Disclaimer: Don't own, etc., etc. Joss Whedon rules supreme and retains pretty much everything. Only written for personal enjoyment and because this plot bunny just wouldn't die, even after some serious staking…

Summary: Occurs after The One Chosen. Rating 18 for sexual references. A Hero Returns, and things get both murkier and clearer…

BROTHER, UNFORTUNATELY MINE

"Angel, muffin," Lorne protested as he followed along behind, dressed in a vivid scarlet suit and emerald shirt that nicely brought out his similar hued skin, "You know I'm with you all the way. But when it comes to the fighting my expertise is in –"

"- the running and hiding?" Enquired Gunn sarcastically as he walked alongside the black-clad vampire, hefting his preferred weapon of a large battle-axe with a vicious looking semi-circular blade.

Lorne's eyes darkened from ruby to burgundy with irritation. "What's the rush?" He complained weakly, trotting along the corridors as Angel inexorably headed for the basement garage and his personal fleet of cars, all of which had been fitted with the special necrotempered glass that enabled him to move about without worrying about the sun pouring in through windows. "Why not take Wesley?"

"Wesley isn't in his office, and we don't have time to go looking for him." Angel retorted curtly as he strode along. "The Shoshiilap is going to rise in the alley behind Pang's Chinese in exactly twenty minutes. We have to be ready to kill it the instant it comes through the portal, when it's flesh is still spongy and squidgy enough for weapons to penetrate."

"Squidgy…?" repeated Lorne weakly, his steps faltering as he looked down at his hand-tailored silk suit in foreboding.

"We have fifteen seconds max to slaughter it," Angel continued, "otherwise after that it's skin hardens into a protective armoured shell so dense that it could be at ground zero of an atomic bomb blast and walk away without a scratch."

"Ulp." Lorne swallowed. "Wait! Where's Spike?"

"God knows," Angel muttered irritability, "why do you think we're doing the sprint here? We wasted ten minutes trying to find him. I swear I'm gonna tag him, like they do migrating birds – Damn it!"

The vampire's abrupt halt caused Gunn and Lorne to also jerk to a stop, Gunn pressing his feet hard into the thick carpet as he just managed to avoid burying the very sharp axe-head in Angel's favourite spine.

The black man glared at his boss. "Angel! What – oh."

"He took my Viper. Again." Angel fumed, pointing towards the conspicuously empty spot in the long row of luxury sports cars. Fumbling in his pockets, he whipped out a cell phone and hit a number with considerable force. Lorne raised an eyebrow and behind Angel's back, Gunn mouthed the word 'Fred' to the green demon, who nodded sagely. Angel's difficulties with texting, email, voicemail, cell phones and pagers had been a standing joke for quite some time at Angel Investigations. As Cordelia Chase had once snapped with some force, "'the fact that Angel isn't answering his voicemail might be more significant if it weren't for the fact that he doesn't know how to answer his voicemail!'" Thinking of both Fred and their late friend upset Lorne, so he pushed away the memories and concentrated on Angel's current snit.

"SPIKE! YOU TOOK MY VIPER!" Angel bellowed into the cell phone. "BRING IT BACK NOW!'"

"Sorry, a bit tied up right now, pet...metaphorically speakin' that is." Spike's voice came back clearly since, like most things Wolfram & Hart used, the technology was state-of-the-art plus mystically enhanced. "Decided I'd better keep track of our Wesley at the minute. He's on his way to clear out a few Bihari squatters."

"Alone?" Angel's tone changed to one of concern.

"Er…yeah…he had a bit of a tiff with our resident super-brain…"

"Fred?" Angel's voice rose sharply, it couldn't have been an argument with Illyria, as Wesley would probably not have survived.

"Uh, yeah. He asked her for some of those new grenades to clear out the Bihari, and when she started to come with him…Wesley said he'd handle it alone, 'cause the last time he'd just gotten her hurt…things pretty much deteriorated from there."

"Ouch, I can imagine Fred's reaction to that. He was damn lucky Illyria didn't take over and kick his ass," muttered Gunn to Lorne in a whispered aside, forgetting that vampires had supernaturally powerful senses, including hearing.

"Yeah…didn't take too kindly to being told to stay at home like a good little girl, did our fearless, feisty Fred." Spike responded, his cheer only slightly forced.

"…Nice alliteration." replied Angel. "How long have you been waiting for the chance to use it?"

"Three weeks. Anyway, our Wesley, not being totally stupid, wisely didn't think it was politic to tell Fred she should stay at home and then ask one of you manly men to go with…"

Angel began, "Wesley is-"

"A conceited, condescending, carunculous cockalorum!"

"Now that's alliteration." Spike's voice said admiringly.

Gripping a loaded crossbow and sporting a ferocious glare that threatened to cause spontaneous combustion, Fred silently dared any of the three males in front of her to even hint that it might be more prudent for her to remain here at Wolfram & Hart.

Not being suicidal, they just gave her weak smiles.

"Okay, look, where are you?" Angel asked.

"I'm on Hoyland and 8th in Rosita. The Bihari are holed up in Number 32. It's isolated from the rest of the road, set back in some trees – probably why they chose it I'd wager," Spike informed. "Wesley hasn't arrived yet. I took a few shortcuts and well, this thing can burn, baby."

Angel growled wordlessly but didn't have time for a lecture – they'd already lost five minutes. "Keep an eye on Wes. We'll get rid of the Soshiilap and then get to you as soon as we can."

"Will do." Spike affirmed, cutting the connection.

"Come on!" Angel urged. Picking the next fastest car in his collection, he fired it up while Fred jumped in the front, Gunn and a resigned Lorne clambering in back.

Angel pulled out of the garage and, putting his foot down, headed towards the Shoshiilap's rising spot, while keeping a weather eye on Fred, whose fierce expression hadn't lessened. She kept tightening and releasing her hands on the crossbow as if wishing they were in fact around a certain somebody's neck, her lips moving slightly as she soundlessly carried on a monologue of anger. Angel kept a wary eye on the crossbow bolt in relation to it's pointing at his favourite torso.

For all his my-religion-is-devout-coward routine, Lorne never shirked from stepping up to the plate in his self-appointed role as Team Angel therapist, counsellor and general oil on troubled waters; plus he was willing to do just about anything to prevent Illyria deciding to take over the driving seat in Fred's body again. "Aw, Fred, come on now." He chided the seething brunette. "You know Wesley's no more a male chauvinist than Cher. I know you weren't hurt much, but that's not the point, the point is that you were hurt at all, and you know how Wesley does guilt. When you hurt, so do we, cupcake." He risked leaning forward and patting her on her nearest shoulder – Illyria took exception to anyone other than Wesley touching Fred's body.

But it was Fred who gave a loud, huffy snort, though with considerable less anger than before. "I get that, but what…I'm a woman so I'm supposed to just stand in a corner and swoon?"

"No, but –" Lorne began soothingly.

"I can fight!"

"So could Cordelia," Angel said flatly, instantly creating a bubble of gloomy silence.

Turning from paying the cabbie, Ffion picked up her briefcase and walked up the steps into Nigel Wyndham-Pryce's venerable Victorian office building. Sporting an immaculate coiffure, with flawlessly applied make-up and clear eyes, Ffion gave no sign that she had just made a sleepless round trip to LA. Her plane had landed just before dawn, and she had showered and changed into a fresh business suit at the airport hotel. She entered the building and took the stairs instead of the elevator where she would be expected to make conversation with the occupants; it would take her all of an hour to wrap up what she had to do and then she could catch up on sleep at her London apartment.

The important thing was to ensure that Nigel wasn't aware of her presence in the building as he would fluster and flurry around her like a startled chicken. He was always more nervous when his father wasn't around ready to make the save, though the fact that Roger Wyndham-Pryce was in Edinburgh was what prompted Ffion to come today to get the files she needed. Roger might be in his sixties now, but he hadn't got to the top of the Watcher tree without being acutely perceptively, shrewdly intelligent, and appropriately ruthless.

Despite her contempt for the man, as she made her way to the top floor offices where the real Watcher business took place above the shielding levels of what was ostensibly one of London's oldest accountancy firms, Ffion admitted to herself that Wesley Wyndham-Pryce in the flesh had been very impressive. It was easy to see why both Roger and Nigel were jealous. Taller than his father and brother, his frame was also solidly muscled in a manner that bespoke a hard, dangerous life, as opposed to Nigel's more doughy body. Wesley was also clearly brighter than both of them, which was saying something in Roger's case, as he was no slouch in the razor-sharp intellect department. However, that meant he would have worked out Ffion's little magnum opus in about five seconds flat, and unfortunately Wesley's cold smoke-coloured eyes had shown that in his case, his father's ruthlessness was tempered with pesky impediments like integrity, loyalty, personal honour…and an obvious willingness to sacrifice pretty much everything, including himself, in service to those stupid goody-goody Powers That Be. Ffion smirked as she slipped inside the office she wanted without being seen. She craved power, and she would have it.

"Spike!" The roar of an enraged lion echoed as Angel went full vamp-face and hurled himself onto the tentacle that was about to decapitate his grandson.

The peroxide blond vampire rolled out from under and back-flipped to his feet with no apparent sign of harm as Lorne and Gunn ran to join Wesley as he hacked and sliced.

"I thought you said a nest of Bihari squatters!" Angel yelled as he ducked another hammer blow that would have pulped his head into squished melon. "No problem, you said!"

Wiping away the twin rivulets of blood oozing from his nose, Spike spared a feral grin for his grandsire, "It was!" He nodded at Wesley. "The Great Brit over there just strolled up the drive and started cleaning house. I just lurked in the trees admiring his technique when this thing burst up from the floorboards - the Bihari's back-up."

"Always knew the Bihari weren't very bright," muttered Angel as he and Spike ducked again in unison, "but this is ridiculous!"

Standing just under nine feet tall, two and a half feet wide at the sternum, the Ts'ikk was big and a sort of purple-yellow-blue-black, like it's body was one massive, deep bruise. It had only one head and was bipedal, but it had six arms down each side of it's body, a long reptilian tail whose end had thick bony spikes like a stegosaurus, and dozens of writhing tentacles with snapping crab-like claws protruding from it's back that reached nearly twice it's body length. Ts'ikk were often hired as 'show muscle' but rarely brought in for real action. Slightly less intelligent than pond scum, the Ts'ikk's big flaw was that when fighting it was consumed in a sort of mindless bloodlust frenzy that saw it shred into confetti anything that came near it, including those on it's own side and other Ts'ikk, and the only way to stop it was to kill it.

Angel dodged again and tried to avoid slipping on any of the horribly mangled bits of Bihari that lay scattered about; their ripped apart remains showed that they had brought the Ts'ikk into the battle with Wesley, then paid for their stupidity when the Ts'ikk went super-psycho and started flailing.

Which was probably the only reason Wesley was still alive. Damn, he was going to set Wes down when this was over. The instant the Ts'ikk appeared, Wesley should have just abandoned the Bihari and gone for minimum safe distance!

