Disclaimer: The characters and setting belong to Joss Whedon
Author's Note: This story takes place immediately after the events in the episode ‘Time Bomb’
After the beam from Wesley’s weapon impaled her, piercing her through and draining her seething, overloading powers away, Illyria lay helpless for the span of a night and a day. With so much of her former self now torn away, there were several hours when she was unsure if she would survive. Even after the crisis period had passed, the lingering agony made her wonder if she wished to remain, instead of passing into darkness once more.
“So tell me, love,” the half-breed Spike said when he wandered into the room. “Are you hopin’ t’earn some sympathy points by layin’ there till the end of time, or are you actually needin’ some help?”
She ignored him, as all her will at that point was bent towards adjusting the composition of her internal structures. With the vastly greater portion of her power stripped from her, the shell would not survive in its current configuration. The pain as she forced the alterations was beyond intense; it was nearly beyond reason, even for her, and yet she persevered.
“Listen, I know it’s rough and all; goin’ from high-an’-mighty queen bitch of the bleedin’ universe, t’just one more bint amongst all the rest. Take away the blue hair an’ th’ spiffy leather suit and nobody would give you a second look; that’s got t’be a royal bummer, eh?”
His prattling was little more than a drone in her ears as she concentrated on holding in the screams. Solid crystalline conduits channeling blue light would not serve her now, when she was so diminished. They transformed, reverting back to networks of hollow tubes; slimy, flexible veins and arteries. She created blood from her own substance to fill them, and it was like fire, eating her away from the inside. The tiniest whimper escaped her ice-blue lips, and Spike had the gall to chuckle.
“Yeah, I thought as much. Listen, if y’want, I can have Lorne come down and cheer you up, he’s usually good for a laugh or two.” He seemed to consider that for a moment. “On second thought, ol’ greenie probably isn’t the cure for your blues.” The blond vampire stooped low and grinned at her, waiting for her response to his feeble jest, but she did not react. “Well. All right then, guess I’ll leave ya t’your depression. If you get tired of mopin’ cryin’ and generally bemoanin’ your fate, come and find me and we’ll go get drunk. I find it helps to blur the pain a bit.” He swept through the doors, he voice trailing behind him. “An I’ve felt more pain than any bloke should feel in a dozen lifetimes….”
He was gone, which was more mercy than she’d dared hope to receive. He thought he knew pain? It would have been enough to draw a laugh, if she’d not been struggling to breathe. Lungs, and the attendant processing of atmospheric gasses had been a luxury before; now it was life or death. Similarly, many of the organs she had transformed or created when first inhabiting the Fred body had to be reverted at least partially to their original form. Not that she would be human again, far from it. It was just that in the absence of certain energies, the shell would have to rely upon a cruder biology for many of its functions. Blood, pumped through veins, oxygen, absorbed by lungs, electro-chemical impulses along nerve pathways instead of optical fibers transmitting light pulses. Her dermal layers had to be reconfigured also, the act of which gave rise to sensations akin to being first flayed alive and then submerged in the most virulent acid imaginable. It comforted her that none of the lesser beings were present to see her writhing uncontrollably from the pain.
When it was done she was left with what seemed a stable and viable form. The powers that remained to her were temporarily drained by the transformations she had performed, and the torment she had undergone in the process had left her exhausted. Quite suddenly, almost before she realized what was happening, she fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.
* * * * *
She woke when Angel entered the room, along with two of the humans with their white coats and implements of technology.
“Scan her,” he’d said, curtly. “I want to be sure Wes wasn’t lying again. She has
been knocked down to something we can handle, right?”
Illyria raised her head just slightly from where it had rested on the floor, not looking up at them but letting them know that she was aware of their presence. It both amazed and frightened her that she had slept; yes, she had
been brutally weary, and the stress of recent events had to have taken a toll…. Still, sleep was a human weakness. To lie there, unaware, helpless, especially when surrounded by enemies; it was miraculous that they had failed to take advantage of her vulnerability. She earnestly hoped that it had been an isolated event, and not something which would be repeated.
While she pondered this, Angel’s human minions scurried to and fro, never quite touching her prone body with their instruments, but still coming far closer than she would have tolerated if given a choice.
