The Agony of an Instant
Rating: PG (For mildly violent imagery and a few sketchy words)
Timeline: Immediately post-NFA. Spoilers throughout.
Summary: Upon witnessing a tearful reunion of lovers, Illyria reflects upon Wesley's last minutes. And in reevaluating her emotions, she at last realizes how it feels to have loved...and grieved.
Pairings: Illyria/Wesley (implied), Spike/Buffy
Disclaimer: The characters herein are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. They are being used out of love and respect, and not for the sake of profit. No copyright infringement is intended.
Pain was such a foreign sensation. Her human skin hummed with awareness, sharp pangs seizing her hardened lungs and sending echoes of hurt through her body with every intake of breath. The muscles in her compact, human-clad form were tense with anger which demanded an outlet. Her nerves were strangled with a bizarre tingling sensation she didn't know how to label. In the shadows surrounding her, she kept seeing his face. The widened shock of his eyes and the oddly serene look which had overcome him in those final moments. She kept seeing him, and it was driving her mad.
Illyria had forgotten how mortal men felt. With as much time as she'd spent with Wesley in the past few weeks, a part of basic understanding had forced itself to the back of her complex mind. She knew he was breakable, of course. Those who surrounded her now were all too fragile. These people who walked the earth with no true understanding of it; the vampires who bore faces of men but lived the lives of demons. Just weeks ago, she would have annihilated them without a thought. With nothing more than a casual flick of her wrist. Now she was staring down the path of hell—a road divided by the Legion and fueled with a foolishly heroic notion that were she to die, it wouldn't be in vain.
Illyria wasn't one for selflessness, but she could appreciate strength. And despite her better judgment, the strength she saw in those around her—in Angel, Spike, Gunn, and Wesley—had filled her frozen veins with something akin to warmth. They were ready to die for this cause. And she would be there with them as they fell.
After all, she'd been there with Wesley as he took his last breath. If she lost the others she'd grown to tolerate and, against her better judgment, admire, she would be there to watch them die as well. She would be Fred if they wanted it of her. In one's final minutes, appeasing whatever requests they made was the least a godlike entity could do.
However, it didn't last. Nothing lasted. Within minutes of the Legion's charge, a thunderous explosion disguised in a human voice resounded through the alley with a deafening crash. And before Illyria could blink, she felt the cells in her too-human body tighten with awareness she'd thought she no longer possessed. The air around her sparked with whispers of power. Illyria blinked numbly and, along with every other body filling the alley, stopped in astonishment and glanced up.
There was a witch. A witch and perhaps a dozen others behind her. Her hair was white in the after-effects of her spell, her eyes black with magic, and at her side stood one Illyria would have recognized anywhere in time. Not for her face or anything otherwise remarkable about the way she carried herself. No, it was the power she knew. Power older than any force on this world—older, even, than herself. Illyria had seen it form and shape itself over generations. She'd seen it define itself time and time again. She'd seen power, and no matter the package, she would always know it for what it was.
The Slayer. The original. Not the first, but the original. The one whom had fed her power to all the slayers behind her. The balance was shared among many now—something Illyria still had a time comprehending. There was the Original Slayer and the slayers behind her. And the Original Slayer was the one who wielded the most power.
Buffy Summers. The Original Slayer. The one whose name struck fear into the blackest of demon hearts. This was the Slayer the vampires loved. Angel and Spike. This was the Slayer which dominated their thoughts.
She was here. In this alley. And she'd brought reinforcements.
Too late. They were too late. Wesley was dead.
Thunder cracked and lightning blinded the night sky. And it was over before much of a battle could be made. The dragon Angel had claimed as his own fell with an unceremonious plop to the hard cement ground, the hands of Hell itself prying through the pavement to gather its followers before the witch's magic could blink them out of existence. Where there had been thousands just seconds before, there was now nothing. Nothing but the empty echoes of demon snarls and roars.
It was all so anticlimactic. Illyria found she was disappointed.
After witnessing the life leave Wesley's eyes, she'd prepared to channel her unspoken outage and conflicting emotions into the slaughter of many. She'd prepared for so much.
Rain soaked her hair and ran rivers down her pale cheeks.
