"Wait," Spike calls out as Wesley strides out of Angel's office after what must have been the most harrowingly dispassionate conversation he ever had to live through. Worse even than all those painfully stilted confrontations with Father. Like picking one's path through a treacherous mire.
"Wes, wait!" Wes, not Percy. Not Watcher. Just Wes.
Wesley carefully puts one foot in front of the other, every step bringing him closer to his office, his desk, his bulwark of work, a place that doesn't haunt him with too many memories of Fred. "If you're about to tell me again how you killed your mother...."
"I beg your pardon?" For a moment Wesley's step falters, hampered by a pinprick of curiosity, but then he shakes it off.
"Just wanted to say: It happened to me too. Lost the woman I loved," Spike tells him, matching Wesley‘s stride. "Look, I know what you're going through, mate, and let me tell you--"
At the unexpected touch of a hand on his elbow, Wesley turns abruptly, shrugging Spike's grip away. One look at Wesley's face and Spike raises both hands, backing off.
"You know nothing. She's dead. Gone," Wesley tells him, enunciating each word carefully as though trying to drum Assyrian verbs into a very slow pupil. His voice is hoarse, the painful lump in his throat barely lets him breathe, yet he continues: "The woman you profess to love, Miss Summers, is alive and well on the other side of the earth, shopping for... what was it she was so fond of? Shoes?"
Spike looks stung, but lifts his chin to meet Wesley's cold gaze. "Was talking 'bout those months when she was dead. Granted I didn't have my soul then, and Buffy didn't love me, but—"
But Wesley has no tolerance for a vampire with half a brain who likes to hear himself talk, and even less patience for Spike's long-winded self-centered tales of woe—about how his mother came on to him, or about his thing for ditzy blondes.
"I appreciate your concern," Wesley cuts him off. "But—"
Wesley pauses as Harmony breezes past them, a cardboard box full of toy robots tucked under each arm, revealing herself as the one charged with the task of clearing out Charles' stuff. The helpless rage that has been simmering inside him throughout the briefing with Angel, reaches boiling point. A brief vision of himself, smashing the robots, of emptying the clips of both guns into Gunn's precious toys flashes before Wesley‘s eyes.
It would be a childish tantrum, of course.
He manages to keep a lid on it, but some of his rage spills into his calm and steady voice, giving it a jagged edge as he fixes Spike with a cold stare. "And did Miss Summers' soul disintegrate? Did her remains get invaded by an ancient evil?"
Spike opens his mouth, but Wesley doesn't wait for his reply. "Don't even try to say you know how I feel, because you know nothing." Nothing. The word comes out bordering on a hiss.
Wesley turns on his heel and strides away, head held high, towards the refuge of his office, dimly aware that the vampire was only trying to help and that there would have been a more polite way to brush him off, but he's long past caring very much.
All Wesley cares about is the fact that he has gained Angel's unwilling permission to teach Illyria to live among humans, delivered in a flat and cold voice: "She wants you to teach her about living in our day and age? Fine. Teach. Win her trust. In the meantime? Watch her. Find out whatever you can. How she thinks, about her powers, and Wes? Find out how to destroy her."
Did Angel—or any of the others, did anyone even notice that Wesley is back where he began? Back on square one, teacher to a powerful, superhuman girl, watching her, poised to take her out should she cross the line? Only, Illyria is not a young girl but an ancient creature, a writhing mass of tentacles that scraped out the woman Wesley loved, then crawled inside, like a hermit crab scuttling into a new shell; a creature older than Wesley, Angel, Spike and everybody else at the LA branch of W&H taken together. Older even than the first Slayer.
The irony is not lost on Wesley, but somehow he's unable to appreciate it.
Illyria is an apt pupil, intelligent, quick-witted, and to the point. Part of him hates her for it.
On the second day of their arrangement, Illyria decides she's seen enough of Wolfram & Hart. Wesley takes her to his apartment and to the cell he still thinks of as Justine's room. When he orders her to walk inside, Illyria abides, more puzzled than suspicious, and when he locks her up she just stands there, watching him with those frosty, un-Fred-like eyes of hers. They both know she could snap the metal bars like chopsticks.
Later, after he has let her out again, Illyria wanders through his home, touching things, asking questions. The apartment is full of books and works of art and occult artifacts, but unerringly Illyria is drawn to the box with Fred‘s personal effects that Wes meant to send to Mr. and Mrs. Burkle but never did and never will. She digs out the stuffed rabbit and holds it for almost a minute, then puts it back. Fred's CDs are next. Illyria tilts her head. The gesture is entirely Illyria—yet it sends a sharp stab through his chest. Because it looks as though she's straining to hear a distant voice, giving him the brief illusion of hope when truly there is none.