“Yes, sir,” one had eventually reported to the vampire. “The readings are still quite exceptional, but no more so than those of a very high-order demon, or class-three other-planar entity.” The other human had stayed near her a few seconds longer, consulting the beeping, glowing thing in his hand, and seemed more reluctant to give a definitive answer.
“I’m not so sure. I mean, yes, she’s not blowing the circuits on the scanners anymore.” He shuffled back a few steps, and consulted the device yet again. “That doesn’t mean she’s not dangerous, sir. And she’s still not reading like anything we’ve ever seen. There might be more here than just raw power to worry about. The Old Ones were the first living beings to walk the face of the earth, and it’s not a good idea to just assume--“
Angel cut him short.
“Thanks, that’s all I need for now.” They obediently departed, leaving just the two of them in the training room, Illyria still lying where she’d first fallen, and the vampire standing over her.
“You’ve got four options now,” he stated. She didn’t look up at him, did not move from where she’d been since the beam had struck her and she’d fallen. The shell’s cranial strands, her hair, partly obscured her view of his feet and legs, which suited her just fine. The bit of floor immediately before her eyes was as relevant as anything else, now. Angel made as if to take a step closer, perhaps he even meant to nudge her with his booted foot. Whichever it was, he must have thought better of it… which served to save his life, for she was in no mood for further affronts, no matter what they had done to her powers.
“Four options,” he repeated, his voice hard and cold. “One, you can walk out the door, go out in the world, and if I ever
hear that you’ve hurt one person or caused one tiny bit of trouble for anyone, then my people will hunt you down and kill you just like they would any other demon.” That
stung her, and she nearly raised her head to glare at him. To even hint that she was on a level with such insignificant, lowborn creatures--! “Two, you can stay here, at Wolfram and Hart, and keep acting like you have been. Disrupting our projects, interfering with our day-to-day operations… but if you do that, then my people will also be instructed to kill you.” He waited a moment, for what she did not know. Did he expect her to beg for mercy? To pledge loyalty to him, in exchange for his protection? She would rather die than to stoop to embrace such degradation. “Options three and four are pretty much the same, only you get to live. Leave here, and if you behave yourself then we’ll leave you alone. Wander around, become that weird shopping-cart lady with the blue hair, marry somebody and be a soccer mom, I don’t care.” She did not understand his references, and she had no desire to search through Fred’s memories just to clarify them. The floor before her eyes remained more worthy of her attention than his words. “Last one, you stay here, and stay out of our way. Personally, I’d rather you left. Wesley seems attached to you, though, and if it keeps him happy and he doesn’t slack off on his real work, then I’ll let you stay.” He sighed, and his feet turned away for a moment. “It’s not like you’ll be the first ghost we’ve had haunting this place; hell, you won’t even be the most annoying one.” He turned back, then, and he moved forward until he was leaning over her. She could feel how close he was, feel the intensity of his gaze on the back of her head. “Whichever you choose, remember this: I have important things that I have to focus on. I cannot, and will not let you or anyone else interfere with that. If you so much as look at my office door without getting an appointment first, I will
kill you. And we both know that I have a pretty good shot at it now, don’t we?”
With that he departed, and she raised her head in time to see the swinging doors close behind him.
The worst part of what had just taken place wasn’t the threats he had made, or the arrogance that allowed him to make them. It was the awareness that he was right; she no longer had the strength to impose her will upon the vampire or his followers. She could perhaps still kill them, but not without struggle, and risk of failure. And to kill them would achieve nothing. To stay would achieve nothing. To leave….
With effort, she drew herself upright, and sat there in the center of the floor, staring off into space.
To leave would be to face a world she still knew far too little about, even with Fred’s memories and Wesley’s information. As she was now, weakened for a second time from what she had once been, it was very possible she would not be able to survive alone. In a gesture that must have been drawn from the human woman who was now a part of her, Illyria buried her face in her hands and tried to decide what to do.
Once, in the long-ago time when she had ruled supreme, she had been counted among the wise, as well as the mighty. Strange that now, in the midst of these simple, helpless creatures, she should feel so very lost.
* * * * *