Illyria turned, her wintry eyes immediately finding Angel. The look on the vampire's face was almost comical. Were she in the mood, and should she understand the mechanics of it, she might have been moved to laugh. As it was, the former god stood idle as the alley filled with the reinforcements no one had expected. She watched as the one called Buffy ran forward as though the battle hadn't already ended, her eyes searched the alleyway with desperation Illyria found perplexing.
Desperation implied the immediacy of loss. What was there to lose now that the battle was over?
"What the hell are you doing here?" Angel growled, seizing the Original Slayer's arm. "What the hell, Buffy?"
"Saving your ungrateful ass!" she spat, jerking away from him with a move saturated in animosity. "Do you mind? Where is he?"
"Don't give me that, you jackass! Where is he?"
The Original Slayer didn't wait for a response. Her eyes had already found the one she was looking for. The other one—Spike—sprawled on the ground. Illyria blinked. She hadn't seen the bright-haired one sustain injury. Then again, she hadn't seen much of anything. Just the charge of the demons and their quick defeat. It wasn't a surprise, she supposed. Not much of anything was anymore.
"You beautiful, arrogant, pigheaded, lovable moron!"
Except perhaps that.
The Original Slayer was crouched beside her vampire in an instant, the ferocity of her words countered by the tender way her hands slid under his head and the emotion pouring through her eyes. She was shaking as though cold, and though the rain was rather chilly, the heat steaming from the ground made shivers implausible.
Spike blinked dazedly. "Buffy?"
The Original Slayer huffed indignantly and slapped his chest. "Don't you 'Buffy' me!" she screamed, her body trembling so hard it was impossible to tell if her cheeks were wet from rain or tears. "Nine months? Nine months? Y-you've been back and—"
The vampire released a small groan, pressing a hand to his stomach. "Not that I don' appreciate the sentiment, ducks," he murmured gently, "but I don' think this is the right time for this."
Though the words he spoke were light, Spike's eyes blanketed with adoration. It was a look Illyria had never seen before. At least, not outside Fred's memories of Wesley.
"You don't get to make decisions, you jackass! Do you have any idea what I've been going through? Do you have…have any idea of how much—"
"Sweetheart, everyone's lookin'—"
"Let them!" Buffy spat. "Nine months. Nine long months, and this is how I find out? Some stupid seer in Giles's stupid coven telling me I better haul ass to save your stupid self? And a quick post-script: you're alive?! Let's hear it."
What ensued was something between a screaming match and a symphony of tears. Illyria watched, perplexed, as the Original Slayer screamed and pounded on her vampire's chest. As rivers streamed down her red, swollen face. There was such emotion in something so ostensibly joyous. So much happiness in the guise of sorrow. People cried in times of elation? This was something Illyria would never understand. Nor would she understand how one's feelings of love could be conveyed through tearful screams and other actions typically regarded as hostility.
She didn't understand it; perhaps she wasn't meant to understand it.
She didn't remember feeling this when Wesley died. Wesley hadn't wanted to look at her face. He hadn't wanted to view the creature who had come to feel something in the vicinity of human emotion. She'd asked him if he wanted her to be someone else, and he'd said yes. His last moment's on earth and he hadn't wanted to spend them with her.
All in all, Illyria couldn't say she didn't understand. Wesley's grief following her invasion of the shell she now wore was never something he'd attempted to hide. He'd loved the one who had come before her. He'd loved Fred in every feasible interpretation of the sentiment. He'd loved her so much, and he'd felt her loss with every wake. Seeing Illyria day after day had been the perpetual salt in the open wound. It was no wonder he'd wanted Fred in those final moments.
It was impossible to ignore, however, that Wesley's grief had transformed into something else as time attempted to heal the wound Fred's death had inflicted on his weary soul. Toward the end, Illyria could've sworn Wesley was beginning to see her as more than the parasite who murdered his love. He was beginning to talk with her as though. Confess things to her. Relate stories about himself. Occasionally, he would share his memories of Fred. Memories Illyria already knew, of course, but it was fascinating to hear events she was familiar with recited in a different voice. Offered a different perspective. And while it pained Wesley to speak of Fred, Illyria reasoned it to be somewhat therapeutic as well.
