Title: "Of Gods and Mortals"

Author: loonylupinlover/athenaparthenos

Rating: PG-13

Summary: Written for the Illyria LiveJournal ficathon quite a while ago. My challenge was this:

Up to Two Characters: Illyria, Fred Up to Two Requirements: Face off between the two, (can take place inside Illyria's mind or whatever), wherein they try to come to terms with what the other was/is as they slowly merge. Preferably dark.
One Restriction: No overly cutesy Fred. I'd like to see her tougher side a bit more.

How does a shattered human defeat a god-king?

Author's Note: I posted this over a year ago on my livejournal, then recently remembered my account and thought I might as well post this here, too. Comments, concrit, feedback, whatever you'd like to call it, is definitely welcome.

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Such a Hell she had never imagined.

That final night in Wesley's arms she finally grasped just what was happening to her. The fever, boiling up from deep inside her, had taken her by then, and she saw beyond the frail body writhing on the bed.

It seemed as though she had been transported; she felt as if she were standing upon a precipice, looking down into a swirling, howling maw. Its depth was unfathomable. In the center of the raging storm below her Fred saw her usurper rising through the fury, and images and feelings were seared into her mind: ghostly tentacles whirling in the fierce wind -- an upturned face of terrible and alien beauty -- a crushing weight of centuries, of eons, of worlds destroyed and forgotten -- a vast intelligence, a sharp awareness, cunning such as she had never known -- and surrounding all, whorls and pools and streams of a blue that burned.

She tried to scream. But her throat was raw, and every breath hurt; she managed a choking sound, and Wesley held her tighter to him, himself shaking.

Words trickled from her, a steady wave of cracked syllables and gasping cries. She felt herself slipping away; felt the magnitude of the intruder's essence rising higher, filling her drying husk of a body with cobalt flame. She shuddered and bucked in Wesley's arms, helpless to stop the encroaching Other. How could she, when this Old One flowing into her was so powerful, so ancient, so cruelly intent on ripping her from herself? She was only a human being, small and weak and unworthy to even know the name of the Being coming for her -- but she knew the name, for the maelstrom of the god's rebirth howled it unceasingly with a voice raw and cruel, and it was a name of incomprehensible terror and majesty.

I L L Y R I A.

How could Winifred Burkle hope to defeat such a god?

She was burning, burning. Her physical body seemed aflame; speaking, breathing, opening her eyes, these things hurt her. But worse than the ruin of her body was the ruin of her mind. Whole years of her short life were being absorbed by the blue flame, wrenched from her control and replaced with an aeons-old consciousness -- childhood was devoured, awkward teenage years inhaled, even the years of Pylea were charring -- the flames were licking the edges of her very soul --

She sobbed her pain, but there were no tears upon her face; everything was boiling away. Her mind was being shivered, splintered, and images were flashing through her mind of the pieces still intact -- Wesley, Angel, Charles, Lorne, Spike, Wolfram & Hart. "Why did we go there?" she groaned. "Why did we think we could beat it? It's evil, Wesley. It's bigger than anything." She was shaking from the effort of speech.

Wesley spoke, but her ears were ringing, there were screams in her mind, and suddenly she was quaking again. A guttural sound, a primal sound, escaped her, and then she cried out, "I'm with him!" No, no, no, if only she could hold onto him, onto this love and this life and this world -- "He won't leave me now. We're -- so close..."

She was dimly aware of Wesley's voice, quiet and broken, "I will never leave you."

She moaned, wanting him to know she'd heard, but her mouth couldn't say the words anymore. Instead she mumbled, "That was bad, but... it's better now... You won't leave me?"

"I won't," he said, and she knew it was the truth, knew he could never leave her, that it would be herself who would be leaving. And with that thought coursing through her breaking mind, she summoned the energy to force more words through her cracking lips.

"My boys," she said. But her love for them was overshadowed with the panic, with the fact that she was sliding away and burning to bits. "I walk with heroes," she mumbled, "think about that."

"You are one," he breathed, and she tried to smile, but her face was forming a rictus, she was dying and she felt like she was already withered and gone.

"Superhero. And this is my power: to not let them take me." She gasped the words through a throat made of ash, and they burned her. "Not me." And then she braced herself, for she knew the Being would not stand for her insolence, her rebellion -- but she would not let herself go. Not willingly.