"Music?" she asks.
"Yes," Wes swallows. "Humans enjoy music. It's one of humanity's marvels."
She goes through the jewel cases. Stops when she comes across the Dixie Chicks. Is it because of Fred's memories? Does Illyria remember that this was Fred's favorite? Or does she simply recognize the cover from the poster Wesley took down in her presence?
"Show me." Illyria holds out the jewel case.
He's shaking inside, but his hands are steady as he inserts the disk into the player.
The device fascinates Illyria and she presses a few buttons, skipping forward through the tracks. The sound of melancholy guitars stays her hand and after a few bars an ephemeral voice buries itself in Wesley‘s heart like a ravenous leech:
Dragon tales and the "water is wide" Pirate's sail and lost boys fly Fish bite moonbeams every night And I love you
An expression of deep concentration settles on Illyria's features, uncomfortably akin to rapture. Wesley finds it impossible to look at her.
He stammers something about having to get back to the office, about some work that needs doing, and shoves more CDs into her hands, as he flees from his own apartment.
This is America. You either jog or you drive here, but Wesley walks. Across the road, past the parking lot, past the large azalea bush where the moist black earth swallowed five pints of his blood without a trace, and into the unlit park. It's late, past midnight, and he's probably courting a gruesome death by being here, but he doesn't care. He needs this, the illusion of being able to walk away. In the absence of light, the park resembles the sea or a distant desert. One can almost ignore the three and a half million lives in this city.
"If you were trying to be inconspicuous, I have to inform you that I was aware of being followed the minute I stepped inside the park." Wesley confronts his silent shadow, feeling a mild pang of disappointment when he recognizes the other man. "I assume Angel sent you?"
Spike shrugs, both hands buried in the pockets of his coat. "We're both concerned. We—"
"Are you here to protect me or to make sure I don't do anything rash?"
"Bit of both." Spike squints at him. "And? How‘re you holding up?"
He reaches inside his breast pocket and digs out a brand-new looking flask, drinks, then lifts it enquiringly.
Wesley shakes his head, afraid that if he starts drowning his grief in what smells like cheap bourbon he'll never stop. "You can tell Angel that I appreciate his concern, but I don't need a watchdog."
"Tell him yourself. Do I look like a messenger boy to you?" Spike frowns, disgruntled, as he shoves the flask back into the folds of his coat.
Not like an ordinary messenger, no. But Wesley is fairly certain his words will reach Angel's ears anyway. "I know what everybody's thinking," Wesley states, struggling for a civil tone. "You think my judgment is impaired because Illyria looks like—like Fred, but believe me, I know perfectly well what's at stake."
"Never said you didn't, mate."
"Then why are you still here?"
They stand and stare, sizing each other up like two pitbulls, mutual dislike rising to unprecedented heights.
It's Spike who breaks eye contact. "Fine," he mutters, rubbing his neck and scanning the park for non-existent threats. "Got better things to do than this. Damsels to save, helpless to help." He turns around and strides off, the leather tails of his coat rustling softly, but after just a few yards he stops and three brisk paces bring him back, closer than before.
"You think I don't know how you feel?" Spike challenges him. "Lemme guess. Every time you look at her it's like someone cut you open an' yanked out your heart, and all you can feel is this awful hollowness inside?"
An indignant reply dies in Wesley's throat.
"What about the rage?" Spike continues almost gleefully. "Building an' building, until you want to punch her? Ever wanted drive your fist into her face with all you've got? Smash her into a thousand tiny pieces so you don't have to look at her anymore?"
Wesley‘s hands slowly curl into fists. A faint roar is building in his ears, as if a dam broke somewhere in the distance.
Hurling unspeakable truths that Wesley doesn't want to hear, the vampire is bouncing backwards and forwards on his toes, like a boxer in the ring. Or maybe like a trapped animal, that's straining against the snare, even as the wire cuts into its flesh: "Only you can't, mate. Not the face you love. Cause all you really want is to take her into your arms and pretend—just for a moment—that it's her, Fred, and not just some fake thing wearing her skin."
The throbbing in Wesley's head grows louder and brings visions of a wind beaten tide, hurtling towards him at break-neck speed. It's almost impossible to breathe.
"No." It comes out almost like a whisper.
