Willowy Megness (wishingwillow) wrote in iftomorrow,
Willowy Megness
wishingwillow
iftomorrow

A Decision

"Do it."

Illyria's words stayed with me several hours I had finally freed myself of her grasp and made my way up to the room I had been given. No, not several hours - all the hours. From the moment I made that offer, to the next moment as I was walking back down the stairs, she was with me.

Funny how many people lived in that one word. She. And maybe not as funny, how between the moment that I left and the moment I returned? That was just another single moment. Hours, stretching and living together as I came to fully understand just what I was about to do. No, that wasn't funny at all.

I was going to do this, help Illyria. But that didn't sound right. Now that I am away from that conversation, and all the things that were said, who am I to know what would help her? And that isn't because she was some kind of God, after all...I had weilded that kind of power once. I knew what Illyria saw when she looked at me. I knew, and a part of me hated...

It wasn't because I couldn't relate to her that I had second, and third, and thirtieth thoughts about what I was about to do. It was because I could relate. I read the grief in her features, and that is where my heart wavered. Who am I to presume that I can teach her how to deal with grief?

It isn't something I had done very well on my own.

So was that why I was walking down these stairs? That I didn't want anyone - even Illyria - to walk the road I had? Only I hadn't been walking. No, that had been about reeling and screaming and avenging and bleeding...

I would never forget the blood. Just as I would never foget Tara. But I was going to have to forgive. Forgive myself for what I had done, and....the smallest part of me would have to forgive her for dying. For leaving me alone. I had never really stopped being alone since.

Not really. Not ever.

But I had to forgive all that, and walk away as well. Because if did this - and I was going to do this - I would be going back on another promise. It had ben a stupid dream, to think that if I stopped using all magics the First would somehow return her to me. It had been trying to take my weakness and turn it against my friends. Turn me against them. What if someone else died while my back was to them?

Tara would never have asked that of me.

Tara was dead.

Tara wasn't coming back.

I knew all this. And even....if somehow.....

That foolish dreamed played within me for just a moment, only to be pushed away.

Even when they come back to you, it is never the same.

Yes, I had ghosts to exorcise, bigger and darker ones than I think any of us realized. Still. Oh, Buffy and Xander saw...but they didn't know.

Illyria just might.

There were things inside her, voices and memories that made even simplest acts sometimes impossible...a walk, a touch...a friend. Things that needed to be left behind, before she - we - could move forward. Yes, I think she knew.

I stepped up to the desk Wes was sitting at, hoping he would forgive me for the part he needed to play in my plan. But he was tied to her, just as I was tied to Tara. Wheather that was something either of us wished. I looked at the computer, not quite able to meet his eyes. I had to get him with Illyria, alone.

"Wes," I started softly at first. "I don't mean to tear you away, I never was a tearer...especially from a good research run..but I was wondering if you could help me?"

Why did that have to sound so right? I didn't want to be the person that could make that sound right.

"When I was upstairs, I felt something. Dark magic has been used in the hotel. A lot of it, and recently. I wanted to look into it further, but...I thought it would be best if I wasn't alone." That much was true.

"Since we had worked together before, and magic isn't exactly Buffy or Xander's....I thought maybe you would come with me?"

((open to Wes and Illyria))
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"Wes, I don't mean to tear you away, I never was a tearer... especially from a good research run... but I was wondering if you could help me?"

I glanced up from what had proved to be a rather dismal stab at online research-- I just didn't have the proper experience at it, nor, it seemed, a full enough vocabulary. Since when, I thought to myself, did "google" become a verb? All in all, Willow's appearance was a welcome respite.

"Certainly, Willow. I'm at your disposal. This," I said, gesturing at the computer, "is proving far from my forté."

"When I was upstairs, I felt something. Dark magic has been used in the hotel. A lot of it, and recently. I wanted to look into it further, but... I thought it would be best if I wasn't alone."

I nodded. Willow had specifically said 'recently', so as I rose from the chair, I eliminated any residual effects of the Thesulac demon, or any of the interdimensional bleed from Connor's arrival.

"You're absolutely right," I replied, and stepped up to Willow. "Recently, you say? Perhaps it's time to re-institute the Sanctuary spell."

"Since we had worked together before, and magic isn't exactly Buffy or Xander's... I thought maybe you would come with me?"

"Of course. Though, I'm not very further up the magical ability ladder than most anyone. But I'm glad to help."

I walked around the front desk and followed Willow up the stairs, wondering just who or what could have invaded our home and been practicing dark magic. It didn't sound like the traditional modus operandi of The First, but then again, neither was corporeality.
Willow had informed me to remain within this room until she had returned, but she would not inform me as to her reasons.

I stayed because I was curious. Patience was something I was beginning tp learn as well, and so I moved about the room, fingers dancing upon the walls and skimming across various objects and books.

So much kept hidden from view...

Like myself, I suppose. Willow was kindred, and I was glad of it. Finally I had found someone who seemed to not only understand me on various levels, but also was willing to speak to me unafraid. There was no judgement in Willow's eyes.

She wished to assist me.

So when the door finally opened and I saw her there with Wesley, I merely cocked my head to the side not understanding.

"I thought you said you were going to help. Wesley will be of little use."
"Certainly, Willow. I'm at your disposal. This," I said, gesturing at the computer, "is proving far from my forté."

But it was mine. I could just sit next to Wes, and pretend I had never made this decision. Together maybe we could figure out whatever it was he was working on. But since I had already impulsivley announced the presence on Dark Magics in the hotel? Pretty much not an option.