This god, this I L L Y R I A, it would have to fight to take her, and Fred would fight back. There was too much to live for -- Wesley, and her friends, and her work, and their fight -- and she was not going to give any of that up, ever.

Wesley sat beside her, and the touch of his skin on hers nearly killed her, nearly sent her crackling up into flames, but she would not have him move because he comforted her. If Wesley was still there, not everything would be changed. Not everything would be broken.

"That's right," he said, and his voice was like the flutter of wings.

"That's right," she said brokenly, and through the pain reached for his hand. "He's with me..."

Then there were more words, quiet sad words from Wesley and words that Fred could not control, that were ripped from her mouth, that she knew she had to say. She was lost in fire and she could feel the great crushing weight of the intruder experiencing something like . . . satisfaction. It was close, the god had nearly broken her -- it was hard to remember who she was now, she saw parents and lovers and friends but they were ghosts wandering the wreckage of her mind, but she would not go willingly, no, there was no welcome mat for this usurper.

She stiffened in Wesley's arms. Terror overwhelmed her; she knew instinctively that this was The End. Her body could no longer withstand the heat, the cruel blue power that was so far beyond her, and she clawed at his shoulders with hands that felt ravaged and burnt and brittle, and cried, "I'm not scared, I'm not scared, I'm not scared --" and Wesley pulled her closer to him and she could not see him any longer, there was blue fire in her eyes, filling her mind, her body, her soul, and she could only whimper, "Please, Wesley, why can't I stay?"

And then she sagged against him, her body suddenly light and empty, and Winifred Burkle was broken.

But she was not cast out.

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When Winifred Burkle stopped moving and her body fell limp, its guiding Presence deeply fragmented, Illyria was reborn.

The body of the shell she altered immediately. Frail and dry and stinking of death, it galled her, and Illyria changed it, blued the eyes and lips, the hair and flesh. Blue was the color of Illyria's form in her days of might, when she had been a god-king feared and powerful, her minions garbed and painted in cobalt and with eyes glinting like sapphires. Blue was her throne and all things within her kingdom were tinged with it. So it was that she marked the shell, made it her own, the dominion of the once-great Illyria.

It was a prison of unending cruelty. Illyria had stepped freely between worlds, a phantom in the barriers between dimensions and a Power unrivaled in the worlds of her realm. But this -- this foul, tiny body -- it shackled her, forced her into a vessel far too small for containment of the entirety of her strength, her intelligence, her Self. She felt strangled by the spindly limbs of the shell, suffocated by the old stench of biological processes.

But she had escaped the Deeper Well.

With that knowledge, she could bear this new existence. She would survive it, as she had survived all things: her own weak beginnings when the World was young, her battles with those who had shaped the very earth beneath her, the great wars of demons that made the deep oceans flow black with blood, the long dark internment in the Well. This was merely another trial. She would rise again, even trapped within a vessel so unworthy.

Illyria knew, as she knew all things of importance to her survival, that fragments of the shattered shell remained within the fragile body. They were as pieces of eggshell, delicate and unprotected in the face of the power of Illyria's mind, and yet they survived, a virus infesting Illyria's consciousness and the memories of aeons.

Illyria cared not.

The shell's memories were so few, so separated, so lost that Illyria did not believe they could ever reform. Winifred Burkle was now nothing more than a thousand microscopic motes, scattered to the winds of Illyria's thoughts. Illyria could find the memories as easily as her own, and they were useful in her dealings with the human named Wesley, but beyond that, they did not concern her.

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The mind of Illyria was unmappable. Were a psychic to brave the depths and peer into Illyria's mind, the shock of its sheer size would deliver a mind-killing blow.

One of the worlds in Illyria's realm had been a world of deep oceans and azure seas, a world of demons of the deeps. There were no continents; even islands and slender atolls were absent. There were only waves, blue and endless as far as even the eyes of a god could see.

If Illyria's mind could be compared to an idea within human grasp, the Sea was a fair, if ultimately unfulfilling, idea. The waters were her memories, dark and bottomless; the winds were her thoughts, unimaginably swift and far beyond the comprehension of mortals.

The motes of the shattered soul of Winifred Burkle were lost. Some were buffetted amongst the thoughts of Illyria, lost among howling winds of an intelligence that did not, could not, sleep. Some were crushed beneath the weight of waves where the sunlight of Illyria's attention had not fallen for an eternity or more. Each mote was afraid, existing in isolation, yearning for its fellows but unable to realize what, precisely, it was missing.