"Only one day you might have to do it. Destroy her. Can you still do it once you've played Henry Higgins for god knows how long, re-educating her in Fred's image? Who will you see, once—"
It's too much. Wesley's ears are ringing; from Spike's voice and from the rhythmic pounding in his head and from the roar that's growing in his chest and trying to get out....
"Enough!" Wesley stands motionless, frozen. Feeling like one more blow will cause him to shatter. Because as inconceivable as this may seem, Spike is right. Wesley hasn't let go of Fred. He's still searching for a hint that it's not just Fred's memories inside her but maybe Fred‘s soul as well, dormant inside an enchanted glass coffin, hidden from view, waiting for destiny to rouse her with a kiss. Or he pictures Fred's soul like a tiny, microbe, already inconspicuously attacking Illyria from within, the way earth's microbes infected Wells's Martians in the War of the Worlds, ready to reclaim her rightful place in her body, as soon as the demonic usurper is gone. Fred would like that.
Only, Fred's gone and she's not coming back and that truth is just too awful to contemplate.
Before him, Spike is breathing heavily, practically vibrating with pent-up emotion, face set in a bitter grimace as if there's a foul taste in his mouth. "You're right," Spike spits out and starts backing away without taking his eyes off Wesley. "I don't get it. Got no clue whatsoever." The vampire turns in a flurry of leather and briskly strides away, leaving Wes standing alone in the dark.
It takes Illyria less than an hour to learn how to read English fluently. Wes can't quite tell if she's inordinately gifted of if this is another instance of absorbed memories. They start with Homer and Ovid and then to move on to Shakespeare, then Kant.
If he can instill in this creature a feeling of love for all the works of art mankind has produced, maybe Illyria will somehow feel tied to the human race? Less inclined to wipe it out? It's a rather naive hope—Wesley's aware of that—but he has to try anyway. It doesn't help that Spike's words still echo in his mind.
Two days after their encounter in the park, Wesley finds himself knocking on Spike's door. When it opens it becomes evident that Spike isn't expecting visitors. Bare-chested and bare-footed, hair standing up in unruly tufts, Spike somehow looks smaller, more breakable, than the smart-mouthed vampire Wesley has come to know.
The sight is unexpected enough to momentarily render Wesley inarticulate. But apparently words are unnecessary. After one look at his face, Spike pushes the door wide open and steps back.
"Thank you." Wesley accepts the unspoken invitation and steps inside.
Spike shrugs and closes the door.
The place looks almost exactly the way it appeared several weeks ago, when Wes was here last: Bare, bleak, and uninviting. Spike's home has all the dank charm of a bomb shelter, only without the comfort of provisions. The noticeable absence of personal effects gives the basement a sense of shabby desolation, as though its owner expects to be gone soon. The only recent additions seem to be a battered game console and a stack of old, tatty books right next to the rumpled looking bed. An open book is lying on the unused pillow, held open by a magnifying glass, and the reading light is switched on.
"It's not like anyone ever comes to visit," Spike mutters, in answer to Wesley's sweeping gaze. He reaches inside a carrier bag that's leaning against the sofa, digs out a black t-shirt, yanks off the price tag, and pulls the shirt over his head, then grooms his hair back into its no-nonsense helmet-look.
Wesley resists the impulse to walk over to the bed to scan the book titles, although that's usually one of the first things he does when newly invited into someone's home. Instead he sinks down on the ugly red sofa that smells of tobacco and age, wondering what he's doing here.
Spike doesn't ask, just gets out glasses and a bottle of Jim Beam, pours two triples and waits for Wes to pick up his drink before downing his own. The speed with which he refills their glasses clearly offers serious drinking without the chit chat, if that's what Wesley wants.
"About the other night.... I believe I owe you an apology, Spike," Wes starts, shifting uncomfortably. The whiskey is creating a faint, pleasant burn in his stomach, dispelling some of the chill that seems to have settled there permanently.
Spike just lifts his glass, accepting—or dismissing—Wesley's apology with a lazy flick of two fingers, before knocking back his drink with one fluid motion.
"What I don't understand is—How is it that you know—?" Wes breaks off, frustrated.
"What? How come I know how you feel? Long story."
"I'd like to hear it."
Something like embarrassment washes over Spike's face, but then he shrugs. "See, there was this robot, that looked like Buffy, never mind why, and when Buffy died..."
"What did you do?" Wesley asks with the precise enunciation of a man who's crossed the line for drunk but who hasn't reached four sheets to the wind yet. He nods his thanks when Spike refills his glass.
Spike sets down the bottle and leans back on the sofa, thumb hooked into the waistband of his pants, fingers fanned out over his crotch. The stark contrast of white skin on black denim reminds Wesley of the one time he smoked weed during his student days and the way the drug threw the world into sharper relief.
