Title: In An Antique Land
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.
Summary: A:tS/LotR. It was many minutes before Wesley remembered that there was something unusual about the very fact of his waking. 1000 words.
Spoilers: Post-"Not Fade Away"; slightly pre-trilogy for "The Lord of the Rings"
Notes: For the Twistedshorts August Challenge. A continuation of the "Edge of a Knife" 'verse.
Awareness returned to Wesley slowly, by gradual degrees. It was many minutes before he remembered that there was something unusual about the very fact of his waking; many more before he stirred himself to recall what that unusual something might be, and blink his eyes open in confused wonder.
Light shone down upon him, warm and brilliant and unexpected: sunshine, clearer and more intense somehow than he recalled being used to. The dark interior of the hall of Vail was nowhere within his range of vision, nor any part of the city he'd left behind; nor, in fact, any landmark that he recognised. Grasses and small, delicate flowers spread beneath and around him, ragged and lush and wild: a small clearing in the midst of a stand of dark-leaved, ancient deciduous trees.
He drew a deep breath; his lungs felt strangely empty, as though the wind had been knocked out of him, and they burned as they filled with fresh, crisp air. He smelled only water and green growing things around him, beyond the familiar background odours of his own body; the air was clean and free of pollutants in a way he'd never experienced even in England, never mind California.
But the sun was the same as the one he'd left behind, though subtly brighter without the veil of pollutants he'd grown accustomed to; the half-suspicion that he'd somehow fallen back through to Pylea fell apart as he analysed angle and colour. He furrowed his brow, then drew a second breath, stirring himself to sit up and take stock, and as he lifted a hand to touch the bloodied hole in his shirt he noticed another curious thing: there was no pain anywhere in his body.
No tension headache. No low, grinding exhaustion, born of one too many nights spent with bottle and book and grief in place of rest and nourishment. No wound in his abdomen beneath the rent fabric: he remembered the moment of his failure now, remembered mocking words, agonising pain, and the taste of blood in his mouth.
He pushed the memory aside, examining himself further. He had no wrinkles either, he discovered, as he lifted a hand still covered in flakes of drying blood and turned it over to scrutinise. No calluses, save the oldest of them, the ones he'd earned on the hilt of a sword in his teens. No scar at his throat. None of the marks, in fact, that had been written on his body by the duties and disasters of his lives as Watcher, demon hunter, and supernatural private investigator. Or friend: the reminder of the gunshot that had kept him wheelchair bound for many weeks had vanished with the rest of them. It was as though he'd been remade, or had regressed backward in time. He considered that a moment, uncomprehending; then felt a sudden, dim flutter of a long-forgotten emotion.
Hope. Had he somehow earned his way to Heaven, after all? He looked up at that thought, a trembling in his spirit about what the rest of the landscape might reveal- and gasped, staring into the looming face of she who had long haunted him. "Fred," he whispered, heart thudding in his chest.
She met his gaze with hers- and he froze, feeling as though the air had been knocked out of him once more. No; this was no Heaven, unless it was one crafted by an ancient demon god. The pitiless presence of Fred's murderess stared coolly at him out of her too-blue eyes; she otherwise wore Fred's form, and an unusual coat of what looked like hand tooled leather over rugged, unfamiliar clothing.
She raised an eyebrow at him, then dropped a stack of similar gear beside him. "Change," she said. "I brought us to this time and place to undo the Wolf, Ram and Hart prior to their creation; but I no longer have as much control as I once did over the flow of eternity. It may be many years, or mere months before Sauron achieves command of the Bane. We must move quickly."
Wesley gaped at her. Brought? Did she-? He hurriedly gathered his feet under him and stood to get a better look at his surroundings. He found their small clearing, pleasant as it was, surrounded by more ominous country; hills rose steadily around them, steep heights and ridges crowned here and there by half-glimpsed, jagged towers and crumbling walls of stone. Nothing was recognisable. But then- it wouldn't be, would it? He looked down at the gap in his shirt again. "Where did you get the strength for this?" he asked, voice harsh and rasping in his throat. She shouldn't have been able to, not after they'd bound her to stabilise her form.
"They prayed to me, even after so many millennia," Illyria replied, mouth curved in proud triumph. "Such were the power and glory I commanded. With the catalyst of their worship, I was able to access their lifeforces in this form; and once you had perished, I no longer felt the need for restraint."
"You killed them," he whispered, dull horror mixing with the familiar weight of despair on his spirit.
"I restored you," she countered, jaw setting angrily, "and set in motion events that will assure I am never known to be worshipped in your world. Is that not enough, even for one so pathetic as you?"
Never known- yes, she had done it. She'd sent them backward in time, erased everything he'd ever known.
He closed his eyes again, feeling the weight of earth under his feet, the kiss of sunlight on his face, the thudding of his heart in his chest. He was alive. Alive without Fred. Separated from friends, kin, personal effects, home- everything save Her. No hope for him now, any more than ever there had been.
But he still had a cause. One worth serving: without Illyria, Fred's soul would never burn.
He stooped and picked up the clothes. It would do.