"Fred!" Barked Wesley, ducking and slicing, "Back seat of my car, the Book of Kionic Portals, bring it! We'll have to open a portal and try and force it back through!"

Dropping the crossbow, Fred whirled and was gone; Angel, Spike, Wesley, Gunn and Lorne charged en masse, hacking and chopping to keep the Ts'ikk off-balance. They'd got an arm and half a dozen tentacles, yet the thing only seemed mightily pissed off as opposed to seriously damaged. Even in the heat of battle, Angel caught Wesley's eye, knowing perfectly well that the Englishman had sent Fred away in an attempt to prevent the emergence of Illyria.

Racing to the car, Fred meantime pounced on the Book of Kionic Portals, using curse-words she'd long forgotten as she opened it and pawed through, heedless of the ancient pages, "Great, no glossary! No index! No chapters! Not even any fucking page numbers!" Calming herself with an effort – deep breaths, in, out, that's right Illyria, stay asleep for Fred – Fred flicked through the pages as fast as she could, acutely aware of the howls and shrieks of the Ts'ikk behind her – "Ah hah!"

Running back, Fred hovered in the doorway and slowly began to say the words on the pages. She couldn't understand a word of the ugly, spidery language next to the large, highly detailed black-and-white drawing of the Ts'ikk ripping human beings apart like rice paper, but had often found that generally a lot of mystical languages tended to have a phonetic morphology – the words were pronounced as they were written, so T-s-'I-k-k was pronounced as if making a 'tsk' sound with your tongue, then simply saying 'ick' afterwards.

Dust motes began to spiral upwards, then one section of wall seemed to shimmer and warp and a whirlpool of mystical energy began to spin with increasing speed, sucking flotsam and Bihari body parts into it.

Remorselessly, the males forced the Ts'ikk towards the portal as Fred chanted in a desperate attempt to keep it open. Her voice was becoming hoarse and deep inside she could feel Illyria begin to stir. The Ts'ikk lunged at the creatures trying to drive it from this dimension, seeking to pulp them. Lorne went down on a bit of Bihari intestine; Spike dove forward and rolled, slashing the tentacle off just below the claw, which fell clattering spasmodically, but was struck by another tentacle and tossed like a rag doll into the opposite wall, striking with an impact that would have killed a human instantly before he fell to the floor, gasping and trying to get his second wind as the others maintained the attack.

KER-RAMM!

The side door shuddered as it was flung back, almost torn from its hinges and another figure jumped through. The huge broadsword that it gripped seemed to rise up forever from Spike's perspective as he lay on the floor barely a foot away.

"BEGONE FOUL HELLSPAWN!" The new arrival pointed the sword directly at the Ts'ikk, which, like everyone else, had turned towards the new disturbance.

As everyone remained momentarily still, the portal pulsed unstably and the Ts'ikk, distracted, shrieked in futile rage when it was sucked into the portal as it closed and collapsed.

"Coward!" Boomed the newcomer, "Flee from before me, would you!"

"With you in that get up, oh yeah." murmured Spike, too low to be heard as everyone gawped at the intruder.

Slightly taller than Angel, the interloper wore a wide-brimmed brown hat, from the rim of which dangled wine bottle corks on white string. Adorning his buff frame was a bright Hawaiian shirt consisting of vibrantly clashing reds, oranges and yellows. The knee-length baggy shorts showed off his tanned, muscular calves, and the Jesus sandals likewise gave his feet plenty of room to breathe.

"Hail! Fellow Heroes!" He greeted.

"G-G-Gru?" Stammered Angel.

"Indeed! I have returned to this fair land from my distant travels. I will sojourn here but briefly, however, I could not return to the City of Angels for even so short a time without paying homage to our princess."

"We have a princess?" Spike mouthed the question sotto voce to Angel, who made a shushing I'll-explain-later motion with his hand.

The Groosalug looked around him happily, "Where is my princess?"

Nigel's secretary was excellent at many things – she ran his office like clockwork and maintained his diary impeccably, providing him with an entirely undeserved reputation for punctuality. Right now Julia's excellence was in the way she lay flat on her back on his desk, skirt bunched around her waist, her legs wrapped around his waist, panting enthusiastically as he pumped eagerly into her hot channel. Nigel buried his face in her Chanel scented neck, moaning in unison with her as he thrust more energetically.

Pressing down on the base of his skull with her hand to hold his head there, Julia groaned and gasped and jerked her hips as she faked an orgasm. Her other arm she 'flung' out, wiggling the tips of her fingers so they could ease those top two confidential letters that Nigel had on his desk veeeeery delicately into her own pile of filing ready to take with her out of the room in a few minutes…that's it…there they go. Inherently lazy, Nigel had foolishly scanned his signature into his computer's clip art; using a CD-ROM to copy his folders, it had taken Julia thirty seconds to upload the contents onto her computer and add his signature to those required reference letters for that senior executive position in Singapore.

As Nigel humped feebly, Julia thought back to Todd Jenson, currently on a three-month exchange from the New York office. Though just as egocentric as Nigel, he was a keep-fit fanatic who had six-pack abs that could only be described as sculpted, thighs like steel pistons and the sex drive of a rabbit in spring. Fantasising about Todd's perfect California surfer-dude body and the way he had nearly pounded her through the plaster of his office wall yesterday, Julia felt the first rippling contraction of genuine pleasure, but before she could increase it, Nigel gave a sharp jerk and a high-pitched yelp; rapidly she convulsed in pseudo-ecstasy as he gave a final twitch and collapsed on top of her.

It was nearly a minute before he managed to lever himself up off her and slump back into his chair, allowing her to sit up and slide off the desk; his face was flushed and sweaty, whereas Todd wouldn't even have broken a sweat yet…Ah well. Rearranging her clothing, Julia gave him a vapid, ego-stroking smile as she straightened herself up, patting her hair down, before scooping up her stack of files and exiting the office. A quick nip into the ladies showed that she didn't need to repair her make-up. For all her moaning and groaning she hadn't even been involved enough to break a sweat herself. Peeking at the confidential letters, she left the women's WC and headed back to her own office.

Unseen on the landing of the stairs above, Ffion paused thoughtfully as she saw Julia Haverson go past, and then made a quick note on her Palm handheld to sort out a new secretary for Nigel, as from the looks of things those reference letters Julia had forged had done the trick. Ffion chose her fiancé's secretaries with extreme care. They had to be more intelligent than Nigel, strong of character, ambitiously career-oriented, and above all view sexual intercourse as a tool for advancement. Each secretary kept Nigel sexually occupied, which, coupled with his low libido, meant that Ffion rarely needed to be intimate with him, and above all there were no embarrassing scenes of angst due to the girl going all starry eyed and mistaking testosterone for love.

Ffion made her way discreetly out of the building, considering other suitable candidates on the way. Julia Haverson should go far, and Ffion had already recommended her for an even more senior level job; it wasn't fair to hold her back just because Ffion was working to a tight schedule, besides which, she was keeping Nigel's libido satisfied. Ffion wrinkled her nose in unconscious distaste. She had been fifteen when, illicitly sneaking out to a party of twenty-something friends of her older brothers, she had in a state of drunkenness tried a vibrator. It had been a revelation. Ffion liked sex, she liked it a lot, but only with her Rampant Rabbit. The vibrator gave her hours of multiple-orgasm ecstasy, and had the supreme advantage of possessing an "off" switch.

"Corrrdeeelia!" carolled the Groosalug, looking past Angel.

"Gru – " Angel paused and swallowed.

Smile fading as he looked at each sombre face, Gru said, very quietly, "I see."

Angel tried again, "I – We need to get back to base, and we'll talk there, okay?"

"Very well –" Sensing movement behind him, the Groosalug turned and looked Spike up and down, drawing back his sword. "A vampire?"

"It's all right!" Wesley took a step forward, easing his body between the Groosalug and Spike. "He fights with us."

"Excellent! Well met, fellow."

"Yeah, right. Cordelia Chase is a princess?" Spike tried to clarify.

"Ah yes –"

Cutting Gru off, Angel tersely explained Cordelia's role in Angel Investigations, the visions, their trip to Pylea that resulted in them meeting Gru, then her being made part demon and then raised to be a higher being. Acutely aware that none of his friends had totally clear memories of the previous year's tragic events, he fudged over her return, and allowed his voice to trail off with a significant look in the Groosalug's direction.

"So, let me get this straight," Spike folded his arms and crooked up both eyebrows, "Cordelia gets sucked into Lorne's home hell dimension of Pylea, where all humans are beasts-of-burden slaves, and within a week they make her their queen?"

"That's about right." Angel wished Spike would shut up; Gru's sudden reappearance had torn open a lot of his own barely healing emotional wounds.

"That's…" Spike paused. "No, sorry, can't even pretend that surprises me." He gazed steadily back as they looked at him with startled faces. "Oh come on, I may not be Miss Physicist to the Stars, here, but I know people. Even back in the day in Sunnydale when I was evil I could tell with one glance that Cordelia Chase rocked. Makes you see cheerleaders in a whole new light."

With a sigh, Nigel relaxed in his seat and took a sip of the chilled Chablis, waving away the stewardess. Most of the others in the plane's business class section were on Scotch or Brandy. Nigel closed his eyes, savouring the wine. Pretending to like whisky when he was with his father and Wesley or their cronies, and drinking Port or Cognac at endless social gatherings often set his stomach churning. However, it had been essential – one of the few things Roger had openly admired about the elder of his two sons, and one of their few areas of common ground, was Wesley's appreciation of the strongest Scotch whiskies, the 'Classic Malts' Talisker and Lagavulin, the latter being his preference. Nigel could barely down the acid, throat-stripping stuff without gagging. Wine was so much more civilised.

A frown knit his brow as he considered his plan of action. He had a few days grace. Ffion would be at her Oxfordshire home, getting the final fittings of her dress and ironing out the last details for their wedding. His father would be in Edinburgh for a further full week – more conflict with that upstart bunch of Americans led by Buffy Summers and the traitor, Rupert Giles. Or rather the other traitor. Nigel had always been his father's favourite, and the popular Wyndham-Pryce son both at school and the Watcher Academy. However his sense of security had been disturbed on the one occasion when it seemed Wesley had 'made good'. For someone of such a young age to be appointed the Watcher of a Slayer was a great honour.

Nigel shifted in agitation, pressing a hand on his stomach as it fluttered uneasily. He wasn't a good flier. Every time his brother seemed to hit rock bottom, he somehow managed to go further. Faith, the so-called 'Dark Slayer', was obviously nothing more than a whore – perhaps the Powers That Be had made some kind of mistake when she was Called – but Wesley had managed to turn the whole situation into complete farce! No Wyndham-Pryce in history had ever been sacked by the Watcher's Council, until Wesley – they had been a laughingstock for months! Mother had nearly fainted when they learned that Wesley was actually an employee of Angelus, the vampire.