Not that it really was anyway.

"Of course. Though, I'm not very further up the magical ability ladder than most anyone. But I'm glad to help."

"Thanks," I said, almost an aside as we began walking up the stairs. That had been extremely hard to say.

I knew that Illyria would be in the room where I left her. Just as I knew if I ever asked her to meet me somewhere, she would always be exactly on time. Not a moment early, or a moment late. She wasn't that human, not yet.

But I wasn't ready for her to be just standing there, waiting for us to come through the door. When I'd left she had been out of sight. Why had I foolishly thought she'd stay there? It wasn't supposed to happen this fast.

"I thought you said you were going to help. Wesley will be of little use."

I didn't look at Wes, but instead moved behind him to shut the door firmly, cutting the three of us off from everyone else.

There was nothing....no choice now.

I met Illyria's eyes just before the lights flickered off.

"Dormio quiestis quaero sed.
Nosco teneo veritas quin.
Fieri."

They both slumped, unconcious, Wesley resting against the back wall while Illyria fell to my bed. My voice grew thicker, broadened by the power I was accessing, and what I had already done.

"Fieri."

I sought and pulled and freed until the two were seperate, and a shadowed form began to appear in the corner. For now they were just themselves, one of them a little less.

The other, hopefully, a little more.

"Fieri."

It wouldn't last for long, but it would have to be enough. Job done, I left the room.

No.

I fled.

Willow opened a door for me, and I stepped inside, ready to investigate the remnants of magical energy. Instead, I was faced with the dismissive glare of Illyria.

"I thought you said you were going to help. Wesley will be of little use."

"Illyria?" I began to spin 'round to face Willow. "Willow, what the devil--"

Before I could react, I heard the click of the door closing, dimming the lights drastically. Willow's voice began intoning behind me.

"Dormio quiestis quaero sed.
Nosco teneo veritas quin.
Fieri."


It was a spell, that much my mind registered immediately. However, my limbs seemed to turn to lead much faster than I could make myself find Willow. My head clouded, and I thought I felt myself fall.

---

When I came to, it was to the same room, laying on the spot where I'd stood what didn't feel like very long ago. Willow had cast some sort of spell, I recalled, but what kind I was unaware. Sitting up and rubbing my eyes, I found that the room was brighter now, but everything around had taken on an odd shimmering quality.

I sprung to my feet and immediately pulled hard on the doorknob. The lock resisted further shaking, not to mention the applicationof my shoulder against the wood. I looked across the room at the prone but beginning-to-move form of Illyria.

"Illyria!" I barked. "We need to get out of here! Willow's done something to us. We need to find her-- stop her, perhaps. I--"

I lost my voice. A slight form, topped by a wavy mass of brown hair, lay curled into the corner. Cautiously, confusedly, I made my way across the room and leaned over the form.

Entirely incredulous, I whsipered at the form: "Fred?"
"Dormio quiestis quaero sed.
Nosco teneo veritas quin.
Fieri. Fieri. Fieri."


My eyes narrowed slightly at Willow as I understood her words, spoken in an old tongue for the humans that they had adopted from the Ancients.

"No. This is not what I had--"

Then my world was gone once more.

--

I stood, ever so slowly, and noticed Wesley was trapped within the room and Willow had vanished. I had assumed as much, although I still was uncertain as to how this trick of hers would assist me.

"Illyria! We need to get out of here! Willow's done something to us. We need to find her-- stop her, perhaps. I--"

"There is no stopping her. What is done is done, although...why you have joined me in this quest I cannot fathom." My eyes searched the room that felt...odd. Different somehow. "Do you sense it? The energy flows like water...the ebb has altered..."

"Fred?"

No. Willow assumed this would aid me? No, how could this be, this was not...I spun slowly, catlike grace filling the body I inhabited, as I met her for the first time. The Shell, standing there, before me.

Before Wesley. Interesting.

"Why are you here?" I asked simply.

"Fieri."

There were words...and I didn't understand them. I think I am supposed to understand them, or at least I might have been able to...before.

I listened harder, because. Because....I could listen again.

"Illyria! We need to get out of here! Willow's done something to us. We need to find her-- stop her, perhaps. I--"

I curled even tighter into myself, aching to find that this was just like before. When I would see some things, but never everything. It was all so...broken. Shattered like the pane of grandpa's window, when I had hit that ball to far...too foul.

That had been me. It had to have been me. Right?

And this was just another glimpse into something that was. That always left me wanting more, at least when I knew what want was. Always longing for....

"Fred?"

That I couldn't ignore. I opened my eyes slowly and looked up to see him just above me...and our gazes met briefly before I looked away. My eyes closed again.

This wasn't real...not again real...not forever real. I knew that more than anyone. I felt it more than anything...the holes and parts where I didn't quite fit together anymore. And something....some voice seemed to be confirming that. I think I should know that voice.

Remember Fred. Run and hide and work and research and fight and...

Remember.

My eyes opened agained and I looked up at Wesley.

"Not so much looking for...as looking at," I echoed slowly.

I stood, leaning against the wall...trying to find words of my own. Did I have those again? Did I have anything anymore that wasn't hers?

"Wesley," I tried, something in it old and new...maybe that would do?

"Why are you here?"

There it was again. That voice I thought I knew. I turned and looked at...her.

"I think I am here...to help you."
"What is done is done, although... why you have joined me in this quest I cannot fathom. Do you sense it? The energy flows like water... the ebb has altered..."

