Title: Encore Une Fois
Rating: welcome to the violence, my friends
Universes: AtS, BtVS, Highlander
Character: Wesley, Illyria, Roger, Giles, Andrew
Disc: HL belongs to Panzer and buddies, AtS is Joss'
Spoilers: ALL EPISODES of AtS, through the finale. Indeterminate time for HL, post Chosen for BtVS.
Notes: I’m not sure where this came from, but it just sort of took over. This takes place immediately after AtS finale. You will be spoiled if you read any further.
~~~Encore Une Fois~~~
When he first noticed that the blankness had cleared, that he was returned to himself, Wesley’s voice caught in this throat. The word “Fred” died on his lips, even as he struggled to open his eyes. But before his tender defenses could right themselves, the full reality of Illyria’s lie smashed into him, asked for it though it had been.
Fred did not exist, on this plane or any other. She was annihilated- she would never be again. He knew that his was not heaven; there could be no heaven without her. The fragile mental balance he’d created over the last few weeks gave one final shudder and his world burst into tiny, irreparable shards, splintering around him in a glistening fall of ravaged regret and scattered sanity.
But his heartbeats continued, illogical as that may have been. He wondered if this was hell then, condemned to an eternity of the afterlife without her. Had his crimes so prevented him from heaven, away from Fred’s sparkling smile forever? The smile that became nothing more than an artifice of Illyria’s, a tool to be used to her advantage. Wesley tried to silence the voice in the back of his head that wished to see that stolen smile again: even pale imitation would be solace now.
Opening his eyes further and sitting up to have a good look, Wesley decided that this was a most peculiar hell. Not only was his heart beating, but he appeared to be breathing as well. No fire or brimstone, not that he believed in such thing, and he felt distinctly, well, alive. There were no ghostly wastrels of long dead watchers tormenting him for his failure; no eviscerating barbs of the Wyndams and Pryces past invoking whatever gods in the name of dissolute sons.
There was, in fact, a distinct lack of anything but the room he died in. At first he believed that Vail must have done something, created some loop to hold him here, away from his just rewards. However, the bloody knife lay at his side and the crumpled robes of slain Vail, now nothing but dust, were inches away. If Vail had enchanted him, it was powerful indeed to survive his death.
Could it be that he was returned from beyond, perhaps for a reason? He was familiar with resurrections in his line of work, after all. Was his task yet undone? Did his team need him so badly that the Powers cheated death for him? If that was possible, if…if…then maybe he could continue on. A reprieve from the hell that was surely his fate, a chance to fix the wrongs he’d only recently remembered were his to claim.
The former watcher probed the bloody hole in his shirt front, only mildly shocked to find the skin beneath healed. Nothing hurt any longer. Even the dull ache where Fred used to be was muted, as if death had stolen that from him as well. Uneasily, he clambered to his feet, stopping to pick up the dagger and clean it on his already ruined jacket. The first tendrils of dawn streaked the sky through the window over head, and Wesley came to one conclusion:
If he wasn’t dead, he was very, very late.
The man who was once Wesley Wyndam-Pryce looked around Vail’s study, gathered up the frayed pieces of his sanity, carefully smoothing the edges. He tucked them lovingly into his back pocket in case he needed them later. For now, it was better to do without.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
The streets were quiet, too quiet; the usual pre-dawn noises of LA were silent. He crept along the passageways and alleys, staying out of sight. The rain had ceased recently, puddles reflecting lightless buildings and soft footsteps. He moved as fast as he dared, but caution was unnecessary. No cars, no people, no life. Whatever the Senior Partners had thrown at the Angel, they had cleared out the civilians first. No good running Hell On Earth if the inhabitants weren’t there to suffer.
When he approached the designated alley behind the Hyperion, he was faintly surprised to hear noises, a shock to his ears after the muted streets behind. He found her there, surrounded by demon corpses, piles of bloody bones and slick, indistinguishable glop.