A memory of the lips of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce ached for completion, knowing that it had been whole once, unable to remember the other fragments that had made it so. The memory floated silently through the cold seas, at times feebly sensing other memory-motes, but always losing them to the subtly shifting currents of awareness.

But after what seemed an Age and more, the memory of kisses shared with this Wesley sensed another memory, and struggling desperately collided with the remembrance of the smile of Charles Gunn.

The two memories twined together joyfully. Two were stronger than one; two were brighter than one. So it was that after a time, another memory, and another, and another, found the two who were twined, and they joined the tiny gathering. With a thin, faint voice the bound memories began to call for their brothers and sisters. Through the deeps and the winds the voice called, and more and more memories found their way to the joining, to the rebuilding.

One day Illyria discovered that the voice of Winifred Burkle, though faint and weak, was singing through Illyria's own consciousness. And Illyria discovered that she could still know fear.

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The realization that she still existed staggered Fred.

For what seemed an eternity she had drifted, deaf, dumb, and blind, nothing more than a vague hope of Being. She could not move or think, but there was some utterly intangible sense that she was still something, still Fred.

But slowly pieces that had survived the Fires of Resurrection had joined each other, had painstakingly created a threadbare whole. There were huge gaps and chunks forever gone from her life, but she could now remember that she had had a life, that her name was Winifred Burkle, and that her body had been taken from her by a god named Illyria.

Yet some of the essence of Fred still remained; and within her cobbled-together memories, she recalled that outwardly she had been fragile, but inwardly there lay strength. She called upon the remnants of her determination and her anger and her will to survive, and through the waves and the winds she sang out a challenge.

I remain. I exist. You have failed, Illyria.

You will not inhabit this body without another battle.

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Winifred Burkle could not realize what was happening outside of Illyria's mind, for Illyria's thoughts were so powerful that what was left of the shell's mind could not conceive of them. In the outside world, the half-breed Angel had sent them out on missions Illyria knew would prove futile, even if completed, for the strength of their enemy reached into far dimensions and drew from the evil at the center of all.

Illyria and her tenuous comrades -- the half-breeds Angel and Spike, the weak Pylean demon Lorne, the humans Gunn and Wesley -- had entered into a war with the Wolf, Ram, and Hart. Illyria, still trapped within the shell, and with many of her powers now lost to her, doubted that even she could withstand the full fury of the demonic presence of the 'Senior Partners.' But bereft of her army, humbled with the loss of her powers, and strangely attached, as she was, to Wesley, there was no other choice. She would fight, or she would lose all meaning in her new existence.

As Illyria stood before the vehicle filled with her targets, the Fred-song lilted through the layers and layers of Illyria's mind, soft but haunting, a cry for battle.

Even as Illyria brought her fist crashing through the glass of the vehicle's windshield, she allowed herself a grim smile, an expression she had learned from the humans and halfbreeds. If the shell wanted to battle, then Illyria would show it what true might was.

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Fred's presence braced itself. Emotion swirled within the memories that were all that remained of Winifred Burkle. She was afraid; she was furious; she was hopeful. She did not know how to fight Illyria, but fight she would, until one of them was destroyed.

Winifred Burkle.

The Voice tore through her, impossibly fierce and potent. If Fred had still been in possession of her body, she would have gasped, or sobbed, or fainted. In this new and fettered form she could do nothing more than shrink, her presence gathering itself tightly to try and withstand a god.

Why have you taken my body from me? Fred cried into the shrieking winds.

It was necessary for my resurrection. Illyria's thought-voice sounded cold. But beneath the chill, Fred thought she sensed urgency, uncertainty... grief. Fred did not know what was happening to Illyria to make her emotional, but the feelings made Illyria easier to understand, and for that Fred was grateful.

Why mine? Why did you try to destroy me? Surely a human body can't be satisfying to you -- Fred grew in confidence, now, remembering how it felt to have a body -- hands that did her bidding, smooth, soft skin, the skinny legs she'd had since childhood. She ached for its return, for that perfect and easy control she had once had over tendons and muscles and bone. To move again: what a wonderful thought!

It is not satisfying. The human form is impossibly weak. Entering this body was as entering a prison. But it was a kinder prison than the Deeper Well, and so I remained. This is my shell.

The thought-voice seemed distracted, occupied. The waves of Illyria's thoughts were choppy, whipped higher by roaring winds.