My brain barely registered what Illyria was saying, but it did feel the truth of the statement. The world did not feel like the world, not exactly. The wall, the door, even Illyria and the form that looked like Fred were all either slightly out of focus or too sharply in focus.

Fred stirred, blinked, looked at me-- recognized me, surely-- then closed her eyes again. There was disorientation and confusion written into every bit of her body language. Finally, she looked at me again and spoke.

"Not so much looking for... as looking at."

My eyes narrowed. What was she talking about?

"Fred? Fred, I don't understand, looking at what?"

"Wesley."

I reached out, grasping one of Fred's hands in both of my own.

"I'm here, Fred. I'm here." There was even a strange timbre to my voice, though whether that came of whatever strange plane we were all existing in or from the stabbing ache of knowing that though Fred was here somehow, her hand in mine... that it couldn't possibly be real.

"Why are you here?"

"I think I am here... to help you."


"Help Illyria?" I looked from one to the other, so very very different.

"Why? For God's sake, Fred, why?"
"Fred? Fred, I don't understand, looking at what?"

I stepped away from the pair and allowed them their lovers' reunion as my hands sought the door and a way out. There was no need for me to stay, not truly - not ever perhaps - and if Willow's incantation had indeed brought back Fred then...

I was unneeded.

Palms flat on the door, I tried to break through, but my powers were gone...no strength. Nothing. The witch with the darkness in her soul must have placed another spell upon us that would not allow us to leave until this was complete.

I was a prisoner to the pathetic fairytale playing out before my eyes.

"I think I am here...to help you."

"Indeed?" I closed the distance between us quickly and wondered at my own existence. If she had but lived...if the vampire had indeed discovered the means to transport me back to the Deeper Well, then she would live and I...perhaps I would merely be dust, as my temple was.

"You cannot help me. Help him," I said, pointing towards Wesley. "His heart longs for you daily, breaks everytime he is forced to lay eyes upon me! Tell him the truth of your purpose in being here!"

"Help Illyria? Why? For God's sake, Fred, why?"

"Because I asked Willow to do so."
"Fred? Fred, I don't understand, looking at what?"

I pushed away from the wall, testing my legs...swaying a little before becoming accustomed to my borrowed stance.

"You," I studied Wesley, shocked at my own statement. Because I could see...see all of him again. Not just the fractured glimpses I had struggled with for...oh it felt like forever now. He was there. "I am looking at you."

I knew what it was to smile again...even if it was jut a little one. We all have to start somewhere. But...no. Not that. We all have to end somewhere then.

I fought to keep the smile anyways.

"I'm here, Fred. I'm here."

I looked down at Wesley's two hands wrapped around my own. They were protective, shielding, and strong. Just as they had been...before.

"I know," I whispered, as everything that was left inside me clawed to say the same. To give those words back to him...but I couldn't. Because even now, at this moment. They wouldn't be true.

Oh Wesley.

"Help Illyria? Why? For God's sake, Fred, why?"

"Because I'm done Wesley," I said, finally finding my full voice...trying, silently begging him not to find the words unkind. "I'm...finished." I reached up with my other hand to touch his cheek before rushing on. "It wasn't fair, it wasn't easy, and it wasn't..."

And it wasn't painless. But I couldn't seem to say it. Not just because it had hurt, but because it hurt even more so now. To the extreme...to the power.

To the void.

"I'm just embers now," I tried to explain. "Cinders....something that was left at the end. Even now there isn't a now....but you know that. You see."

That smile was still in place. Wesley had always seen me, even when I wasn't sure how I felt about him looking...knowing. He had seen me. He must see now.

"I am done. But she..." My eyes drifted to Illyria. "She isn't."

I hated how calm I sounded...how accepting. But what could I do? There was no formula or breakthough that would change this....change me. I wanted to cry, but I disn't think I knew how to anymore.

"You cannot help me. Help him. His heart longs for you daily, breaks everytime he is forced to lay eyes upon me! Tell him the truth of your purpose in being here!"

"No," I whispered, hating that the word how somehow become an audible one. My hand tighted withing Wesley's. This wasn't what I wanted to hear...even more of me disspeared when I did. But what could I say?

Because a little of my heart broke when I looked at her too. I tried to turn away from that, and in doing to I turned from him...but only a tiny bit.

"I am here to help you...Illyria." My voice was the strongest it had been yet, as I restated my intention. I tilted my face to the ground, not sure where to look now. "I haven't made it very easy on you, have I?"

She would understand...I think. Wesley might not. And I....

"Because I asked Willow to do so."

Yes, I thought. I had been right. It was a voice I should know. And the fact that I hadn't been able to remember it on my own?

It made it all a little more true...not that it had needed to be.
"You cannot help me. Help him. His heart longs for you daily, breaks everytime he is forced to lay eyes upon me! Tell him the truth of your purpose in being here!"

Illyria's words were shaped and honed to a fine edge, and cut into me deeper than Justine's blade ever had. Except for a single moment of... weakness? Of passion? Of madness? Except for one moment, I'd kept my feelings for Fred silent, even from myself, to some extent. No more, it seemed.

I'm done Wesley. I'm... finished. It wasn't fair, it wasn't easy, and it wasn't..."

"No," I answered simply and quietly. Then more strongly, "No."

I squeezed Fred's hand between mine, so solid and real.

"You're not finished, Fred. You weren't finished." My words began to tumble out, unchecked and unconsidered. "There were a hundred thousand things left for you to do in this world, and now you can't do a damn one."

"I'm just embers now. Cinders... something that was left at the end. Even now there isn't a now... but you know that. You see."