Not content with this base perversion and complete betrayal of his Watcher Oaths, Wesley had conspired with Angel to enable the rogue slayer Faith to escape the Watcher Council's justice. His actions had been increasingly unconscionable ever since. The blond man Wesley had taken up with had looked naggingly familiar, but Nigel had been totally unprepared for Roger's reaction when he caught sight of the surveillance photographs. Not content with being Angelus's lackey, Wesley had become the catamite of Angelus' fearsome grandson, Spike! Mother had had to be sedated. Fortunately, further urgent investigation ascertained – Nigel didn't want to know how – that Spike was nothing more than Wesley's roommate.

While Roger had been content to leave it at that, Nigel certainly had not. If that information had come to Ffion's attention…his fiancée was a gentle, cultured, demure woman who had been sheltered from the harsher aspects of life. Had she come across anything that suggested her future brother-in-law was a vampire's whore, she'd have cancelled the wedding post-haste. Nigel shivered; his marriage to Ffion Wilkes-Booth, only daughter of one his father's closest associates, would cement forever his position as his father's favourite son and most importantly heir apparent to his father's seat on the Watcher's Council – the true Watcher's Council.

Now that seemed in jeopardy. Despite everything, Wesley Wyndham-Pryce's reputation as a mystical scholar and an other-dimensional linguist was unmatched in either the Western or Eastern Hemisphere; Angel's sudden recent move to become CEO of Wolfram & Hart, the most evil law firm in this and several other universes, had caught everyone on the hop. But over and above shock, there had been a worrying expression of impressed surprise on Roger's face when it was learned that Wesley Wyndham-Pryce was now Director of Wolfram & Hart's Occult Department, and doing a cracking job in the role. Last year there had been, for some vague reason Nigel couldn't really remember, a prolonged, bitter estrangement between Angel and Wesley but they had obviously been reconciled, presumably about the same time as Cordelia Chase was lost.

It simply couldn't be allowed to continue. Wesley had shamed and humiliated his family for years. Nigel had a bright future ahead of him and trash like Wesley wasn't going to ruin it for him!

The CEO's personal conference room of Wolfram & Hart was bright with the afternoon sun, though the treated glass enabled Angel and Spike to remain safely seated. With the Ts'ikk safely banished, the group had repaired to Wolfram & Hart with the exception of Wesley and the Groosalug. Heeding Angel's hissed command to 'get him out of that outfit', Wesley had taken Gru on a minor detour via Rodeo Drive. One look at Wolfram & Hart's corporate credit card had had an entire retinue of assistants hopping. Now Gru sat at the conference table clad in hand-made Italian leather loafers, stonewashed designer label jeans that hugged his hips perfectly and sported a hand-stitched leather belt with a solid silver buckle, and a V-neck, finest cashmere sweater in an a light amethyst colour that brought out his eyes.

Right now, an oppressive silence descended as everyone looked at the table glumly. Angel held his breath; explaining what had happened to Cordelia in a way that matched his friends' false memories rather than the truth about Connor and Jasmine had been harder than he thought it would be. Everyone 'knew' that Jasmine had critically injured Cordelia by being born, which led to her coma, but still. Wesley in particular looked almost angry, his eyes looking with out seeing at his hands, clasped on the tabletop.

"Then it is fitting." The Groosalug looked at them all squarely. "My princess was a Champion of Good, she died as she lived, as a great warrioress for the light, a true heroine."

"We're truly sorry, Gru." Fred said softly, "We didn't know where you were when –"

"It is of no moment." Gru pursed his lips. "I knew…that my princess had fallen."

"You knew when Cordelia…was injured?" Wesley asked, a strange hesitancy in his voice.

"Not at such." Gru leaned his elbows on the table, clasping his hands and resting his chin on them. "Whence I left you I travelled far, to many strange lands, battled many strange foes. I came eventually to the Land That Is Down Under. I was crossing a great desert when I came across strange men. At first they would not come close, but the next morning when I had grasped their tongue and could speak to them –"

"You learned Aborigine in a day?" Wesley looked impressed.

"I am The Groosalug." It was a simple statement of fact. "Many times I would fight creatures not from Pylea. To have simply slain them without explaining why I was challenging them would have been a great dishonour. I needed to learn new languages very quickly."

"Of course." Spike commented, rolling his eyes in the direction of Lorne from where he sat slouched with his customary insouciance.

"I spent many days with them, they are very knowledgeable about other dimensions." Gru complimented.

"And when Cordy…?" Angel prompted.

"I know that she was not my destined mate, but she was my first love and I carry her with me in my heart, always." Gru said simply but sincerely. "I was with the elders of a tribe, they were explaining to me the Dream Time, when…it was if there were a small flame burning within me…that suddenly stuttered…and then went out. I suspected…"

"So you came back." Gunn finished quietly.

"Indeed." Some of his tenseness left Gru, "And now…have you any abode where I may rest awhile?"

Angel coughed, "Er – well – I bought the Hyperion Hotel…you know…it's still got a bit of earthquake damage, but…" He shrugged defensively, "I go when I can, do a few repairs…it gives me something to do outside work.…Relaxing."

"You can stay at Cordelia's." Wesley interposed bluntly.

There was an uncomfortable pause.

"I would have thought her landlord…" Fred's voice trailed off.

"He did. I bought the apartment." Wesley admitted curtly. "It didn't seem fair on Phantom Dennis…" He added evasively, glad when their faces became understanding – Wesley didn't want them poking around in there; some of the artefacts and written works he stored there definitely fell into the dark magic category and he didn't want to get into a 'discussion' with Angel about how he acquired his collection. Gru on the other hand could live there forever and remain innocently oblivious. "I try to stay overnight sometimes, but I don't get as often as I should. I'm sure Dennis would appreciate the company – for as long as you choose to stay in this dimension?"

"I have decided I must remain here. I will not return to Pylea," Gru explained. "They have no pizza, no coffee…"

"No chocolate…" Fred nodded in sage understanding.

"No booze…"Lorne shuddered

"Besides, there is much evil in this dimension. I am needed here." Gru finished on his usual heroic tone.

"Okay, then –" Angel paused in the act of pushing his chair away so he could stand up from the table as Spike raised a hand in the air. "Spike?"

"'Phantom Dennis'?"

"Cordelia's apartment is haunted by Dennis Pearson. He died in her apartment after he was bricked up alive in a false wall by his mother back in 1932. She collapsed of a heart-attack and nobody knew he was there." Angel recited.

Spike raised his scarred eyebrow. "I had to ask. Come back Oedipus, all is forgiven."

Nigel sucked in a breath, a crick developing in his neck as he looked up at the terraced triumph of modernist architecture that was the LA branch of Wolfram & Hart, Attorneys at Law. Here he was…The private investigator he had hired specialised in mystical assignments; the fellow better be good, considering what Nigel was paying him. He needed to be fully prepared if he was to beard Wesley in this opulent den and the investigator had better find every last relevant scrap of information that Nigel needed….

"It is very small?" Gru said doubtfully.

"In this instance, size doesn't matter. Watch." Wesley expertly threw the dart with a flick of his wrist and scored a direct Bull's Eye.

To Wesley's complete lack of surprise, Gru, after watching him carefully a couple of times, began to throw darts perfectly as if he'd been playing the game for years. As an undefeated warrior champion, Gru needed to possess superb reflexes and perfect balance, but also the ability to quickly adapt to and counteract unfamiliar styles of fighting. Darts might not seem the most cutting-edge of thrill sports, but throw a dart with enough force at a close enough range at something vulnerable like the eye and it would penetrate the brain, killing as surely as a bullet, making it a potential weapon.

The Groosalug looked around Ye Olde Britannia with considerable interest, obviously approving of the jingoistic military-oriented theme. It wasn't actually a Friday, but Angel had asked Wesley to get Gru settled in. Phantom Dennis had shown himself happy to see Gru – to the extent of not letting Wesley open the door the first time he and Gru tried to leave. Both had genuinely loved Cordy, which probably had a lot to do with it. Wesley took a sip of his beer, deliberately pushing away thoughts of Fred-Illyria. He could relate.

"I like very much this 'Newcastle Brown'." Gru complemented, happily chugging at the bottle.

Whereas Spike and Angel's immunity to alcohol intoxication was mystical, Lorne and Gru had a natural biological inability to get drunk. Wesley knew himself to be one of those fortunate – or not, depending on how you looked at it – humans with an extraordinary tolerance for alcohol. Wesley's ability to drink hard liquor such as Lagavulin as if it were mere tap water one of the few things that had impressed his father, which was rather disturbing when you thought about it. He tuned back in to what Gru was saying.

"…Fred seems to be much more silent than I remember?"

"She's not Fred anymore, well, not mostly." Feeling the bile rise in his throat, Wesley acknowledged he needed to have this discussion in case Gru inadvertently did something that brought about the emergence of Illyria.

Quickly he explained about Fred's lab assistant, Knox, the sarcophagus and Illyria – the last of an ancient warrior demon race that had ruled a kingdom on Earth millions of years before, the capital city of which was situated in what was now LA. 'Murdered' by rivals around the time the 'human pestilence' began to spread and buried in the mystical Deeper Well, Illyria had moved through time to preordain it's return millions of years later, when it thought humanity would be extinct.

Possessing Fred's body, Illyria had returned, only to discover the Earth still infected by humanity. Deciding to return to its kingdom that it had been maintaining in a time bubble, Illyria discovered it's temple and palace in ruins and that it's own species and other contemporary demon races were long extinct. "Illyria realised it was an anachronism, a pointless relic. It belonged nowhere in this dimension or any other any longer, lacking any purpose or reason to exist."

Gru frowned. "But why did you not persuade Illyria to leave Fred when it realised she was no longer of any use as a host?"

"Illyria killed Fred, if it left we would lose her altogether."

Gru's eyes widened. "But surely then that creature is a travesty, to be destroyed!"

Wesley gulped back a mouthful of his beer. "When Illyria infected Fred's body, it inflicted massive damage on her internal organs as it took over. When Angel and Spike went to try and find a way to drive Illyria out, they learned that Illyria would destroy Fred's soul as it completed the metamorphosis into Illyria's physical form. After Illyria realised it's home was gone and that it had no place or purpose in the universe any longer, it came to me and wanted to learn how to exist in this dimension. I agreed."

"Because it looked like Fred." Gru wasn't the brightest bulb in the box, but then sometimes, he didn't have to be.

"Yes. Illyria said that as Fred's brain collapsed, her neurons transferred information to Illyria's central processing cortex – her memories, her personality. Illyria remembered that I…cared…for Fred, so chose me as her Guide to this dimension."

"This Illyria hides it's true form well." Gru commented uneasily.

"That's not Illyria," Wesley explained. "It agreed to abide by my rules if I helped it find a place in this world. I did my best to help it…integrate…but Illyria considered itself to still be God-King of the Primordium, et cetera and nearly ended up wiping out the continent."