Rage flared within Fred. Your shell? Is that what this body is to you? Well, it's not a shell. It's mine. It's me. I'm still here! You failed!

I did not fail. As you can see, it is I who possesses this body. The only reason you remain is because your ties to this body and this world are strong. Stronger than I had imagined.

Fred was silent for a few moments, although it may well have been an eternity in the mind of Illyria. The thought-voice, the god-voice, it was hard to understand from within, just as one has a better appreciation for the size of a mountain from far away than at the mountain's base, looking up. It was difficult to comprehend the words of Illyria; Fred had to concentrate with all the self left to her, her focus far more intent than even during manic, frantic nights in the lab, crouched over new results, wide awake. This was a subject far more important.

I had a life. I had friends. I had work. I had Wesley. You took all of that from me!

Suddenly great emotion flooded from Illyria, and Fred was nearly lost within the tide. There were emotions of regret, of sadness, of surprise and horror and pain. They were wild and chaotic and nothing like the deep but still waters to which Fred had grown so accustomed. She saw glimmers of things, events in the outside world, murky pictures -- Wesley on the ground -- red blood, a deep wound in the abdomen -- a sense of giving up -- and Fred cried out.

What's happening? What's happening? What did you do?

Fred was afraid.

Illyria had fallen silent.

...Wesley?

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The seascape had changed subtly, though not as subtly as when Fred had been wholly adrift. The pieces of herself had noticed, faintly, that something had changed about their massive cage, but had not been able to understand the change, or put a name to it. This had happened a few times, but she had not recognized the change.

Now, though, she was as complete as she could be, and she named the change with horror:

Illyria had truly taken on Fred's form.

With her thoughts sharply attuned, Fred discerned from the currents and winds the differences from Illyria's normal form. Fred heard, tinnily, her own voice, her own familiar, girlish voice, instead of the cool disdainful voice of Illyria's choosing. Fred's voice was choked with sadness. Oh, Wesley. My Wesley.

Panicked, Fred strained to hear more, to understand. What was happening? Wesley? Where was Wesley? She had wondered so many times how her friends had dealt with the invasion by Illyria, but she had not been able to see anything from the outside until now. The murky visions clarified somewhat, and she saw, shimmering in Illyria's thoughts, Wesley's face. He looked like he was in pain. A familiar thread of terror uncoiled itself among Fred's feelings. No, no, no. Not Wesley, please, not Wesley --

His voice wavered, faint to Fred's senses but beautiful, because she had been unable to hear him for so long. Fred. I've missed you.

She wanted to scream out to him, I've missed you too! I miss you every moment! but even as she thought it she knew that Illyria, controlling her body, would not allow him to hear it. Something was wrong, terribly wrong, Wesley was hurt and he was dying and Fred could see him but she could not touch him or kiss him or speak to him because Illyria had entered into a masquerade. Fred's essence whirled around and around, a tiny and impotent tornado in the maelstrom that was Illyria.

The Illyria-Fred kissed Wesley softly. The true Fred wondered if she was dying all over again.

Fred felt utterly helpless, unable even to shake or weep or stamp her feet while crying out Don't leave me! She wanted to fall to her knees, face in her hands as she gasped and whimpered, but she could not, she was only thoughts and feelings now, useless to her Wesley dying on the floor.

The Illyria-Fred spoke again, gently, tears in her quavering voice. It's gonna be okay. It won't hurt much longer, and then you'll be where I am. We'll be together. There was unbearable tenderness in her words.

Where I am? Fred screamed to Illyria. Don't bring him here! No! What are you doing?

Then Illyria's voice came to her, slow and sonorous, calm and emotional both. I am comforting him in the form that he most loves, Winifred Burkle. I am doing what you would do.

Wesley's face looked grateful, at peace, despite his fear and pain. Fred ached for him; she wished desperately that she could feel him in her arms, could hold him and tell him things were going to be all right. She wished even more desperately that she could reverse the wound that was clouding his eyes, making him go limp in the embrace of the Illyria-Fred.

Wesley managed to speak. I -- I love you.

Fred felt life flowing into her, life and feeling and senses, beautiful senses. What was happening? Was Illyria letting her back into her body?

Tell him.

Fred did not need a second command. She whispered, and her voice was hers again, her hands her hands, her tears her tears. "I love you. My love. Oh, my love."

And Wesley was gone.

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Illyria stood over the pulverized corpse of the demon Vail. Vile creature it had been, but powerful, as the body of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce attested to, lying as it did upon the floor.