"No, no, no," I repeated. "All I see is you. All I see is what you were supposed to be, supposed to do. You weren't finished, Fred. We weren't finished." My words were ragged, my tone... desperate. "We didn't even get to start..."

"I am done. But she... She isn't."

I followed Fred's gaze back towards Illyria.

"She doesn't belong," I whispered harshly. "You do."

"I am here to help you... Illyria. I haven't made it very easy on you, have I?"

Shaking my head, I released Fred's hand and began to push away, still crouched on the floor.

"Wrong," I said to myself almost absently, "all wrong... It all went wrong..."
"I'm done Wesley...I'm just embers now. Cinders....something that was left at the end. Even now there isn't a now....but you know that...I am done. But she...She isn't."

"No, no, no...All I see is you. She doesn't belong...You do."

Curious that Fred's words rang true. I almost wanted to touch her, feel the essence of what used to be in this body, so that I might fully understand what it was that had captivated the others so.

Wesley's words stopped me, however, and I turned my head slowly to watch as he curled into a fetal position upon the ground, babbling nonsense. Of course, the words spilled from his mouth previously had made perfect sense.

"She doesn't belong...You do."

I stepped closer to the doorframe, carressing it lightly as I sought something to support myself else I shrink to the ground and dissolve into nothingness...yes, that was why she was here. Not to help.

To erase.

"He is correct," I whispered as my eyes sought out and found Fred's. "Do it. Be you cinders and ash, a mere apparition...it matters not since you are more real than I shall ever be."

My time had long since passed, I'd been told once. The Ancients were all in the Deeper Well where I should have remained, sleeping peacefully.

"She doesn't belong...You do."

A single tear fell from my face...if I knew how to laugh as humans did, I would have at the irony of the situation and timing. As it was, my feet moved slowly towards the huddled form of Wesley as I placed my hands upon his head, my own face never leaving Fred's gaze.

"She doesn't belong...You do."

"Destroy me. Then perhaps, he might find the peace he has been seeking for so very long."
"No...You're not finished, Fred. You weren't finished. There were a hundred thousand things left for you to do in this world, and now you can't do a damn one."

"One would have been nice, you know." I admitted all this softly as I turned back to face Wesley. "I could have been happy with just one."

That wasn't very brave of me, and I immediatley regretted those words. I needed to be stronger than that, even if it was the truth. I tried to stand a little straighter...a little taller...all the while aware of Illyria's eyes upon me. They were all hers now, those eyes.

"No, no, no. All I see is you. All I see is what you were supposed to be, supposed to do. You weren't finished, Fred. We weren't finished. We didn't even get to start..."


"I know Wesley," my voice broke, matching a timber in his own. "I know. And you don't know how I wish...." I stopped before I could get any angrier. "That isn't true....you know. But Wesley, I look at you right now and I still see what you can be, what you can do. Please don't forget that...please."

I pulled my hand free from his grasp and reached to touch the top of Wesley's arm, somehow wanting to get closer to the...center of him.


"She doesn't belong. You do."

I didn't know what to say. It wasn't going to change anything. But I did know then that I must be unable to cry anymore...because I would have been. Crying...and not for me. And not for what might have been.

Just for him.

"Wrong..all wrong... It all went wrong..."

Wesley pulled away, drawing up into himself, and I began to panic. I wasn't getting through.

"He is correct. Do it. Be you cinders and ash, a mere apparition...it matters not since you are more real than I shall ever be."

Why weren't they listening to me? They were both fighting me, and at the same time both giving up. I stood right between them both and I didn't know which way to turn. One way lay my heart...and in the other direction was something else entirely. I knew where I wanted to be, more than anything. But I couldn't. So instead I did the only thing I could...I made the hardest decision I had ever known. Not what I wanted to do, but what I had to. It was a lesson Wesley had taught me.

I faced Illyria.

"You are what's real now, you have to understand that. All those cinders...all that is left of me...I sit inside you." I tried to find words she would understand. "I sometimes...dance. I get pictures, images...flashed of those I love through you. How you see them. And I fight it. I fight to know...to see more. Because I..."

How did I explain that it didn't always make sense anymore, that I no longer always understood? That my own thoughts had abandoned me to unconnected ideas?

"I just wanted to know," I looked back at Illyria. "If you felt that, I am sorry." But I wasn't sorry. I wasn't. I wouldn't give one single image back...did they see through that? "But I am not there now, am I? It is just you. So what you feel...that is yours. You are real."

"Destroy me. Then perhaps, he might find the peace he has been seeking for so very long."

"I can't destroy you," I whispered. "Only you can do that. But..."

I sighed, trying to find another thing I used to know.

"Peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still calm in your heart."

I laughed a little, somthing about it hard even though I fought to keep it out.

"I must have read that somewhere, and liked it. I think it was something I wanted to aspire to...to be. Maybe it can mean somthing to you too. The noise...it will always be there. But so will your heart, once you admit you have one."

Please, let her have one. Not knowing what else I could say, I finally turned back to where I wanted to be all along...trying to ignore how close they were to one another now.

"Stand up Wesley," I said firmly, surprised at how harsh I sounded. "Get up....please."


I retreated, mentally and physically, as far into myself as I could, as if I were pulling head and limbs within a shell that might protect me from the pain, from the sorrow. If I could simply wait, I think I told myself, wait and hide and it would all end without me being there. A spell could only last so long... whatever Willow had done to bring the three of us together in this imaginary corner of reality couldn't possibly be permanent.