"How did you defeat it?" The Groosalug demanded.

"We were able to persuade Illyria to let us drain off some of it's demonic essence with a special device I had. It can no longer manipulate time on a whim, nor move through dimensions like a hot knife through butter and it's physical strength is greatly diminished – but I warn you, it is still far stronger than both Angel and Spike combined, plus many demon species – Marcus Hamilton, the Senior Partners liaison, was only able to defeat Illyria when infused with the full power of the Senior Partners entire."

The Groosalug frowned. "Yet you say it killed Fred, yet it is Fred, at least sometimes?"

Wesley sighed. "Shortly after that event, Fred's mother and father – her life-giver and sire, we are a bi-gender species, not uni-gender like Lorne – came for a surprise visit en route to Hawaii…"

"I have been there."

"Yes, well…Angel and Spike were not around at the time…you see, Gru', Fred is the only child – spawn – of her parents, after they lost several babies. She is very precious to them, and I could not bear to tell them of the travesty walking this world in the shell of their daughter's form."

"Such must have been devastating for them." Gru' commiserated bleakly.

"They didn't find out. They still don't know. One of the abilities Illyria did retain after giving up much of it's power was the ability to manipulate it's physical appearance into any form it chose…It could probably turn into a dragon if it wanted to, I don't know…It appeared to Mr & Mrs Burkle acting completely like Fred. They left for their vacation none the wiser."

"And this is how Fred was able to return?" Gru' clarified.

"More or less. Imagine that Fred was in a coma deep inside Illyria's brain, but once Illyria had reverted its form to Fred, she sort of woke up. A few days later, I was showing it an article Fred had written for a physics magazine when it began babbling…Fred was back – though only temporarily at that point." Wesley smiled with bittersweet pride. "Turns out that Fred's soul is as super-smart as her brain. We were told that her soul was lost in the fires of Illyria's resurrection, but it turns out not…I held her as she…died…and in those few microseconds, her soul managed to follow those neural electrical impulses from her brain to Illyria's own cortex. Illyria and Fred share the body…"

"but…"

"…Illyria can take control at any time – Fred exists solely in Illyria's brain cortex, not the other way around and therefore if Illyria's brain dies, so does Fred, regardless of whether Illyria is still inhabiting Fred's physical body or not at the time. I know of no way to separate Illyria and Fred's consciousnesses from each other and restore Fred to her own body, even assuming I could find a way to reverse the catastrophic physiological transformations that Illyria caused to Fred's physical body."

But I think that you will spend the rest of your days seeking those ways. Gru, again not quite as naïve as he appeared, kept silent.

Wesley gave a wan smile. "I'm pleased that you've decided to stay here, Gru. It is good to see you again, even under these circumstances."

"In Pylea I was not needed. Even when I ruled, I was often little more than a figurehead." Gru pointed out. "Here…people cry out for a champion…though…it is strange to me that much trouble occurs between families? In Pylea, they are horrible, but your clan-brothers are bound to you forever…"

"Here we have a saying – your friends are the family you choose yourself. In this dimension, those of your blood can often be the most dangerous people you know. Been like that since Cain killed Abel, and they were the first pair of brothers in the world." Wesley advised.

"I am very unusual in Pylea," Gru admitted, "since I have no brothers of the same blood. When I was born deformed, my lifegiver decided not to spawn again. I am the only offspring. That is unheard of in Pylea, but in this dimension it seems that the number of offspring varies greatly. Of course, having two lifegivers who must come together to spawn must make it difficult to accomplish."

Wesley, trying to hide his grin at Gru's earnest face, tried to comment neutrally, "Difficult, yes."

"Did Cordelia have…?" Gru suddenly looked concerned.

"No, she was…her lifegiver's only child." Wesley admitted softly.

"Ah…Do you have brothers?" Gru asked.

For an instant a blurred image of Nigel flickered in Wesley's mind's eye, but was then replaced by another much sharper picture of Angel and Spike arguing hammer and tongs with each other for nearly three-quarters of an hour over who would win a fight between astronauts and cavemen. That pair had a lot in common with brothers…for example himself. A wry smile curved Wesley's lips as he reviewed his current position as big, juicy bone being fought over by two very large dogs…"Yes, I do…"

"Angel," complained Wesley in exasperation, "let Contracts draw up this deal between the Ottlok and the Chton."

Angel looked down at his A4 lined notepaper, offended. "What's wrong with what I've written? I brokered this peace agreement personally. Gunn, tell him, I sat there for four days solid and talked for most of it."

"Yeah, we could smell you had." Gunn commented pithily.

"What's wrong with it is that you don't write Ottlockian or Chto. Here –" Wesley pointed – "you've just said that Chton spawn should be spit-roasted, not that the Chton should cede one acre of their territory back to the Ottlock."

"Oh."

"Precisely."

"Maybe I should send this down to Contracts?"

"Yah think?"

Rat-a-tat-tat.

All three looked up at the sharp rapping on the door. Angel opened his mouth but the door was thrust open and a short, vaguely familiar man in a very expensive suit walked in, holding a crocodile skin briefcase and wearing an expression of supercilious distaste.

"Can we help you?" Gunn asked, suddenly aware that next to him Wesley had gone very, very still and was emanating a coiled tension that Gunn had witnessed only once previously – right before Wesley had stabbed him in his favourite stomach for, albeit unknowingly, signing Illyria's sarcophagus through Customs so it could be delivered to Wolfram & Hart…and infest Fred. Gunn stood up, eyeing the newcomer warily.

Angel also stood up; as he did so the light hit the newcomer's face in a different angle and Angel realised with a sense of shock that the new man looked like a faded reflection of Wesley. A discreet flare of his nostrils confirmed it – though each person's body scent was as unique as DNA, close relatives had a matching baseline; this scent was not as tart as Wesley's distinct sandalwood and lemon odour, but it was very, very close…and his heart was thudding like a fast drum.

"I am Nigel Wyndham-Pryce." Began the man. "I wish to speak to – ah, Wesley."

"Hello, Nigel." Wesley said, very quietly.

"You're Wesley's brother." Angel came round his desk and pinned on a smile. "He's –" never mentioned you, ever. "I understand that – "

It appeared Angel was destined not to get a complete sentence out. The door to his office opened again due to a vigorous shove and Spike and Fred came through. "Hey Boss man, what do you want –" Spike halted as he took in the newcomer; Angel saw his eyes widen as the blond vampire instinctively scented the man and recognising the closeness to Wesley's scent. A scent Spike is intimately familiar with as he gets to literally do Wes for lunch every day. Quashing the nasty internal voice heavily imbued with jealousy, Angel opened his mouth to try and take charge of the conversation again.

"You're getting married…" Fred smiled at the newcomer nervously. She could feel Illyria again, and for the first time, almost wanted the ancient warrior demon to take charge of her body. Something about Nigel Wyndham-Pryce instinctively set the hairs on the nape of her neck rising. She looked from one to the other, seeing with a knowing feminine eye the signs of Nigel's weakness of character in contrast to Wesley's strengths. Nigel, for all his expensive packaging, left her stone cold, whereas Wesley, standing there in chain store-bought navy pants and cotton shirt, she wanted to ride like he was a Kentucky Derby horse. Illyria stirred more strongly and Fred hastily censored herself. The ancient warrior demon had no concept of 'socially acceptable' – it wanted and took what it wanted as the whim occurred. Illyria would more than likely throw Wesley to the carpet and rape him on the spot. So, down girl.

"Nigel, is –" Wesley began to ask; had something happened to –

"You absolutely must not attend the wedding." Nigel rapped out, ignoring the others as if they weren't in the room.

"Er…didn't we do this bit, already?" murmured Gunn, exchanging a look with Angel.

"Nigel –" Wesley drew in a breath, feeling his cheeks flush with embarrassed heat, his tone dropping unconsciously into the customary placatory, pleading tone; Nigel had always been Roger Wyndham-Pryce's Golden Child, and so though the elder, Wesley had been the subordinate.

"You've already disgraced this family enough with your shenanigans." Nigel cut him off, his tone clipped and icy. "I came to request personally that you avoid showing us up any further by being present at my wedding."

Wesley lowered his head slowly, feeling the tightness of his chest, finally accepting that Nigel was their father come again, not the brother of the soul that Wesley had always craved. Don't you love me just a little bit? Please? I love you – that's why I took the beatings, the abuse, the degradation. I couldn't run, because I would have had to leave you behind… Questions that would never be asked, because Wesley knew the answers; over the past five years, Angel, the living dead, had been far more of a brother than Nigel had managed in nearly three decades.

Spike's eyes glowed yellow, his fangs beginning to erupt from his upper gums; Fred's face took on a pale bluish hue.

Angel let a hint of Angelus suffuse his expression and tone, "Mr Wyndham-Pryce I don't think –"

Wang!

Once again the double doors swung backwards as Lorne strode in, the Groosalug by his side. Lorne stopped dead as he took in the mise-en-scène and the stranger's close resemblance to Wesley,

Gru merely looked innocently baffled. "Is this another warrior who fights with us, like Spike?"

"This is…my brother." Moving forward, Wesley introduced him, his tone utterly lacking any inflection.

Lorne looked Nigel up and down, his expression clearly unimpressed.

Gru, however, remembering Cordelia's past lessons on 'social etiquette', gave the newcomer a wide friendly smile and chose to ignore his rather flabby figure. "Ah, then you are well met!"

Nigel looked nonplussed for the first time, his cold expression becoming uncertain at the enthusiasm of this greeting. "Well, er…I…"

"Which are you?" Gru enquired.

"I'm sorry?" Nigel blinked.

Angel, still standing back at the side of his desk as he figured it was wiser to let Wesley approach his brother due to the clear animosity from the younger Wyndham–Pryce, straightened bolt upright as Wesley's face went putty-grey and his face took on that helpless expression of someone who can see the train wreck about to happen, but who is powerless to prevent disaster.

"Which of Wesley's brothers?" Gru qualified, heedless of how everyone else in the room was exchanging confused looks, "Are you Liam or William?"

"Mooom!" He laughingly protested as his mother insisted on ruffling his hair. "Y'know, I could always go hang out at the mall."

She snorted. "Alright, alright. I do realise that most parents would give their souls to have a kid that likes spending their time in museums and libraries…"

"Exactly!" Smugness oozed from every adolescent pore.

"Well, me and your dad are going to the theatre tonight, so I won't be around to tap my watch and make witty but pointed comments about what time you get in –"

"- So make the most of it?"

" – So just be careful. You're going to the museum and then –"

"The library." He said flatly.

"What?"

"Er…I'm going to call in at the UCLA library on the way back." He said the words uncertainly.

"Honey…"

"I won't be late."

"Okay." Laying a hand on his arm briefly, she deliberately broke the moment, "Now be off with you, young man, so I can get ready."

