To Live is to Adapt
To Live is to Adapt
The first time Sam Winchester met Ms. Winifred “Fred” Burkle, he had been trying to impress a girl. He ultimately succeeded, though it wasn’t his date as he’d planned. He had gone to the first talk Ms. Burkle had given since her disappearance from the world of academia six years prior. And personally, he wasn’t expecting much, if anything, from her talk. She was brilliant, yes, and everyone knew that, but the claims she was making, well they just didn’t quite seem sane. And given his last name was Winchester that was saying a lot.
But he’d gone, accompanied the beautiful girl he was interested in, and when everyone, including his date, had run screaming, crying and terrified, he held his ground and joined in the fight. Sam Winchester had never seen a portal before; hell, he’d seen some crazy shit in his life, but he’d never seen the air shift and an actual swirling portal appear from thin air. It was true that you learned something new every day. Portals existed and Fred Burkle had spent a little over five years on a planet called Pylea, where she was treated as nothing more than a cow, property to be mistreated.
The second time Sam saw Fred was after the riots in L.A.; the riots that were a carefully disguised demon war. And Fred had appeared shortly afterward at Stanford very different than he remembered her to be. Letters of correspondence only went so far, and he sometimes wondered if by keeping open the lines of communication he was now cheating on Jess. Ultimately, he knew it was harmless, he never thought he would see Fred again and it would be fine.
It was once and only once that he cheated on Jess. He’d been dreaming of ice blue eyes, once brown, and matching blue hair for months. The name, not Fred, was always on the tip of his tongue but never spoken. For weeks after Fred moved on, he dreamt of carnage and destruction in a world before his time.
The last place Sam was ever expecting to see Fred was tending bar at the Roadhouse. He froze, caught in the middle of the floor, and just stared as she poured out drinks and collected money. She laughed and smiled, big and beautiful at something Jo said, and he could vividly remember that smile when she graced him with it. He could remember the way she looked, eyes wide with wonder as he slid into her. But the best had been the smile she’d graced him with afterwards when they were lying in his bed.
As if she could read his thoughts Fred turned to look at him. Shock was present for a moment before recognition and happiness overtook her. She graced him with a tentative smile as she scooted out from behind the bar. He remained where he was as she came to him, and as Jo and Ellen stopped to watch their interaction.
“Sam,” she greeted him, southern accent flowed thick like honey from her, and he immediately felt as ease.
“Hello Fred,” he greeted her in return. A happy, positively gleeful smile bloomed on her face as she initiated a hug, sinking into his strong embrace.
The first time Sam met Illyria he had just put his brother’s knocked out form on a cot in the kitchen of the Roadhouse. Fred had followed him back to make sure his brother was comfortable. And as he rose from his crouch, at his brother’s side, he watched, fascinated and in slight horror, as Fred's beautiful features gave way to the cold, hard lines of something else. Her eyes lost their warmth and were replaced with cold, ice blue eyes that held his gaze. Her skin hardened, a reddish body armor taking the place of pale human arms dotted with freckles.
When Sam finally found his voice, it took him a few moments to decide what to say. He was certain that this person, creature, thing, was not Fred Burkle when he first met her. But he couldn’t be certain that was true when she arrived at Stanford. He had dreamed of this woman, this image, and a million others when she had left.
“Illyria,” he finally whispered, knowing the name for the first time in years of not.
She cocked her head to the side, studying him, the motion not that of a human and more of an animal, a creature. “How is it that you know my name?” she questioned, with a voice devoid of any accent, devoid of Fred Burkle from Texas. Sam wasn’t sure if she even existed any more.
“I dreamt of you after you left me at Stanford. I dreamt of death and destruction and of worlds I’ve never known to exist.”
“Do you know what I am?” she asked, curious as she studied him.
Sam shook his head and offered her a small frown. “What happened to Winifred Burkle?” he finally asked.
“You too cared for the shell,” she stated.The Shell
she had said. Illyria, whatever she may be, had inhabited Fred’s body. “Yes,” Sam agreed.
“That is why I sought you out Sam Winchester. Wesley died and the half-breeds were reduced to ash, and I was left alone in this world. I should not have felt alone, lost, afraid
, but I did. Fred had liked you, felt safe when you joined in the fight to save her life, and I knew you would not turn her away,” Illyria carefully explained.