I was Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. I was once a Watcher. I have an enormous amount of patience.

There was a sound, and it pierced through the hands I clapped to the sides of my head to block it out, as if I were meant to hear them, no matter how I tried. The flat, bitterly toned words found their way to my ears still.

"Do it. Be you cinders and ash, a mere apparition... it matters not since you are more real than I shall ever be."

An apparition. God, I knew it in my heart, but I couldn't bear to form the thought that Illyria formed and spoke for me. The demon's voice came from so close to me, I found myself confused. Gloved hands touched my head, and I did not flinch away. Why? Because they were real, if not here, then out there in the world?

"Destroy me. Then perhaps, he might find the peace he has been seeking for so very long."

Could it be that simple? No, no, of course it wouldn't be. Illyria would be gone, and so would Fred still, and I'd have anything but peace being the one left behind. Left behind with the pain, and the guilt that I knew so well already.

"Peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still calm in your heart."

A laugh sounded out of my throat, and surprised even me with the harsh, sour sound of it.

"Peace," I replied, answering a quotation with a quotation, "is not an easy thing to find."

"Stand up Wesley. Get up... please."

And then there was another sound, a different voice, calling at me from inside, not outside. The voice was colder and rougher, and struck against my mind like a wooden switch.

The voice was shouting at me, berating me... Get up, it said, get up get up get up off the bloody floor and stand get up and stop mewling like a newborn and show the damn world what it means to be a Wyndam-Pryce and you will stand and you will be strong if I have to beat the strength into you boy...

It was Father's voice. It was my voice.

It was the sound that made me into a pompous ass right out of Academy, and the voice that made me make the snap judgements of wrong and right that seemed to always end in sadness.

And yet, the voice made me stand. But a bitter, angry piece of me still questioned it.

"Why?"
"You are what's real now, you have to understand that. All those cinders...all that is left of me...I sit inside you."

"Then leave me be, if you think I am real! I cannot think...cannot...it is painful and I do not understand why!"

She never moved, and neither did I. My hands upon Wesley's head seemed a source of strength, although how I wished Fred was truly real. Then I might kill her once and for all...was it plain only to me? There could be no co-existence!

"I sometimes...dance. I get pictures, images...flashed of those I love through you. How you see them. And I fight it. I fight to know...to see more."

"Indeed?" A war within myself...no, a war within this form I inhabited. "I wear your skin as if it were a cloak of death. I have no time to waste upon you!"

Anger. A human emotion surely that she gave to me since I could not place experiencing it before. It swelled and filled me until I wished to hurt something, someone...the smell of it reeked off myself and it was unbearable.

"I can't destroy you. Only you can do that."

Doubtful. I knew of one way I could die. The hands upon Wesley's head tightened until I gripped his hair, pulling him upwards against his will. I shoved him towards a wall, holding him in place with a hand on his chest and another hovering near his throat.

Curious. I had never before noticed the scar...

"Kill me now...or I shall murder Wesley," I whispered to Fred. Either way she chose, I would be done with it all. Done suffering, done feeling. My whole existance ended, or the two things that wrapped around my existance daily, torturing me...

The choice was hers.

I chose to ignore the wetness upon my cheeks.
Wesley pulled himself off the floor, and I forced myself to stay were I was...watching. He was so angry. I was hurting them both far more than I was helping.

"Why?"

"I don't know," I moaned, momentarily weakening. Honestly, it was more than a moment...or even two. "I feel like I should be able to answer that...that I am supposed to be able to tell you...but maybe there just isn't enough left. I don't think I..."

If possible, the words were getting harder.

"I spent my entire life being affected by what was around me. Sure...I had my good days...sometimes I even managed a little bit of change. But in the end it was a lecture, a portal...a stone coffin....I got happened to Wesley. But you? You are the effect, the choice, the catalyst for change. These are all good things and...

I met his eyes.

"You are a good man Wesley. That is my 'why'. And maybe that isn't good enough to be yours...but it is all I have."

I would like to remember him standing.

"Then leave me be, if you think I am real! I cannot think...cannot...it is painful and I do not understand why!"

Illyria...how could I have forgotten she was there, still so close to him.

"It is painful because it is yours. You can't blame me anymore."

"Indeed? I wear your skin as if it were a cloak of death. I have no time to waste upon you!"

I was suddenly so...angry. Did they think that this was easy for me? I don't even know what I am supposed to do...how to make all this somehow...liveable. Because better isn't even an option. I knew just as much rage as they did...more even.

"Then don't!!!" I screamed, unsure where the power to do so even came from. "Because there is no time...not anymore!"I pressed my back to the wall to stay upright. "And there is no me."

"Kill me now...or I shall murder Wesley."

"Don't you dare..." I was beside her before I even decided to move. "Don't you dare run away from this...not when this is what you wanted." In this place she was no stronger than I was, and I pulled Illyria free from Wesley, griping the hand she had once held over Wesley's heart with my own. "This is what you asked for, remember?" I tightened my grip. "It is your life now, and your pain....but what did you say?"

My voice lowered to reach for a different kind of memory, a connection less treasured. I was no longer within her, but she would always be with me. I would never forget what I had been sacraficed to...no matter what peace I might pretend.

Let her hear herself.

"Pain is helpful. Most do not understand that it strengthens as much as punishes, yet I sense you do..."

"You are supposed to be stronger!" I wanted to snatch her tears away and claim them for my own. "Something is coming, something beyond me. Something I wouldn't have been strong enough to fight. It is the way I can accept...it is the only way....you are supposed to be here. Don't you dare walk away from that. Not when it is the only place I would be...if I could be anywhere."