Illyria shuddered.

She had meant to eradicate the shell's soul tonight. She had also meant Wesley to survive. Neither had come to pass.

Her feet began to move automatically, taking her towards the appointed meeting place. Her chest heaved, and her breaths were sharp and quick. Hot tears spilled down her cheeks.

Mere weeks ago she would not have borne these biological disgraces. They were foul, fetid, weak. But the maddening strangeness of Wesley, with his impetuousness, his anger, his grief and his love, it had intrigued her. She had not been intrigued for millennia. She had enjoyed it, and she had enjoyed the company of Wesley. Now Wesley was dead, and she found herself far more distressed than she could have imagined.

She hated him for making her feel human, and thought she loved him for it simultaneously.

In all her aeons of existence, she had never felt such a thing. Anger and hatred, she had always known. But love, grief, regret, these things had been utterly alien to her. She had seen the primitive humans wallow in their emotion as she passed among them, a malevolent shadow in the night. Even the halfbreeds, the vampires, had retained vestiges of their human stenches. She had reveled in her cold aloofness. A god-king did not feel.

Yet here she was, her body shaking in the cold downpour that had come from nowhere. She saw the alley of the meetingplace in the distance and hurried, her booted feet pounding puddles.

Within her Winifred Burkle was reeling. Illyria had been moved to let the shell speak in its own voice for the last words Wesley would ever hear. She could not say why. Illyria only knew that there would have been even more grief to burn her if Winifred Burkle had not spoken to Wesley in the end.

Emotions hurt. With her old mind she did not understand why the humans fought so hard to hold on to them, when they caused such pain. But with her new mind, the mind that wrapped around the human essence of the shell, she thought she could discern the reason: such cutting pain made good emotions, pride and triumph and pleasure, far stronger in contrast.

She could hear the shouts of the hordes they were going to fight; she could hear the thunder of their feet, hooves, and claws. She felt a bitter pleasure at the thought of bloodshed.

A fence stood before her, separating her from the narrow alleyway scuttled along the backside of the old building. Even through the rain she could smell the blood-scent of the human Gunn and the faint scent of earth and death that always lingered around the halfbreeds. She leapt lightly to the top of the fence, and then down into the alley where Angel and Spike stood, with Gunn weakly trying to hold himself up.

"Wesley's dead."

The words seemed to sear her throat. The Fred-being howled inside Illyria's mind, and it hurt, it hurt. Before her, the human and the halfbreeds were showing sadness for their fallen comrade. Something like compassion welled within her, and she confessed her pain. "I'm feeling grief for him." She wanted them to do something, to help her deal with this bright and terrible horror.

"I can't seem to control it." She swallowed, and the Fred-being keened, crying out for help, for release, for vindication. Illyria squared the narrow shoulders of the body. "I wish to do more violence."

The halfbreed Spike exhibited his usual cavalier attitude, even in the face of pain. "Well, wishes just happen to be horses today."

"Among other things," said Angel grimly.

The hordes of the Wolf, Ram, and Hart drew nearer. They were shrieking, they were roaring, they were thirsty for blood. They were visible now, thousands of demons of all imaginable kinds. Even winged beasts had joined the fight; a dragon soared over them.

The human Gunn attempted a joke. "Okay. You take the thirty thousand on the left..."

But Illyria knew better. Human bodies tore far too easily, and Gunn's wound was mortal. "You're fading," she said quietly. "You'll last ten minutes at best."

Gunn stood, though he was somewhat unsteady on his feet. "Then let's make 'em memorable."

The four of them stepped forward, lining themselves up across the alley. Illyria's tears mingled with the rain streaking her face.

Spike looked to Angel. "In terms of a plan?"

"We fight," said Angel, and for a moment Illyria saw beyond his halfbreed flesh and saw the form of a tall knight shining, white and brilliant, exuding power and majesty. She knew it was his true soul; she knew it for Spike also had this thing, and Gunn too, though his spirit was flickering. She wondered what shape the Fred-soul would have taken.

"Bit more specific," Spike said.

Angel drew himself up, as did his knight-form. "Well, personally, I kind of want to slay the dragon."

And then the demons were upon them.

"Let's go to work."

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Illyria took extreme pleasure from every demon's head she pulverized.

