question in the affirmative. They scrambled out of the office to find a disheveled Harmony scurrying backwards on her rear away from a huge, toothy demon, which carried a spiked club and snarled at her. It swung the club at her head, getting a shock when it stopped a foot shy of its target, hitting an invisible shield. "Oh, for - " Angel started.

"Angel! Is the Sanctorum spell just for demons, or humans too?" Fred asked.

"Just demons," he answered.

"Oh, good." She strode over to the weapons cabinet, selected a sword, and decapitated the demon, while it flailed fruitlessly and Harmony shrieked on the floor. She looked up to see the others staring at her in various states of surprise. "What?"

"Nothing," Angel mumbled, watching the demon head spin to a stop at his feet. "Harmony, what are you doing here?"

She stood up and brushed ineffectively at the rips and stains on her dress. "After I left Wolfram and Hart, a bunch of demons started stalking me. And not in a fun, nummy way, either. They were trying to kill me!" She pointed her finger at Angel. "Because I worked for you! Why didn't anyone tell me that being your personal assistant is a resume-killer, not an enhancer?"

Angel put his face in his hand and shook his head from side to side in exhausted exasperation. "Harmony..."

She rolled on, oblivious. "So, I guess I'm stuck working for you for the rest of my unlife. Thanks a lot, Angel."

"What makes you think I want you working for me?" Angel said into his hand.

Harmony was nonplussed, but only for a moment. "Because I'm darn good at what I do, that's why! Can any of these other clowns - no offense - " she said to them. " - do filing, or typing, or invoicing, or anything like that? What about your phones; who's going to answer them?"

Gunn opened his mouth to say something, closed it, and then said, "Girl's got a point."

"And I already know the rules," she continued eagerly. "No eating people. I've been doing that for ages anyway...um, the not eating people, so that shouldn't be too hard for me. And where else are you going to find someone at such short notice with my unique qualifications?"

Angel threw up his hands. "Fine! Welcome to the team, Harmony. I catch you snacking on anyone..."

"I know, I know." She made a slicing motion across her throat. "Off with my head. No problem, boss."

"Now, can we get back to what it was we were doing? It was sort of important."

They gathered back in the office. "What did Rupert tell you about that rod?" Spike said.

Angel consulted his notes. "It was a ferula-gemina. It split Illyria into her two essences, in this case, her and Fred." He sighed. "With Xander, it split him into his klutzy side and his competent side."

"Xander had a competent side?" Spike asked, grinning a little.

"Apparently. Thing is, if one of him had gotten killed, the other one would have died too. Whether that would happen here is anyone's guess."

"Crap, man, guess our girls will have to be extra careful," Gunn said. "It sucked to lose Fred once. I'd hate to lose her again because Blue Thunder got a little adventurous."

"I will try not to die. I am not sure I can die, in any case." Illyria turned her eerie blue stare on Fred. "You should try not to die as well. You are important to our companions."

"I'll keep that in mind." Fred's voice was desert-dry.

"Now that we have that out of the way," Angel said, "I think it would be a mistake to think that we've damaged the Senior Partners much at all. I don't know if they'll come after us, or if they'll just chalk it up to experience and keep our relationship at status quo ante."

"We could just set up here again," Gunn offered. "Go back to being Angel Investigations. Helping the helpless."

"I like it," Spike said.

"Full circle." Fred twisted her hands together. "Only without, you know, the circleness that's all complete, because we're not all here..."

"No visions without Cordy; Lorne's left us; harder to do research without Wes," Angel said. "Harder. Not impossible. We've got a God-King in the gang now. Gunn's download is permanent. Harm can take care of the paperwork. And, Connor?"

Connor straightened. "Yeah?"

"How are you with computers?"

"I know my way around. But Illyria wants me to be her - what did you call it?" he asked her.

"Qua-ha Zahn. I will allow you to guide me while we succor the impotent insects of this dimension."

"I've got school too," he pointed out.

"You can't quit college for this," Angel said. "And you can't tell anyone who or what you are either."

"Like a secret identity? Cool," Connor decided.

"Can you handle it all? Without your grades slipping?"

"Yes, Dad. And if I can't, then we'll talk about it, okay?"

"Just so we're clear. Spike?"

"Peaches?" Spike blew a stream of smoke out in his direction.

"You will pull your weight around here, got me?"

Spike was offended. "Oh, bloody hell, when have I not? Screw you."

"He went out and helped the helpless on his own when you were playing CEO," Fred said. "Credit where it's due, Angel." She reached out and touched Spike's arm, and he shot her a grateful look.

"All right, all right," Angel grumbled. "Are we ready, then, gang?" After everyone nodded, he stood up. "Angel Investigations, back in business."