There couldn't be much more of this.


I was on my feet, at least literally, but was far from it in the figurative sense. Barely making out the words, I knew that Fred and Illyria had started arguing. I could feel the tension growing, feel them hurling words at each other more than I really understood. The aching pain in my chest was growing, taking root.

Suddenly, there was pain, sharp and quick, galvanizing my thoughts until I was lucid again, lucid enough to watch helplessly as Illyria pinned me against the wall like an insect. Her gloved hand was a scant inch or two from my throat.

"Kill me now... or I shall murder Wesley."

What would happen, I wondered fearfully, if she killed me here inside this spell? Would it, like the old wives' tales about dreams, kill me in the waking world, as well?

"Don't you dare... Don't you dare run away from this... not when this is what you wanted."

Fred pulled Illyria away from me, replacing the demon's hand with her own. I looked down at it. Long, slim fingers, that she had only expected to use to grip a pencil, tap at a keyboard, manipulate some sort of scanner... never to hold a sword, or fire a gun. And though Fred's touch on my chest was far lighter than Illyria's, it was in no way less painful.

It wasn't real. It never could be again.

"Something is coming, something beyond me. Something I wouldn't have been strong enough to fight. It is the way I can accept... it is the only way.... you are supposed to be here. Don't you dare walk away from that. Not when it is the only place I would be... if I could be anywhere."

And there it was. No doubt, the message that Fred had been meant to impart when this had begun. That there was a reason, a purpose to all things in creation, was the line that the Powers That Be had been selling us for so long. Was it possible that it was true?

Was Fred's life a sacrifice to the greater good? It couldn't be. It couldn't be...
"You can't blame me anymore."

"Why not?" I countered.

"Because there is no time...not anymore! And there is no me."

Yet she stood before me, a ghost more real than I, who commanded not only Wesley's life but everyone here in the hotel. How could I ever truly live within this form when that would always remain? When she would? Her words meant little.

"Don't you dare run away from this...not when this is what you wanted."

Fred's hands upon me, moving me, pushing me aside as if I were but a twig to be trampled upon. "No..." The spell of the witch, it must be. There could be no other explanation as to her strength in which she released my hold upon Wesley.

"It is your life now, and your pain....but what did you say?"

"NO!" I could not release my hand from hers. We were intertwined and it would not break free...Wesley might very well perish before the both of us and I would not be able to assist.

"Pain is helpful. Most do not understand that it strengthens as much as punishes, yet I sense you do..."

"Do not use my own words against me. I have yours that lie within me for that purpose!" I wrested my hand free from hers finally, pushing backwards on unstable feet until I found myself somehow pressed against Wesley. The three of us connected by contact of skin upon skin, yet something else...some power I could sense yet could not place...

"Something is coming, something beyond me. Something I wouldn't have been strong enough to fight. It is the way I can accept...it is the only way....you are supposed to be here. Don't you dare walk away from that."

A challenge thrown down to me. To become something I am not. "I do not...understand." The words would not come from my throat, rather from the depths of my stomach, my soul, the place where Fred's heart had beat once. "Are you here, then, to task me with a mission? One that...we might not win save for the fact you are dead?"

If that were the truth, I would fight. A glorious victory, blood dripping from my fingers as it never would if Fred had been in battle. And while I would do it for Wesley...which...I was still uncertain as to why...

I would do it for myself as well.
"Do not use my own words against me. I have yours that lie within me for that purpose!"

"Everything is yours," I answered bitterly. "Or it can be, if that is what you want. If you have the courage to make it that way...it is what I have been trying to say."

I fought to find control again, but they were so close it just scattered everything even more.

"Part of it anyway," I whispered. I wasn't even sure what the full message was supposed to be, so why was I suprised I was having so much trouble getting through? Connecting?

"I do not...understand. Are you here, then, to task me with a mission? One that...we might not win save for the fact you are dead?"

I was dead.

I was dead before this, and I would be dead after. So why did those words coming from her hurt so much?

"Yes," I answered cooly. We were all still touching, wrapped up in each other in a way that would never be possible except in this strange world Willow had created. "Yes....no. I don't know," I broke off confused.

I looked up at Wesly and kept my eyes on him while I spoke. It might have been Illyria's question, but the answer was for them both.

"Yes, there will be a battle to fight...you don't need me to tell you that. And this one will be the biggest yet...but you don't need me to tell you that either. And yes," I concluded one train of thought,"Illyria might make the difference that I couldn't. No matter how much I tried."

I sighed, a bit of failure in it.

"There is the mission, but I guess I wanted you to remember that there is life too. Everything that happens after the fight...but I don't think I can make that happen. Maybe the fight is what you need right now. Maybe that really is all that is left. And maybe I just wanted too much....I...."

Something flickered and I lost them both for a moment. Panicked, I took two steps back, then two more until I felt a safe distance grow between me...and them. I wouldn't be ripped away again. This time when I left it would be on my terms.

"I just wanted you to see," I finsihed softly.
I couldn't recall when it had occurred that Illyria, Fred and I had all come into physical contact, but when I looked down, it was there. And there was something almost electric flickering through the circuit that we made. Perhaps it was a residual of the magicks that had created this little pocket of reality, or some kind of physical manifestation of the emotions running rampant within it.

My first instinct was to break the circuit, to move away from them, but I found I couldn't make myself do so.

"Are you here, then, to task me with a mission? One that...we might not win save for the fact you are dead?"