Connor skipped down the back steps, but his smile faded slightly as he headed out of his yard towards the UCLA & County of Rosita Regional Museum, known colloquially as the Rosy Museum. He was aware that most teenagers, although he was nearly twenty…ish…didn't have museums and such-like on their lists of go-to places. However, he had always loved looking at old things, the more unusual the better. He was guaranteed to be glued to any Discovery Channel thing on archaeology, and any sort of Indiana Jones type movie. Nor had he ever really been teased by other kids about his peculiar hobby. Connor had always had preternaturally fast reflexes and unusual strength; his mother still joked that he was the only toddler in history who could open a pickle jar. As if icing the genetic cake, his physical attributes had been topped by him possessing a quick intelligence and a friendly, outgoing personality that enabled him to get by with almost anybody.

Connor frowned as he walked along, trying to analyse why he suddenly knew he needed to go to the library tonight. Of all the art galleries, museums, historical exhibitions and so forth in the Greater Los Angeles area, the Rosy was his favourite museum because of its quirkiness. As well as having all the usual displays it had an 'OOPARTS' display. An acronym for Out Of Place ARTefactS, 'Ooparts' were things that had been found during archaeological excavations that didn't 'fit' with the time period they were found at.

For instance, many years before, a golden bowl had been discovered at a Indian site that showed not American Indians, but Caucasian, possibly Viking, figures performing some sort of sun rite – yet the strata of soil the bowl was found at predated the arrival of the earliest European colonists to the New World by a good century. Stone jars that turned out to be the remains of primitive acid batteries; Peruvian wall art showing humans in what appeared to be stylised fighter planes with burning engines; all these things fascinated Connor. As far back as he could remember he had sometimes simply felt things, compelled beyond reason to do something or go somewhere without truly understanding.

Mr & Mrs O'Bann ran a 'mom & pop' type store down on the corner since forever; childless, they were honorary grandparents to the neighbourhood, and generous, caring people. One night a few years back Connor had wanted to go to the store, the need growing irresistible. At half past eight he had simply slipped out of his back door and gone. Entering the store, he had wondered around aimlessly in growing agitation until the door burst open and a gun-toting teenager waving a huge handgun that looked like something from a Dirty Harry movie screamed at Mrs O'Bann to open the till. His eyes wild, sweat pouring off him, it was clear the youth was high as a kite. Unseen down by the next aisle, Connor had watched in horror as the youth's finger began to tighten on the trigger; snatching a can off the shelf, Connor led fly with the arm that made him the darling of Little League. The junkie had collapsed like a pricked balloon as Mr O'Bann snatched his wife into his embrace. Connor had apologised to his parents, but they had not been hostile. Lawrence and Colleen Riley didn't really understand any more than Connor did, but they loved him, so they simply accepted that when Connor decided he had to be somewhere, he had to be there.

Had it anything to with the last couple of weeks? Connor didn't want to ever feel like he had a few weeks back. Waking up drenched in cold sweat, gasping for breath, Connor had been suffocated by the sense of terrible, tearing grief. Leaping out of bed, he had dashed out into the hall, convinced that he would find mom & dad slaughtered and their entire street reduced to blazing rubble. Everything had been normal, but for days Connor could not shake the ever-present feeling of loss and anguish, as if the people he loved the most had been torn away from him. He understood instinctively that something very, very bad had happened. Then a few days ago there had been a sort of relief, as if the air pressure around Connor suddenly got lesser, like a tiny candle being lit in a massive, pitch-black cave. Something remained, not all was lost…

Finding himself at the bottom of the Rosy's steps, Connor put his thoughts aside for a time. He had to be at the library tonight. There was something he needed to do there. Someone needed him to be there…but until then, there was apparently a display of new mummies, and supposedly you could still see some of their internal organs! Connor bounded up the steps; he was an unusual teenage boy, but he was still a teenage boy…

Nigel's fist snapped Wesley's head back and sent him stumbling so that he slipped down onto one knee. Infuriated beyond speech, Nigel made a sound like a kettle whistling on a hob between his teeth as he drew back his leg to strike Wesley in the stomach –

Two full-throated roars, as if sounded by a pair of lions hunting on the African Savannah, exploded the stunned silence; Angel and Spike sprang forward simultaneously, their demon faces contorted with rage, fangs erupting from upper and lower gums. Lorne's eyes were twin scarlet flames as he sprang forward also; Gru's violet eyes darkened to onyx as he snatched his short dagger from his belt and Gunn jumped forward, his hands outstretched to pull Wes back out of danger. Behind Nigel Harmony also went vamp-face and tensed to spring –

"Ack!" Nigel's boot never made contact, as abruptly his body was swung forward and up. Helplessly he clutched at the mercilessly tightening hand around his throat as he dangled helplessly, looking down in terrified amazement at the thing crushing his throat.

As if attached to invisible leashes, everyone sort of jolted to a halt.

Nigel gurgled in terrified panic. The Burkle woman was blue, almost the hue of that Zhaan character in that Australian sci-fi show, Far-something. Her body looked as if someone had tipped bluebell coloured powder over her. Her hair colour was now a thick black, like a crow's wing, overlaid with a darker blue, like that dye that punk-rock types sometimes used. Her eyes…Nigel wet himself. They had gone a sort strange crystalline effect that struck right through to his primordial panic instincts. The skinny girl held him aloft by one arm over her head with the ease of a giant holding a handkerchief.

"Illyria! Wesley cried. "Illyria, release him…please."

"You are necessary, you are teaching me how to exist in this dimension. If you are terminated, I am lost." Illyria informed him, taking in the soft tissue damage to Wesley-human's face where the creature had struck him. "I will not permit this." It tightened its grip preparatory to crushing the larynx.

"NO!" Wesley pushed himself to his feet. "I am a lot tougher than I look, I assure you. I will only teach you how to live in this world if you abide by the rules…do I make myself clear?" Wesley's tone was clipped and unyielding; there was no compromise, no faltering.

"You do not wish to destroy it?" Illyria stopped tightening her grip as she considered the way her human guide wasn't backing down.

"He is my brother." Wesley's tone softened perceptibly.

Ah, affection. Not the same depth and intensity that he had shown towards the human Fred who had once been the sole occupant of this shell, but nevertheless. "What of it? I defeated my brother Balaraki at the Battle of Quahh'Xi and dismembered it as it tried to escape."

"That was then. You are in this dimension, now. Your family is to be protected, not butchered." Wesley said carefully.

Illyria released the human and Spike jumped back as Nigel crashed to the floor and scrabbled to his feet, bug-eyed. Trembling like a leaf in a gale, Nigel's mouth worked soundlessly as he remained where he was like a rabbit transfixed by approaching headlights.

"It should be punished for striking you." Illyria ventured, not entirely happy with the not-slaughtering bit, discovering within itself that the rapidly developing bruise on the Wesley-human's face was having a very positive effect on the Fred persona. Often she simply crouched down in Illyria's cortex, small and whimpering and annoying, but now she was trying to give Illyria detailed visual images of how to maim and mangle the pathetic vermin. A lot of the images started with Illyria inflicting a blow to the juncture of the human male's legs, where they met at his torso, which would produce a lot of amusing screaming.

"He is young and is…upset…he didn't intend to do what he did." Wesley lied through his teeth, having been on the receiving end of Nigel's frightening explosions of rage before; the last time, Nigel had broken two of his fingers and cracked a rib.

Angel and Spike growled softly in unintentional unison, hearing Wesley's heart jump slightly as he uttered the lie and the others, not exactly requiring an understanding of rocket science to grasp the subtext, fixed distinctly homicidal gazes on Nigel.

"It's alright." Deliberately Wesley took a step closer to his shaking sibling to emphasise his lack of fear at being with striking range. "Please, Illyria, there is no threat. Please…may we have Fred back? Please?"

For a moment Illyria intended to ignore his request. The Wesley-human was always asking for the Fred personality to be allowed to come forth. Admittedly Illyria had found that by allowing the Fred creature to inhabit the body and then accessing her personality matrix, Illyria understood much more quickly how this dimension functioned. As a human, Fred had comprehended instinctively the many bizarre rituals of this world that were beyond Illyria and enabled it to grasp the subtext. As Illyria decided to ignore Wesley-human's request, however, replaying the events of the past few minutes, Illyria came across some interesting new information in Fred-human's matrix that required closer study. So, after a few seconds, Illyria obligingly sank back into its host, allowing the Fred persona to emerge again.

Angel very deliberately stepped forward past Wesley into Nigel's line of sight, a very frightening mockery of a smile stretching his lips…come on, Angelus… "I don't like those who interfere with me and mine, boy." His voice was gentle and almost purring in contrast to what he was saying, "If anyone with the name Wyndham-Pryce comes near Wesley again I will rip out throats first and get to the questions sometime never. Now. Get. Out."

Harmony jumped to one side and yanked open one of the doors, gesturing the way with her other hand.

Nigel looked around at them all, then at Wesley, humiliation and hatred bubbling up alongside sheer, unadulterated terror, but there was no softness in Wesley's gaze. Despite the way that Nigel had always treated him, the younger man was enveloped in a surge of raging jealousy as he realised that Angel had taken Wesley from him…the petulant anger of a spoilt brat consumed him. "Monstrous." He choked the word out through numb lips before edging past the blond vampiress and running through the building as fast as his shaking legs would take him, his vision blurred by tears of mortified rage…they would pay, they would all pay…and Wesley…he would come crawling back on his knees to his real brother after Nigel killed his precious Angel…

Lorne blew out a breath as they heard Nigel heading towards the Front Desk at a rate of knots. "I need a Sea Breeze and I need it now."

"I second that motion." Gunn agreed.

Angel folded his arms and regarded Wesley steadily. "Liam?" He murmured softly.

"William?" Spike put in, cocking his scarred eyebrow at the ex-Watcher.

Wesley held up his hand and raised his thumb followed by his first and then second fingers as he iterated, "The pair of you are always arguing, you both drive me nuts, and I'm always having to haul your butts out of trouble…"

"Damn, I'm always losin' that lighter." Spike complained. "You'd have thought after having it for nigh on a century and a quarter I'd always know where it – ah hah!" Triumphantly he yanked it up from under the couch cushion and shoved it in the pocket of his – need it be said – black jeans.

"You don't have to –" Began Wesley.

"Yeah, like you're not doing cartwheels of joy inside that noggin of yours." Spike cut him off with a 'what-do-you-take-me-for?' expression.

"Well…"

"Exactly. I mean, here I've been bedding down on your luxurious couch forever, not that I don't appreciate it mind," Spike looked around, checking he hadn't left anything of importance, "when that old grandsire of mine's been hiding an entire hotel under his pillow!"

"The Hyperion Hotel is not all it's appearance would have you believe," cautioned Wesley in amusement.

"Are you tripping? I went and had a look with Gru the Good this afternoon after we tossed your – anyway, lobby as high as a cathedral; fully-equipped gymnasium and Olympic sized swimming pool on the first floor. The second floor's got a professional ballroom and cabaret bar complete with grand piano and orchestra pit." Spike pointed out. "Not to mention – one hundred and ten bedrooms!"