"The usual. Got plastered, picked fights, then killed everything in sight."
"Demons," Spike specifies patiently. His speech is slurred and his tone even more morose than usual. "Only offed demons and other vamps."
"And how did that work out for you?" Wesley asks, genuinely curious.
"Only got me all worked up. Gimme a spot of good old-fashioned violence and Polyphemus here thinks it's time to party," comes the matter-of-fact answer, underlined by the fingers of Spike‘s hand doing a restless little tap dance on his crotch.
"Ah yes, there is that," Wesley concedes. He averts his eyes to stare at his drink instead. He knows precisely how much he can handle without going under, without doing or saying things he will regret, and that he's slowly reaching those limits.
"And? Did you... party?" There's a slight hitch in Wesley's voice as he swirls the amber liquid in his glass. He raises his gaze.
The crotch dance comes to a stand still. "Screwed every willing body I could lay my hands on, just to stop thinkin‘ about her."
"Did it help?"
Spike doesn't answer at once. As Wesley watches, several alternating expressions flicker over Spike's face, ill-disguised because of his state of inebriation. It's almost like watching a wheel of fortune spin: Lie, half-truth, evasion, truth, lie, half-truth, evasion... In the end it appears that image loses and honesty wins: "With the blokes it did," Spike admits, meeting Wesley's gaze.
Wesley thinks he ought to be surprised, but somehow he's not. He nods, silently urging Spike to continue.
"It's just physical, see?" Spike explains. "You don't debase her memory, cause even if you close your eyes, you always know it's not her you're doing."
"Because it's a man." Wesley states.
"Exactly." A wistful tone seeps into Spike‘s voice as he continues: "If you do it right, you don't think at all, you just lose yourself. Of course it never lasts long, but it lets you rest, just for a moment."
"If you do it right." Wesley echoes. He downs the contents of his glass in one determined gulp, then sets it down. "Show me."
Wesley can't be certain, but for a fleeting second, something dark and bitter wells up in Spike's gaze. Then the moment is gone and Spike is shaking his head as he picks up the bottle. "Ask me again when we're both sober."
Spike is right, sober would be better. Safer too. But Wesley wrestles the bottle out of Spike's unresisting grasp and sets it back on the table. "I'm asking now."
It feels more than right. The inescapable, smothering weight of Spike's body on his own, holding him down, pinning him to the mattress as if the handcuffs weren't enough; The leather belt snug and tight around his neck, chafing the skin, constricting when Wesley flexes his neck muscles and almost restoring the blood flow when he relaxes. The harder he tries to breathe, the more impossible it gets. Terror lurks just round the corner, making his heart race, causing him to sweat. Yet he chases it, flirts with it, because it sharpens his consciousness like nothing else can, until the here and now is everything and the whole world outside slowly ricochets out of sight to sink into blackness, taking everything he cares for with it. The mission, Father, Angel, and finally Fred... everything just falls away.
Only the image of Lilah lingers, at least for a while, anchored perhaps by the bite of the belt round his neck and the tang of leather and brass; like a ghost, hovering beside him. Wes can almost smell her musky perfume. What would Lilah do, if she saw Wesley like this, with Spike taking her place? She'd laugh throatily, immaculate eyebrow raised, and then she'd slowly spread her legs and slip her hand between her thighs.
But in the end even Lilah fades to nothingness and all that remains is Spike, smelling of whiskey, and stale smoke, of plain soap and too much hair gel. Wesley can also smell the astroglide on Spike's cock and fingers. But mostly Wesley feels....
Feels Spike's breath on his heated sweat-slick skin and fingers digging into his shoulder, certain to leave a bruise.
Feels his own body aflame with desperate need, and his own searing cock, rigid and straining for friction, throbbing almost painfully with every beat of Wesley's terrified heart.
Feels Spike's cock inside him, stretching him, filling him, pounding into him with forceful but carefully aimed thrusts. Wes would ask for more if only he had the breath to beg.
Spike is watching him, silently. Suddenly, the hand gripping Wesley's collarbone is gone and fingers thread through his hair.
And then Wesley is coming, arching off the bed, as the quiet washes over him. It's a bit like drowning. He barely registers the metallic clink of the belt being undone, or the burn in his throat as desperately needed air rushes back into his lungs. He's vaguely aware of Spike touching his chin, checking him over. His eyes are burning, so he closes them. He's drenched, depleted, drifting.
Feels white and quiet.
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