"Yes, there will be a battle to fight... you don't need me to tell you that. And this one will be the biggest yet... but you don't need me to tell you that either. And yes, Illyria might make the difference that I couldn't. No matter how much I tried."


I felt the words, felt them tear through me more savagely than the bullet had torn my abdomen, more painfully than the edge of Justine's blade as it parted the skin above my throat.

"No," I whispered raggedly. Again, "no..."

"There is the mission, but I guess I wanted you to remember that there is life too. Everything that happens after the fight... but I don't think I can make that happen. Maybe the fight is what you need right now. Maybe that really is all that is left. And maybe I just wanted too much.... I.... "

Fred's form faded suddenly between solid and ghostly, and she stepped back from Illyria and myself. My eyes went wide with the horror of watching her stutter between worlds before me. I stepped back away from Illyria and gaped at Fred.

"No..." I said again, and the word had a sound almost like a sob. Detesting the sound of the weakness in it, but barely able to chide myself for it, I took a deep breath and let it out. "No..." My voice was stil shaking.

"I just wanted you to see."

My hand was suddenly out, reaching toward Fred, the apex of the triangle we'd formed.

"No, please... Please, Fred, don't leave..."

Fred continued to flicker immaterial, and the ghostly haze that hung over the room did, as well. Willow's spell was fading, and would soon fall.

"Please..."
"Yes, there will be a battle to fight...you don't need me to tell you that. And this one will be the biggest yet...but you don't need me to tell you that either. And yes, Illyria might make the difference that I couldn't. No matter how much I tried."

The words directed towards Wesley were ones that I understood just as keenly. A battle. A glorious battle and I could assist, could win the day...could finally find some semblance of a place within the ranks of the vampire's team of warriors. Yes. That would be my goal.

"No...no..."

My head turned sharply at the words. No? Did Wesley not wish me in battle or...I blinked once and noticed the wetness upon his face that continued to pour like rain.

No...he was still aching for her. He always would.

"No, please... Please, Fred, don't leave..."

My anger swelled until I reached towards Wesley and backhanded him. "Be quiet! How can you stand and claim yourself a champion when you act as pathetic as a newborn!" I had made my decision. Fred had given me a chance, yet she had also destroyed Wesley's.

I cried at the thought, unnoticing of my own sorrow and intent only upon rebuilding the man that Fred had just broken.

"STAND AND FIGHT!"
"No, please... Please, Fred, don't leave...Please..."

I swallowed hard as I listened to Wesley. I didn't even have to look at him...well, because most of me was afraid to look at him. Because then I wouldn't stand firm on leaving my way this time. So I ducked my head in protection, for both of us. I didn't need a single one of those glances though...when you listened there was enough there to do every kind of damage.

"Wesley," I whispered into the corner of my own shoulder, trying to find the last words I wanted to say. "I know..."

"Be quiet! How can you stand and claim yourself a champion when you act as pathetic as a newborn! STAND AND FIGHT!"

Illyria!

I did find a way to look at her, my eyes sharp even though I knew what she was trying to do. Silently I tried to convey that, to...speak with her. That I understood her words, but at the same time was breaking apart at her methods as surely as she had struck me instead of Wesley. It was like she was tearing me down all over again...ripping what mattered away.

To be built back stronger Fred, some part of me spoke out. To be brought....you have to believe. Stronger.It had to be true. That had to be the reason. And maybe....

Maybe....

Maybe he could find a way to be stronger through all of this too. Could there be reason there was well? I fought to pull power from that thought. I just needed a little longer.


I didn't belive in fate, I never had. Every action had a reaction, every force an explination. Friendship...that was my fate, if I ever had had such an abstract to believe in. You never knew what friendship could do for a person...how it could shape them. Their lives, for better and for amazing. I....just look at me. Not now, but then. At what their friendship had done for me.

I had to find strength that their friendship was why I had to go. And that his...friendship was why I had been given this chance to return, however brief. It was more than a spell. It was.

All these moments I had been wavering, between here and there. Between thought and carelessness...should I try and touch them again? So much told me it would only make things worse. But I had to try. I know what fading away into regret felt like. It had hurt more than....

Well, I wasn't going to do it again.

Finding the stregth just where I had hoped to, in them, I walked steadily back to Wesley and Illyria. Her hand was now at her side...tears I still envied on her face. I took one moment to grasp her hand and feel one last strange spark before letting go and turning to Wesley.

Finally, finally looking at him, I lifted one hand and placed it on his cheek. His face was still turned away from me, twisted by the force of Illyria's blow. As gently as I could I guided his eyes towards mine.

"I just wanted to say something," I started slowly. "And you might not...I don't know if it is even the right words to say. So I am thinking...I will just say a lot of them, and hope that one or two get through."

I glanced to Illyria briefly to find my breath, though I would never know why. That done, I started one last...good ramble.

"There are a lot of blanks," I tried to explain again to Wesley, feeling a soft smile come to me. "Spaces. I don't what Whitney looks like anymore, though I have tried again and again to picture her face... she was my best friend in high school. You might not have known that, but she should still be there. And I couldn't tell you what my first kiss felt like...because I am pretty sure it happened sophomore year. And that whole year is nothing but this big empty blank. It just isn't there either."

I knew what I was trying to say, but I was having the hardest time getting there.


"And my college GPA. I should be able to remember my college GPA...right? Not because of the number, that isn't what really mattered. It was because that was my ticket into the next class...and the next. So I could keep learning...keep knowing."

Knowing.

Yes.