"Only sixty-eight of which were habitable when we were there," Wesley contradicted, "probably less since the earthquakes did their bit."

"I'll manage. Besides, the opportunity to play with Angel's head when he finds I'm living there…" Spike shrugged as Wesley rolled his eyes, "…so I'm superficial, what's new?"

"Okay," Wesley placated. "But just be aware of your surroundings. To say that the Hyperion houses a few restless ghosts is a colossal understatement, Spike. The reason the Hyperion originally closed down for good back in 1979 was because the last concierge did the wake-up calls from room to room personally…with a 12-gauge."

"Yuck, but I can deal. First Evil, remember – a few horrible manifestations ticked off 'cause some glorified bellhop turned their skulls into squished melon isn't going to faze me. I've seen worse…and done it." Spike admitted sheepishly.

"Just be careful. There was a paranoia demon living on the site when they started building the place back in '28, and once the hotel was constructed, it just moved in and spent half a century driving the hotel's guests to suicide and/or murder. The key words here are: bad vibes. It's not that I don't appreciate you giving me back my living space again, but you don't have to move out if –"

"Yeah, I do." Suddenly Spike lost his humour and his face became shuttered and grim.

Wesley waited.

Spike looked at the floor. "Look, a lot of vamps, they like to nest with a few friends, but I've always been kinda into the single occupancy deal. Besides, we both know Angel will be happier with some distance between us. You know about the blood…?"

Wesley nodded. They had been adhering to Angel's request that Spike only feed at Wolfram & Hart. Usually about half-past-twelve or one o'clock, Spike would amble into Wesley's office and shut the door to ensure privacy. Wesley usually perched his butt on the edge of his desk while Spike fed quickly and cleanly. Without talking about it, both were aware of Angel's presence outside the door, though the older vampire had always disappeared by the time Spike left Wesley's office. Harmony had revealed that Angel had quietly asked her not to add the otter and pig's blood any more, and that he was now only drinking about a mug and a half a day. Clearly the dark vampire still had issues with the situation, though he had been doing his usual strong-silent thing.

"And…" Spike drew in a breath…"if I'd moved out…before…maybe Fred wouldn't have died."

Wesley stiffened. "Spike, you had nothing to do with what happened…you tried to save her…"

"Wesley, I'm a vampire." Spike snapped. "Half the time when I came into your office for lunch, I could smell Fred on you, mate. You think I can't see when two people's hormones are saluting each other? You and Fred making googly eyes at other and going all coy, the supply closet never seeing so much action –"

"There was no closeting!" Wesley felt his face go pink and the tips of his ears started to burn. "Absolutely no involvement of any closets!"

"Fine. Whatever. What I mean is that I knew you two were gearing up for the horizontal Olympics, but instead of hauling my arse out of here and leaving the field clear, I decided you two could just wait until it suited me to leave…"

"And this makes you responsible for Illyria how?" Challenged Wesley.

"Because if I had found somewhere else to live, then you and Fred could have been together here in coitus heaven weeks ago. As in, instead of Fred living at Wolfram & Hart twenty-four-seven working non-stop to burn off all that sexual frustration, she would have had her coat on and out the door at one minute past five to snuggle with her honey…instead of forgetting that curiosity did for the cat and poking around mysterious sarcophagi."

Wesley bit his lip, finally realising where Spike was coming from. Had he and Fred been able to come back to Wesley's apartment and begin a physical relationship like Spike said, then in all likelihood, the whole gang would have become aware of the sarcophagus's mysterious arrival before Fred could do her patented I-wonder-what-this-button-does thing. Angel would probably have had the sarcophagus quarantined until they figured out what it was, meaning that Illyria would never have been freed; Fred, though it might just be Wesley's hopeful ego talking, would have been too occupied with other things to be really interested in it. However, there had been no opportunity to take their relationship to the next level of physical intimacy with Wesley living in an open-plan apartment and having a houseguest.

"It's not your fault, Spike." Wesley said wearily. "Knox was setting up Fred from the beginning, and we can play the 'if only' game forever. If only Lorne had taken the precaution of reading Knox when he sang, if only Gunn had remembered just how Wolfram & Hart operates before he signed that Customs release. If only Cordelia…Someone once said that 'if only' were the most heartbreaking two words in any language."

"You're not wrong." Spike met Wesley's eyes, his own shadowed. "It's just…Fred was real…you know? She said she would help me become corporeal and I didn't really listen 'cause I thought it was just words. Yeah, we'll help you, Spike…when we've got a spare minute or there's nothing more important going on. But Fred…she dropped $800,000 on stuff to try and get me back into solid form again without batting an eyelid…If Matthias Bloody Pavayne hadn't stuck his oar in, it'd have worked, too. Don't get me wrong. I love Buffy…completely and totally, with every atom that's in me…but not for a minute do I think she'd drop nearly a million bucks without hesitation for me…"

Despite himself, Wesley smiled. "Fred only cared about doing the right thing. Besides, we have still got her…after a fashion. You can't torture yourself about what you should have done. Hindsight always gives us 20/20 vision. You can gather information, research data, put it all together…but there comes a point where you have to make a choice and act on it. I once…did something that worked out very badly…"

"Yeah?" Spike recognised that Wesley was revealing something of importance.

"It was viewed as a betrayal by…everyone I knew…but I don't for a minute regret doing what I did. I had to make a choice and do something. I acted in good faith based on the only information I had available to me. I was trying to protect people and it was the only way I could. Even if what you do blows up in your face, at least you tried. If you let yourself be paralysed by fear of how it will turn out, you'll be nothing more than a useless dead weight to the people that need you to get off your arse and go kick other people's."

Spike nodded sombrely understanding what Wesley was trying to say. "Yeah…doesn't make me feel any better, though."

"Nothing ever will. That's how you know you're still a good guy." Wesley told him before glancing at his watch. "Not to hurry you or anything, but I want to shower and spend the next hundred years minimum in the embrace of Morpheus, so –"

"Pushing off right now." Spike grinned. "Wonder if there's any water in the Hyperion's pool?" Grabbing the holdall Wesley had 'lent' him (not in any expectation of getting it back) for his few belongings, Spike strode out of the apartment for the last time, whistling cheerfully as he headed down to the parking garage and the Viper that he had borrowed – again – from Angel. He had a feeling that living in the Hyperion was going to be fun, if only for the opportunities it provided wind up Angel up tighter than the E string of a guitar…so tight you could probably play even an E flat diminished ninth with him…

Connor replaced the volume on Aztec culture. It was standard stuff - lots of pretty pictures of pottery and cloth and stuff, waxing lyrical about the Aztecs admittedly superb architecture, while glossing coyly over the human sacrifices with the big knives. Feeling suddenly restless, he looked right and left, and decided to go around the next stack of books to see –

Oof!

Connor bounced back a couple of steps before coming to a halt. His eyes narrowed slightly as he took in the obstacle. He had inadvertently walked into the back of a tall, skinny girl – woman, she looked about twenty-five plus – engrossed in a book…and bounced off like a rubber ball thrown against a brick wall. Connor knew himself to be of the slender-edging-dangerously-close-to-beanpole physique, but the crash should have at least mussed the long hair that was held back in a ponytail down her back. The very strange hair…it was a dull, unreflective black, with a bright blue tinge, as if she were a Goth wannabe who had done a bad dye job.

Still…manners maketh man; besides which, Colleen Riley would tolerate many things in her children, but rudeness wasn't one of them. "Sorry, ma'am." He waited a moment until he realised she hadn't even noticed. Okaaaay, I'll just –

"I do not comprehend." The slender figure snapped the book shut and Connor saw that it had a photograph of a racehorse on the front before she shoved it back on the shelf and pulled out another on horses.

Realising the woman was talking to herself, Connor decided to make a discreet retreat, however his feet seemed not to be getting the 'move' signals from his cerebrum and instead he heard himself ask, "Is something wrong?"

For a moment she blanked him, but suddenly seemed to realise that she had been addressed. Turning, she spotted him and looked him up and down indifferently. Connor felt the hairs on the nape of his neck stand to attention. She was a slender waif: narrow hips, not quite flat-chested, but small, firm breasts underneath a thin loose top with a scalloped neck and wide, floaty sleeves. However, her skin had a very faint cerulean cast, as though she had sky blue paint under her skin and her eyes…they had a glassy sheen that was nevertheless totally alert. Connor got the distinct impression that something very, very old and very, very, very dangerous was weighing him up.

"These are horses. Equine quadrupeds. They are ridden by warriors and priests."

"Yes." Connor ventured since it was clear that Miss Kooky was for some reason irritated by them.

"Then I do not understand. Do horses have some function when humans have sex with each other?" Her face showed frustrated confusion.

Connor Riley was a person who was known for being able to maintain his equilibrium in almost any circumstance. When others ran around like startled chickens, Connor kept his head. It served him well now. "Only in certain…highly specialised and deeply, deeply disturbingsituations."

The woman frowned and tapped its – her - fingers on the book as it - she - considered his answer. Up close she had a sweetly pretty oval face, long lashes and a gentle mouth that looked as if it's natural tendency was to smile. Connor was overcome with a nagging sense of familiarity…and sorrow. Right now, however, she merely looked mightily pissed off, and something deep inside warned Connor that his chances of survival depended on changing her mood. "What –"

"She specifically said horses. I do not see –"

"Do you know for sure 'she' said horses?" Connor risked.

"I know everything." She responded flatly.

Okay, moving on from kooky straight to weird, "What exactly did she say?"

She frowned. "It was her inner desire, her thought. She wanted to 'ride Wesley like he was a Kentucky Derby horse.'"

Connor coughed violently and she glared at him, her eyes taking on even more of an unpleasant crystalline quality and their soft bronze-brown hue taking on a sky-blue tint. Frantically composing himself, "I…ah…think she was speaking metaphorically."

"Metaphorically?"

"Ah, you're not American are you?"

"No, this is not my world."

"Okay, one crash course in 21st Century American Sexual Subtext, to go. What she said about this Wesley…is a phrase, a saying designed to emphasise depth of feeling..." Desperately trying to think of an example, Connor's last History class obligingly popped into his head. "Like for instance, 'not for all the tea in China' – you have heard of China?"

"I have acquainted myself with modern geography."

Taking that as a 'yes', Connor went on, "Well, there's a country called England, that used to import a plant leaf called tea from China –"

"Yes, Wesley is English. He likes to drink tea." Looking moderately less psychotic, she gave him her full attention, which was actually more scary.

"At one time, long ago, Chinese tea was the most expensive tea in England because it was the best quality, so everyone wanted it. That's how the saying got made, if someone wanted you to do something, and you refused and said, 'Not for all the tea in China', what you meant was that you wouldn't do it, even if they offered you something as valuable as Chinese tea."