She lashed out with fists and feet, she leapt above the fray to attack from the air, she headbutted demons and knocked them to the ground, where she snapped their necks with vigor. The air reeked of blood: the red blood of her side, the black acrid blood of the enemies. Viciously she killed demon after demon, whirling through the horde, leaving corpses behind her, and still there were more.

Gunn had fallen valiantly, and Illyria had shed water for him, too. It seemed that Wesley's death had opened the gates of emotion, and she was helpless now to stop them. Further back in the alley, Spike and Angel still fought, though they were growing weaker.

Inside of her she felt the anger of the Fred-being, small but bright beneath Illyria's own fury. The Fred-voice was still shouting, still wailing.

Let me fight them! Or kill me! Let me die, let me go be with Wesley! Kill them! Oh God, oh God, I don't know what's happening, I want to fight, I want to die, I'm scared-- The Fred-voice was jagged, confused, terrified.

Illyria understood then what she had to do, what she should have done from the moment she had entered the shell.

Help me.

Help you? She was incredulous. But she was calm.

Winifred. Fred. Help me. These emotions, they are disorienting, I know not how to deal with them, I know not how you humans survive such tumultuousness. Help me.

I can't. I won't. I won't stay like this.

You will not remain in this form, I promise you. If you agree to help me, then... then I shall make this body available to you.

Like before? Her hope brought further tears to Illyria's eyes, and Illyria ripped off the head of another demon.

It cannot be like before. It can never be like before. But I -- will share. That is all that I can do.

Silence inside of her. The demon before her ran a sword through her midsection, but Illyria pulled it out and gutted the demon with its own weapon. Only a little weakened, she looked back to see how Angel and Spike were faring.

I won't be lost in here anymore?

Spike was surrounded by a circle of ten-foot-tall, armored demons. Angel was attempting to break through their ranks, wielding his sword. It glinted in the moonlight.

You will be anchored.

Illyria ran to help them, smashing two demons' heads together as she passed.

I'll help you.

Illyria stopped, shivered, threw back her head. Rain splattered against her face, washing away blood.

She reached out a mental hand to the frightened Fred-presence, and pulled her up, brought her to the forefront of Illyria's own thought, showed her again how hands moved and toes curled and lungs breathed, showed her how lips and teeth and tongue all worked together, and Illyria closed her eyes.

"Angel! Spike!"

Angel had succeeded in breaking through the circle of demons besetting Spike. Renewed by Angel's presence, Spike tackled the leader and snapped its neck as Angel attacked lieutenants with his sword. Hearing the familiar voice, they turned around and saw Illyria standing there.

But it was not quite Illyria. Even with her hair dark with rainwater, and the alley full of smoke and fog, Angel and Spike saw the changes immediately.

There was now only one blue streak in the long hair; the rest was brown again. The blue dusting across the forehead was faded, more human-looking. The eyes held the biggest change: one was electric blue. The other was brown.

"Illyria?" Angel panted, decapitating a three-foot-tall demon that had just run at him.

"Fred?" Spike gasped, his voice full of wonder as he elbowed a humanoid creature in the face.

"Something like that," said the god-woman, and they heard simultaneously the dispassionate voice of Illyria and the warm tones of Winifred Burkle. "We have become one," and that sounded more like Illyria. She turned swiftly and broke the arm of a beast with a sharp twist and pull. "But I can see you again," and that was Fred, that was Fred's voice, mourning but free.

And then the two vampires ran to her and threw bloodied, soaking arms around her, and she embraced them, her sobs audible.

"I'm here I'm here, she's let me come back we're both here, we're here, we have to fight but I wanted you to know I'm here," Fred's voice wept, and they crushed her closer to them, words pouring out of them like the rain.

"Fred --"

"Fred --"

"-- oh God, it's so good to see you --"

"-- I never thought I'd see you again, oh Fred --"

"-- it was terrible, I was so alone --"

Above them, the dragon wheeled overhead, roaring a challenge that rang shrilly in their eardrums. They winced, the reverie broken. Angel lifted his head and looked up into the rain, narrowing his eyes. "It's all mine," he growled.

"Won't argue there," said Spike, voice muffled.

"We must resume battle," said Illyria. "The horde cares not for reunions. But I had to let her speak to you."

"Thank you," they gasped, and then Angel was climbing the fire-escape up to the roof, sword clenched in a bleeding fist, and Spike was charging against a twenty-foot tall beast as he screamed a battle cry, and Fred-Illyria sped through the ranks of the creatures, her fists as death.

They fought.

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the end.