“Did you kill her?”
“Yes,” Illyria immediately replied her voice defiant and challenging, but her form rippled, reverting back to Fred for a brief moment before becoming Illyria once more. “No,” Illyria added with a frown. “The shell should have been destroyed completely, but parts of her remained. It appears we are both one and stuck in this form.”
“And you can’t leave?” Sam softly questioned.
“What do you seek in this world, Illyria?”
Her form melted back to that of Fred and she spoke, “To live in it.” And Sam believed her.
The second time Sam saw Illyria he found her standing in the ruins of the Roadhouse. Dean had mentioned the destruction, only Ash’s watch to identify him, but it didn’t prepare him for the sight. And Illyria stood still - too still
- among the ashes. Her hair snapped around in the wind, blue locks tangling with themselves. She made no attempt to move the hair as it covered her face, obstructing her view of the ashes.
Sam didn’t announce his arrival as he approached the ruins, and Illyria.
“They created a diversion, lured me onto a hunt, and I left the Roadhouse unprotected,” Illyria spoke, her voice hard, but brimming with anger.
“This isn’t your fault, Illyria,” Sam carefully told her.
She whipped around, anger marring her features. “Of course it is not!” she yelled at him and then shoved him. He lost his footing and crashed to the ground, landing hard on his butt, and warily looking up at her. It was the first time she’d ever used her strength on him, but he wasn’t afraid yet. “I was not the one to deal this death!” she continued as she turned to look back at the ashes. It was only because the wind was blowing toward him that he was able to catch her next words. “But I feel responsible, guilt is a human emotion. It turns my stomach to realize how weak I have allowed myself to become. If my old enemies saw me they would crush me without thought for I reek of humanity. I would be unrecognizable to them.”
Sam pushed himself back to his feet, dusting himself off as he returned to her side, to stare at the ashes. “Is adapting such a bad thing? You are stronger than anything in this world. You could rule us all if you chose, but instead you’ve chosen to help fight. You have to accept that there will be causalities on both sides. It's the choice we make.”
“Unacceptable. Ash did not deserve such a fate. He was a valued part of the team. And I…” Illyria trailed off. “The shell liked his hair,” she added in a choked whisper.
Sam took a step closer until he was practically on top of her. Carefully, slowly, he reached out and pulled her into his arms. He expected violence, he expected her to fight and shove him away. And she did resist at first, a token fight against the inevitable, but eventually she folded into his arms. Her tears were silent at first, but then he heard and felt her sobbing against him. He held her tightly, murmuring nonsense into her blue hair as Illyria succumbed to human grief.
The last time Sam saw Illyria she appeared at his side with a wicked, gleaming sword, standing between him and Ruby. He collapsed to the ground, his body broken and bleeding. It had all been a lie; Ruby had never been able to save Dean, but he’d been desperate, so desperate, to save his brother’s life. And Ruby had wanted him broke, distraught, easily manipulated, and she had gotten him just where she wanted him. He watched as Ruby took a step back as Illyria twirled the sword easily in one hand.
“If you want him, come and claim him,” Illyria challenged Ruby.
Sam couldn’t believe she’d chosen to quote “The Fellowship” at the end of the world, and hello, he was much taller than little Frodo. There was a flurry of movement, too fast for him to register, but he heard the clash of swords around him.
The flash of blue light was so bright he had to close his eyes, and duck behind his arm to shield himself. The shockwave knocked him backwards, sent him tumbling head over heels until his body passed out.
“Sam,” Fred’s warm southern twang whispered in his ear. “Sam, you’ve got to wake up now,” she urged.
And he struggled to pry open his eyes, squinting against the harsh sun until a face appeared in his vision, blocking the sun. Dean’s worried face was replaced with a smile as Sam blinked, coming back to consciousness.
“Dean?” Sam asked, confused.
“Yeah, Sammy, I’m back,” Dean reassured him as he ran a hand through Sam’s bloody hair to cup his head. “She made sure I came back,” he whispered as he pulled Sam up against his chest. “She took care of everything.”