"I see. This Kentucky Derby horse…"

"Absolutely." Connor interposed quickly, not needing to go to the scary visual place again. "To ride a horse properly builds strong leg and abdominal muscles." Ignoring the burning of his face, Connor explained, "When a woman takes the top position instead of the…ah…missionary, and…er…straddles the man, it gives her a great deal of physical pleasure, which is – ahem – increased if the woman undulates her body in a certain way – as if she were riding an actual horse…" so I've heard…hell, the Last Virgin in LA giving sex tips to Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, go figure.

"Top position?" She demanded. "Explain."

Before or after I spontaneously combust from sheer embarrassment? "I think you probably ought to be in the – " nearest asylum – "sexual therapy section."

"Show me."

He opened his mouth but something in her tone precluded him merely pointing and running for his life. Leading the way, he gestured to the shelves. This being California and UCLA's library building, there was a lot of literature, and few shy authors. "That's what you need…of course, the master text is the Kama Sutra. That big one, but it's in English. To really get the nuances you need the original Hindu work…"

"Where is that?"

"This being UCLA, they've probably got one in the vault downstairs," Connor guessed doubtfully.

"Fetch it." Turning from him she pulled out the first book on the top shelf and began to read.

Slipping away, Connor contemplated just heading out of the door but found his feet heading towards the Enquiries desk. His father's favourite saying, with justification, was 'what goes round comes around'. As a child, Lawrence Riley had been one of the few kind and friendly towards a chubby, bespectacled dork. Years later, his firm had been taken over by a multi-national conglomerate, but Connor's dad had been the only executive not fired – baffled when he was even promoted to his current prime senior level position. Then he met the new CEO – who had lost three hundred pounds and invested in contact lenses since growing up and becoming a billionaire computer tycoon. Connor likewise believed in payback; abandon the horny but clearly potentially homicidal chick now and he'd probably meet her again in an even worse mood in some lonely back alley one night.

"Can I help you?" The assistant asked.

"Er, yes. Do you have a copy of the Kama Sutra – in the original Hindu."

Her expression, which had moved towards I-don't-like-teenage-boy-pranks, cleared slightly. "The original…"

"Yes. Original language text."

Tapping of keys revealed that they had one copy in the vaults. Connor gave her his best smile, "Could I have a look at it – I'm just there in the stacks. I need to cross-reference something. I'll bring it straight back."

Reluctantly she agreed. He waited until she returned with the volume, taking his student card from him and scanning the barcode. The Kama Sutra in original Hindi, if mom and dad ever find out about this…Walking away, he went back to where Sky, as he had mentally christened her due to her skin sheen, was deeply engrossed in a book. He watched as she rapidly flicked pages, apparently reading, before putting the book back and getting the next one. "Er…"

Turning, her eyes fastened on the old, leather-bound volume in his hands and he let her pluck it from his grasp. Opening it at the front, she stared at the page for several seconds, then began to turn the pages, her actions becoming faster as she went. Connor, trying to ignore the nagging certainty that she had just taught herself to read Hindi by staring at the page for those few seconds, waited patiently until she finished and thrust the book back at him.

"I understand now. I will go to Wesley now." She paused, "You have truly helped me."

"It's what I do." Connor intended to be casual, but somehow his words seemed to resonate in the air, as if filled with a far more profound import than seemed apparent.

Her eyes narrowed and she looked at him with an expression that seemed to see right through his skin. "Yes."

Connor watched her walk away, hefting the book as he made his way back to the Enquiries desk, going back over what had just happened, and finally gave in to his mind's insistence on referring to Sky as 'it' rather than 'she'…

Wesley gave a deep, satisfied moan as he stood there and let the showerheads blast his body with water, washing off the suds as he tilted his head from side to side, working out the kinks in his neck. Finally turning them off only when the water became tepid, he quickly towelled his hair until it was only damp, but didn't bother to brush it. Despite the traumatic events of the day, he couldn't help but smile at his reflection as he uncapped the very expensive moisturiser and rubbed it into his skin. His father, who had used nothing but soap and water 'as god intended' for over sixty years, would have had a fit. However, demon gunk tended have an adverse effect on the tender human epidermis, and even though the enchanted stiletto handle healed the bite marks Spike was unable to avoid inflicting, a bit of extra help for his neck wouldn't go amiss. Replacing the bottle cap, Wesley caught sight of the spectacular bruise he was developing around his eye and sobered.

For a moment his jaw clenched, but then he forced himself to relax. Nigel had made his choice. Wesley had borne the brunt of Roger Wyndham-Pryce's abuse, protecting his brother and three sisters by deflecting towards himself the full brunt of their father's constant mental, emotional and occasionally physical abuse. Wesley sighed; his sisters were actually pretty reasonable – even Magdalena, who could be the ultimate social snob, kept in intermittent touch, while both Lydia and Jocelyn regularly clogged up his email inbox. However, Nigel had been spoilt. Wesley had been the eldest son and firstborn, whereas Nigel was the younger son and youngest child after three intervening girls and doted upon by a father unable to truly subjugate his older son. Nigel's natural inclination to be more conciliatory than confrontational had been twisted by a complete lack of discipline and total parental indulgence into a completely egocentric save-my-own-skin attitude. Nigel only loved Nigel. Period –

Wesley started at the brisk rapping on his door and glanced at his watch, frowning at the late hour. Quickly pulling on his jeans and zipping up the fly, he left his shirt off, doing the fly button up as he left the bathroom. Maybe seeing him without his shirt would give the caller the right hint that Wesley was headed for bed. Had Spike forgotten something the English vampire considered of vital importance, like a packet of cigarettes or a bottle of Jack Daniels? Keeping one hand close to the double-headed axe hanging handily on the back of the door, Wesley opened it. "Yes -"

Fred walked past him, her sky-blue skin seeming to glow gently.

"Illyria." Wes shut the door and turned to face her, his weariness forgotten. "What do you need?" Turning her away never occurred – not only had he made a deal, but that way led to the warrior demon going a-massacring in the neighbourhood. He recalled Marcus Hamilton's peevish recitation of Illyria's destruction when it rescued Charles Gunn from the Wolfram & Hart holding dimension – torture units, troop carriers…No, indeed, even with some of it's original strength drawn out to allow Illyria to live in this dimension, the demon was still capable of inflicting massive damage on its surroundings, in this case Wesley's blithely unsuspecting neighbours.

Illyria looked around it with interest, approving of the plethora of weaponry…perhaps this Wesley-human was worthy to mate with after all. It looked at the human male objectively, realising that the damp hair and faintly wet skin were signs of his recent bathing. That humans were sentient enough to comprehend that cleanliness had benefit to the soul as well as being a merely physical task was something greatly surprising to Illyria until this afternoon, when she had followed the vampiress Harmony onto the 4th floor where Wolfram & Hart had it's employees' health suite. The Wolf, The Ram and The Hart had certainly grown in power and influence since the triumvirate's position during Illyria's reign. Illyria had been impressed at how much humans liked looking after their bodies and had suffered its host to being treated at Harmony's urging. The manicure and pedicure had been most enjoyable, as had the 'facial'. The bikini wax…not comfortable but tolerable.

Still pondering on whether to hunt down the 'Nigel', Illyria's thoughts had turned to Fred-human's views on it's guide, Wesley. He was a wise shaman, and a creature of honour, having kept his word to teach it how to survive in this bizarre world. That Fred and Wesley were moving towards mating had been easy to discern, and Illyria had been told that 'libraries' were the place to find knowledge on any matter pertaining to this world. That peculiar boy-human had been most helpful, and he emanated a strangely intensive mystical signature that Illyria recognised as distinctive of the Powers That Be.

Now Illyria evaluated Fred-human's chosen mate. The musculature over the skeleton showed Wesley was a warrior as well as a shaman. However, the actual act of coital congress had taken Illyria considerable time to research at the 'library'. Gender as such had not existed amongst it species or most of those during it's era, most being either unisex or multi-gender, with bi-gender species such as humans being a distinct minority. Illyria's original form had had various bodily Hraku orifices that triggered pleasurable sensations when other of its kind inserted their Ihrak organs in them and moved back and forth against the direction of the Ihrak organ's spiky protrusions. Likewise Illyria's original demon body had had several Ihrak organs that produced pleasure when it inserted them into the Hraku orifices of others.

Humans, however, were a bi-gender species. Female humans had only one Hraku orifice, and no Ihrak organs. Likewise, human males had only a single Ihrak organ and no Hraku, and their Ihrak did not even have spines. Congress could therefore only occur between one male and one female at a time, instead of being able to mate with several at one time, which certainly wasn't very efficient. Again to Illyria's astonishment however, humans devoted an extraordinary amount of learning towards the subject of non-reproductive mating. Mating only for the purpose of pleasure as opposed to merely producing spawn was another sign of higher intelligence in a species, and one that Illyria had never even thought to imagine humans possessed.

Wesley was starting to worry that he needed to check the building for corpses. "Illyria, what is it?"

"I will start with your mammaries. Lay back on that surface." Illyria instructed, pointing towards the kitchen table.

"Ah – w-w-what?" Wesley stuttered.

"Those." Illyria pointed at his chest.

Wesley looked down, half-expecting to see sudden bizarre growths protruding from his torso, before realising Illyria was referring to his chest.

"Many of your human scholars contend that male nipples are a redundant vestige." Illyria recited. "However, studies have shown that some males have great sensitivity within their mammary area. I have observed you over the past weeks and you wear loose shirts and soft sweaters. This indicates that your nipples are more sensitive to physical stimuli than a lot of other males. Lay back on the surface. I wish to suck them."

Wesley opened his mouth, swallowed, shut it and tried again, his voice cracking. "I – Illyria…human sexuality is not an area that should concern you. You are a warrior demon. I will help you learn how to live and do battle in this world…but, human… mating would be of no interest to you."

"It is not." Illyria replied indifferently. "However, it is what she was going to do with this body."

"Fred?" Wesley clarified, feeling as if the floor had turned to quicksand under him, his brain unable to form rational thoughts.

"I have spent much time examining her thoughts. It is why I chose you once my kingdom was destroyed, because you would help me since I inhabit the body of she whom you loved." Illyria explained, noting how the male's skin was flushed and how he had begun to perspire at the temples; definite signs of mating desire, but…this was apparently a common problem according to the scholarly texts. Two humans desired to mate, but often created many barriers to their own desire themselves due to 'insecurity'. Illyria didn't comprehend this; if it desired to mate, it mated with that that it chose. Fred-human had wished to congress with Wesley…a lot. "She wished to ride you…like a horse." Illyria added helpfully, remembering boy-human's explanation of metaphor.

"Oh god." Wesley swallowed at the sudden image of Fred straddling his willing, supine body, taking him deep inside…

Illyria laid it's left hand on Wesley-human's chest and calling up various sections of helpfully illustrated text before its photographic memory, gently rubbed the pad of it's forefinger back and forth over the brown nipple. Almost immediately it peaked and hardened, a tiny, taut pebble. As the text informed, Wesley-human's body temperature also began to increase.