She'd offered once to become Fred for him—once before his death—and the offer was met with hostility and disgust. Her interest in Wesley had begun as fascination with the residual human feelings her mortal host had left behind, though had rapidly spurned into something gods only dreamed of experiencing.
And when the time came to grieve for him, he hadn't let her. Only then had he wanted to see Fred. See the girl Illyria wasn't, and could never be.
Why it mattered what a lowly human thought of her was beyond her reasoning. But watching the Original Slayer and her vampire, having melted from the screaming match into sobbing confessions of love and kisses right out of the hands of poets, an alien wrench struck the hollow chamber Illyria guessed to be her heart.
The Original Slayer called Buffy and Spike sobbed because they were reunited. The love between them was thick and overwhelming. And it reminded her of Wesley.
Of Wesley's love for the girl who used to live in Illyria's body.
How could tears of joy outweigh tears of grief? The battle was over, and they were still standing. And yet the people around her were sobbing. People she didn't know. People she didn't want to know. Angel was speaking with a man she'd never met. The witch she'd seen earlier was studying Gunn's mortal wound. Buffy and Spike remained on the pavement, their lips meshed together in a passionate frenzy, confessions of love pouring between their kisses and their faces soaked with a combination of rainwater and tears.
Illyria had not wept for Wesley. She'd held him as he died, but she had not wept for him. Not as herself, anyway. The tears she'd cried as Fred hadn't been hers. Not entirely. And yet if happiness could bring with it such pleasure, what was there to say for sorrow?
She'd assumed the visage of Fred to say her goodbyes. Had she done it for his benefit or her own?
Had she wanted to remain impassive and distant?
Admitting affection for a human meant owning up to weaknesses she hadn't believed she possessed. Affection for a lesser being. For a man whose veins pumped blood. He'd lived, breathed, eaten, slept, drank, and lived every day as someone beneath her in the cosmic food chain.
He hadn't stood in awe of her. He hadn't cared.
And yet, against all odds, she ached in the echoes of his loss. She grieved. The world wasn't as interesting. Not without Wesley.
Spike was wrong. Wishes weren't horses today. She'd been cheated out of the violence she'd longed for in the immediacy of Wesley's death. And while the heroes cried over themselves—as Angel faded into the distance, as Gunn collapsed to the ground, as Spike reclaimed the love he'd spent the year mourning, Illyria felt nothing but vacant.
She wanted Wesley.
His body was as she'd left him. A look of peace graced his face. The remnants of the tears she'd cried as Fred hung thick in the air. She'd never seen him look at her as he had tonight. When her face was no longer her own. When the blue from her hair faded into brown and the pallor of her skin tanned into the form of her body's first owner.
Fred…I've missed you.
Illyria blinked hard, a storming, painful sensation gathering in her gut. Every inch of her body hummed in sorrow. Her feet seemed to grow heavier the closer she got to Wesley's still body. His hand was soaked in blood. His eyes were closed.
He was at peace.
And Illyria stood, for the first time, a broken entity. A god without a following. A warrior without a country.
A woman without the man she loved.
Love. Was that what this was? Was that what she was feeling?
Illyria didn't know. But if this was love, she wished never to feel it again.
It was hard to imagine being close to another human as she'd been close with Wesley. Feeling things for a human as she'd felt things for Wesley. Touching a human with her lips as she'd touched Wesley.
Somehow she ended up on her knees at his side, her hand finding his cold cheek.
I—I love you.
A strange sensation formed behind her eyes. Illyria blinked hard and wiped the damp feeling away with her free hand. She found herself wondering if she'd been truthful with him before. If the girl he'd known and loved was indeed waiting for him wherever his soul had vanished. She hoped so. She hoped Wesley found the love he'd lost in life in the after-plains of death. The world could not be so cruel as to deny him that.
Then again, she was a god. The world could indeed be that cruel, and much crueler.
At once, she felt nothing like a god.
She felt helpless.
She felt human.
Illyria inhaled sharply and her chest ached. She looked at Wesley, and the air around her felt unreasonably cold.
And when at last she wept, she found she had no desire to stop.