"So many things are gone Wesley," I said unsteadily. "But not you. Everything. Every second, every memory...every moment that I knew with you? They are all still here...I have them all. And I could be cynical, because if I can't remember all those other things...Whitney and GPAs and... then how could I possibly be sure? But I am...and..."

I so desperatley wished I could make this prettier.

"I know you Wesley," I whispered softly, tears finally welling though I didn't cry. "I will always know you. And I guess..."

I almost found a genuine smile.

"...I just wanted you to know."

Unable to stop myself I leaned forward to place a soft kiss on his cheek. Because if I had made any other choice I wouldn't be able to leave. Not like I needed to.

Then I took those two steps back. And then two more. I glaced at Illyria.

I gifted Wesley with my best smile.

And then.

I closed my eyes.

But I knew.
"Wesley... I know..."

She didn't look at me, I thought. Why wouldn't she look at me?

"Be quiet! How can you stand and claim yourself a champion when you act as pathetic as a newborn! STAND AND FIGHT!"

I barely registered the fist that struck me as more than a curiosity, and I certainly didn't feel the pain as the back of Illyria's gloved hand made violent contact with the side of my face. I couldn't think about Illyria-- didn't want to think about Illyria, not now.

Later, after Fred inevitably went away agin, and after whatever sort of spell Willow had cast dissipated, then I'd think about Illyria. I would have to, if what Fred had told us was true. For the sakes of all of us still left here.

I could feel, more than see, Fred coming closer, as if the semblance of air that surrounded us had turned into something more substantial, and I was feeling the wake of her passing.

Those currents stirred more as her hand came towards me, touched the side of my face... turned me to her.

"I just wanted to say something... And you might not... I don't know if it is even the right words to say. So I am thinking...I will just say a lot of them, and hope that one or two get through."

I blinked, and stayed as still as I could make myself, trying to absorb Fred's words, not just listen. I wanted to remember their sound and their warmth and their weight as well as just remember what she said.

"There are a lot of blanks... Spaces."

Fred smiled and though I was looking at her, at that smile, as her words spilled over and around me, I would be able to recite back every line verbatim. I would not let this moment escape without a fight to hold it, at least in my own mind.

"So many things are gone Wesley... But not you. Everything. Every second, every memory... every moment that I knew with you? They are all still here... I have them all."

I blinked, and there might have been a smile on my face. And there might have been tears in my eyes. And there might have been something like the sound of my voice asking her not to go away.

"I know you Wesley... I will always know you. And I guess... I just wanted you to know."

There was a warmth on my cheek, a kiss that was feather soft in touch, but searing in the way it said 'goodbye'. Fred stepped back, closed her eyes, and disappeared. The ghostly almost-mist around Illyria and myself did the same, and my vision swam until I found myself slumped against the wall.

Turning my head, I saw Illyria sitting opposite me, eyes locked forward intently.

"And then there were two," I said quietly.
"So it would seem."

Odd that I was the strongest of us all after everything was said and done. No...no. Not odd. I think, perhaps, that I had always been the one amongst us to...

Fred's words were no longer troubling me. My eyes never left Wesley's as I tilted my head slightly towards the left, unblinking. The wetness upon both our cheeks was dried - or perhaps never there save for the magic that the witch had bespelled us with. How much of that entire experience had been truthful and how much something that was fabricated with remnants of lies and wishes unfulfilled?

Uncertainty filled me. Yet the screams no longer filled me, and for that I was grateful...to Willow? To the ghost-Fred that had caused the only mortal I held any semblance of respect for to tumble down into a flurry of tears and whispers of sadness?

I stood slowly, walking carefully towards Wesley until I could crouch before him with our eyes locked still. I had asked Willow to assist me, never thinking that she would bring him into this. I repeated to him words I had heard him speak to me once when Fred's parents had visited the hotel.

"Did you get what you needed from that experience?"
"So it would seem."

Still dazed and with my limbs still feeling ten times their weight, I struggled to raise a hand to my cheek, expecting the cool of drying tears, but found nothing. I blinked a few times, and still could do little but stare dumbly at Illyria.

My brain tried to sift through the information that had tried to push its way through the walls of pain and grief while Fred had still been there, in front of me. There had been things to which I should have paid attention... things that should have stuck with me, but that I'd ignored. Finally, they were getting through.

Fred had come, but not for me, not really. She'd brought a message, something we needed to know, to hear. There was a great battle coming, which, honestly, we knew... hell, we'd known every day of the last few years. The only thing that changed was who we'd be fighting, and how and when.

Illyria was destined to play an important-- no, crucial-- part in that battle. The demon was needed to do something that Fred could not have, and that, it seemed, would be of vital importance.

In short, Illyria needed to be here.

And that was a truth I had to accept.

Didn't really have a damned choice, did I?

Illyria stood and crossed the room to crouch down in front of me, fixing a considering look onto her features and eyeing me.

"Did you get what you needed from that experience?"

I frowned for a moment, trying to remember where I'd heard those words before. Then, I recalled that it had been me who'd said them. My eyes widened, and then a sound rumbled in my chest.

I laughed. A titter at first, bitten off. Then another, and one that grew into a low chuckle.

"Heh-heh-heh-heh..."

The sound was unbalanced and almost mirthless as it came out of me.

"Yes," I managed between a few bitter laughs, "I learned quite a bit from that experience..."

Using the wall as leverage, much as I'd done within Willow's spell, I--

Willow.

Standing as quickly as my still-shaky legs would allow, I lurched for the door, pulling it open and stumbling into the hall.

Willow.

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