Illyria had both her hands placed on his chest, massaging his nipples. Wesley, unable to marshal a coherent thought, was reduced to silent mental ih-ih-ih whimpers as he found himself gently manoeuvred towards the kitchen; halting when the back of his thighs bumped against the table. Despite his brain dissolving into porridge, he managed one last effort, "I-Illyria, you don't need to bo-ther!"

Illyria paused. Don't stop! Swallowing back the scream Wesley went on. "It's true…Fred and I…but you have Fred's body now. You don't need to concern yourself with mating with me like Fred…It's alright really…"

Illyria considered. "I thought this originally, but I have investigated the works of the great shamans of this world. Mating is a deeply complex section of how humans interact with each other. If I am to find a way in this world, I cannot afford not to comprehend such a large area of your species' culture. I need to be able to follow the…" Illyria recalled the boy-human's terminology, "…sexual subtext."

" Nhh…"

Growing impatient, Illyria pushed Wesley-human in the chest so that his body was shoved back on the table and then hitched itself up so that it sat astride his hips. The texts had indicated that it didn't really matter which one you started with, so…bending it's head, Illyria carefully manipulated the muscles and tendons in this body's jaw, tongue and throat, beginning to lick and suck the left nubbin of flesh. Wesley-human bucked under it, but it placed its hands on his shoulders and pinned him down as easily if holding a batuluk; not even the two vampires could have matched Illyria's vastly superior strength. Finding a rhythm of contracting it's mouth muscles, Illyria obeyed the books' directions to move between one nipple and the other and back again, finding also if it very gently grazed each hard peak with it's teeth, in a sort of nibbling action, that Wesley-human responded in a gratifying manner. Certainly from within Illyria's cortex Fred-human enjoyed his response. The nipples were surprisingly pleasant to the taste, having a slightly rough texture and their pleasant feeling in it's mouth increased by the salt that Wesley was producing through his pores. Illyria's species had never had nipples, and Illyria found the experience quite interesting. Wesley-human raised his hands to this body's breasts but shifting it's position slightly, Illyria was able to pin down his hands with it's knees; it did not want to be distracted by the sensations that this body could produce until after it had fully finished with Wesley.

For some considerable minutes, Illyria concentrated on the nipples and Wesley's chest, finding that the dark hairs on his chest that arrowed down towards his Ihrak organ were surprisingly soft and rather pleasantly ticklish against this body's skin. Eventually however, Illyria became rather bored and made as if to sit up. As it did so, Illyria finally paid attention to the rhythmic sounds Wesley was making in the back of his throat. Illyria paused and looked down at itself as a hot prickling sensation swept across it's upper torso; Fred-human's own mammary organs warmed and swelled and this body's own nipples tightened and peaked.

Illyria looked at Wesley-human in amazement. For a being to be able to experience actual sensual pleasure simply by listening to sounds, with no aiding physical stimulation, was a sexual response of the highest sophistication, something only the most intelligent life form was capable of. It required not only abstract thought, but also creative thinking. Beyond mere imagination, it required the creature involved to be able to construct on a deep fantasy level what the sensation would feel like without actually experiencing it while at the same time 'trick' it's own physical body into believing it was experiencing actual physical contact.

Illyria and its brethren had always ignored the human plague, consigning them to insignificance. They lacked height, weight, and speed, or any useful bodily appendages such as tentacles or sharp horns. Only a few out of the many possessed any mystical talent; when attacked, the human usually merely stood there screaming very loudly until you decapitated it and made the annoying noise stop, or else ran away. Illyria began to consider that humans were more than they first appeared – like Ibukkas, they were small, hairless and seemingly defenceless, until the Ibbukas hidden tail whipped around and stabbed it's venom-tipped stinger deep into your body.

Speaking of things being deep into bodies…Illyria mentally turned the page of the appropriate texts. Nothing too adventurous until it had better control of this body's fine motor skills, but…sliding off Wesley-human so it stood between his thighs, Illyria looked at him as his breathing began to slow. His flesh was flushed, damp from the sheen of perspiration. Reaching out a hand, Illyria popped the button on Wesley's jeans, feeling the tremor that went through him. He raised a hand up and his muscles contracted as he prepared to sit up.

"Do not move." Illyria ordered. "This activity is…pleasant. I do not wish to take time from it to punish you."

Wesley's muscles relaxed. Keeping his arms by his sides, he watched Illyria through eyes darkened to coal black, his hands knotted into tight fists by his side. Aware that human males were vulnerable in this area of their anatomy, Illyria carefully pulled down the zipper, cupping his hot genitals in it's hand, feeling them engorge further. Gently releasing them, it listened approvingly to Wesley's pleading sound of protest, but needed more room to…ah hah; Illyria tugged the jeans down to Wesley's knees, getting them out of the way, gently stroking the softer flesh of his thighs, and the smattering of hairs on his abdomen as they led down to the darker thatch of hair. Wesley's throat worked convulsively, but he remained still.

All the instructive texts had been quite clear on this part – extreme caution was required. The touch had to be just right – not so weak as to merely tickle, but also not so harsh to inflict real pain, or as one scholar had put it, 'girls, you're not kneading bread dough here!' The two soft sacs beneath had a very sensitive patch of skin underneath, that, if scraped very lightly with a fingernail made the male –

Wesley cried out, his head going back, his hips lifting towards Illyria in mute supplication. Things were progressing well so far. Moving closer, Illyria used it's immense strength to grip Wesley-human's hips and hold his body absolutely still. Bending it's head, and remembering the actions that had worked so well on his nipples, Illyria carefully began to explore Wesley-human's maleness, discovering that his accompanying cries and moans were almost musical and stimulating. His flesh was hot, but the taste of his essence was not unpleasant; Illyria grazed the tip of his organ with it's teeth, smiling against his organ as his hips futilely attempted to thrust in it's iron grip. The soft sacs beneath his organ began to contract and his breath hitched in his throat. Raising it's head, Illyria lifted a hand and gently applied pressure to the nerves just…there. Wesley cried out again, tossing his head from side to side as he trembled on the brink but was denied release.

Hitching it's dress up to it's waist, Illyria stripped off the Fred-human's panties and then pushed up lightly on it's heels; balancing it's weight carefully on it's arms, Illyria mounted it's mate, slowly allowing this body to be impaled on his organ. Mindless, Wesley's hands gripped this body's hips, his own straining to thrust up as he attempted to pull Fred-human's body down. Illyria did not punish him for his disobedience, simply removing his hands from this body's hips and intertwining it's fingers with his own as it held his arms either side his head. Somewhat strangely, female humans could experience multiple orgasms with far more ease than the males; repeatedly stimulating the male but not permitting him climax for the first few times, however, resulted in a more powerful release.

"Please…now…" Wesley implored.

Settling herself, Illyria tore another cry from him; once adjusted, Illyria very carefully began to undulate it's lower body, contracting it's muscles tightly around Wesley's organ as it used the inner walls of the Fred-human's channel to massage the tip of the organ in a manner that also made the pulsing organ rub against a certain spot, deep inside this host body that…oh…Illyria felt sharp sensations flash up into it's stomach. This was definitely very pleasurable…if it moved slightly that way…yes, that's it

Wesley screamed with the force of his climax, bucking wildly as he thrust upwards so violently he almost threw Fred off; her own scream echoed his and she rode him wildly before collapsing forward to sprawl on top of him, a second and then third climax sending aftershocks through her and milking the last drop of his seed from him.

The clock ticked a full minute past as they lay there, gasping and as wrung out as if they had finished a marathon. Slowly turning her head to face him, Fred moved fractionally and gently kissed him. His hand came up to cup the back of her head as the kiss deepened between them.

Finally breaking apart for lack of oxygen, they stared at each other. Wesley whispered, "It…was you…" He was hyper-aware that their bodies were still joined. "At the end…before I…came…you took over. It wasn't Illyria. You were riding me when I came."

Carefully, Fred eased herself away from him. "Yes." Pulling his jeans all the way off his legs, Fred took Wesley's hand in hers and tugged.

She led him obediently across to the steps leading up into his bedroom. She didn't have much time, and that table wasn't likely to withstand too much erotic athleticism. Pulling back the covers, Fred sat on the bed and tugged Wesley down next to her.

Heedless of his nudity, Wesley swallowed, fear spreading through him. What he had done…it wasn't with Fred…it had been without her consent…he had used her body without her permission. He looked at the covers blindly; if he begged for her forgiveness, she might…Fingers took hold of his hair and tugged his head up so their eyes met. "Fred, what I did…"

She laid two fingers over his lips, cutting him off. "Oh yeah, Wes. The way you threw me down and jumped me like a rabid rabbit - not. What is it with you and guilt?"

Wesley looked away. "It wasn't your choice, Illyria –"

"Had the guts to reach out and take what I wanted for me when Queen of the Wussies just cowered in her central cortex." Fred sniffed, before drawing in a deep breath. "Wesley, listen to me very carefully, because I may never get another chance to say this to you. I love you. With every sub-atomic particle of my scrawny Texas body. You are everything to me. What just happened…do you have any idea of how long I've been wanting to do that to your naked, helpless, luscious, hot, sweaty body…"

"I think I've got the hint." Wesley gulped.

She leaned forward and kissed him passionately, Wesley instantly responding. Firmly she pulled away. "I'm the one who's got to apologise, Wesley." Fred placed her hand lightly over his mouth when he would have interrupted. "No, listen. I can't stay for long – Illyria's going to come back soon and it wants to play. Illyria has chosen you as its mate, because I chose you as my mate. Illyria knows everything about me, including everything I wanted to do to you, courtesy of my raging hormones." With a weak smile, Fred admitted, "When…when I was dying, I remember that a part of me was so angry.In those last few seconds a big chunk of me was mad as hell that I would never get the chance to jump those delicious bones of yours." Confessing, "Illyria will take you when, where and however it chooses, because you are it's mate," Fred blinked back tears, "I love you with everything I am, so I can only say sorry and ask you to forgive what this body is going to do to yours-"

It was Wesley's turn to placed the pads of his fingers over her lips. "Fred…it's alright. I'm your mate, and I know that you love me as much as I adore and worship you. That's all that concerns me, that you love me."

She kissed him again and they ended up entwined on the bedspread. Wesley rolled them over so he was on top. "Illyria…how long before it…?"

"We've got about half an hour." Fred glanced at the LED display on the bedside clock, then back at Wesley. "You Brits have a reputation for being cool in a tight spot. Let's see what you got." Fred challenged recklessly.

Wesley's eyes glinted dangerously; lowering his head he began to move down her body, pausing to press a kiss into the cleft between her breasts, cupping her buttocks in two warm hands. What…? Oh, he was kissing her…thereoh…kissing and licking and nibbling and oh, his tongue's a lethal weapon…oh, god! Fred moved her hands and tangled them in his hair, her eyes fluttering closed, giving herself over to the delicious ecstasy as Wesley pleasured her.

To be continued

© 2004 C. D. Stewart