She raised her head, cocked to one side, and casually ripped a fingerlike appendage from a barely living demon. It gave a sharp sqwak of pain, and she smiled. As if to herself, she said softly, “I believe Hamilton cheated.” She gestured around her, “These were no challenge at all.”
Wesley nodded as if this was the most natural thing to say in the world, and Illyria blinked. “Have you come for me at the end, as I came for you?” She gave another yank, sighing at the anguished sound it generated. “This is appropriate. I would wish for nothing else.”
Fingering his knife, Wesley took in the destruction around him with a numb awareness. The only movement was Illyria, the rhythmic dismemberment. There was nothing else. He took the few steps to her side, kneeling down. “Is this all that remains?”
She reached out a bloody finger to touch his cheek. “I do not feel like I approach negation.”
“You do not.”
“Yet I was with you when you expired.” Illyria bared her teeth. “It caused me great grief.”
Wesley’s newly re-beating heart gave a lurch, and he ghosted a smile. “I was dead. Now I am not.”
The former goddess leaned forward, sniffing slightly. “You smell of ozone and death.” She tilted her head. “Peculiar.”
The beast beneath her finally gave up, collapsing into a puddle of steaming remains. Illyria stood up with the grace of conscienceless eternity, looking around for something else to destroy. Wesley stopped her with a hand on her arm, squeezing to catch her attention.
“Illyria, are you all that’s left?”
She considered it for a moment, shoving over the carcass of a rather large flying lizard type beast with her toe. “The vampire Spike was eaten by a Sluggoth. I was proud of the way he sliced its throat on the way down. He was a true warrior. Gunn was damaged before the fight began, and fell early. I know nothing of the vampire Angel.” She snarled, yanking a terrified demon from under the dragonish carcass. Wes looked on with interest as she eviscerated it with one stroke, nodding her head as the pieces of flesh fell to the ground.
“So we are all that remains,” Wes murmured. It felt so…hollow, this victory. For it was a victory, Illyria remained, and the armies of the Senior Partners did not. But a victory at what cost? Spike and Gunn were gone, and Angel most likely. Lorne was never to return. And as for himself, Wesley died on Vail’s floor.
Illyira took a deep breath, centering herself. She looked at him fully for the first time, blue eyes sparkling in the early morning light. Her form seemed to shimmer, leather-cased body adopting the clothes of a mere mortal, the blue mottling of her skin disappearing into flesh tones. Her eyes and hair were all that remained of Illyria, the rest a stomach lurching image of Fred.
Before he could say anything, however, she held up her hand, speaking in her low, seductive voice, “We must leave this place. The world is coming alive again, but the Senior Partners will not cease their assault on us.” At the shine of tears in Wesley’s eyes, she seemed almost to soften, the sharpness of her body relaxing. “I promised you never to take the form of the shell. I shall not, but it is necessary for us to blend in, if we have become the hunted. I do not wish to be extinguished like vermin, nor do I wish for you to do so either. That would be unacceptable. This compromise will suffice?”
Hands shaking, Wesley cupped the demon’s face, breathing softly, “Yes, Illyria, this will do.” She took his hand and Wesley allowed himself to be led from the alley out into the sunlit streets of Los Angeles.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
They killed their first demon in Santa Monica. It was a skitteringly short battle: the demon was unprepared for the humans it attacked to not only recognize it, but also possess superior strength. Illyria was pleased, stating this was an acceptable pastime as Wesley dispassionately examined the rips in the only non-soiled part of his jacket.
While they were emptying his apartment of anything useable, Wesley found that he agreed. With that, the persona of Wesley- Rogue Demon Hunter was reborn. He took the ceremonial daggers, the blessed crossbows, the James Bond toys, the well polished blades and escorted Illyria to his car, holding the door for her much as he would have for Fred. He didn’t even notice the look she sent his way as the door closed her in.
They headed east, a vague idea of going to Cleveland to let Giles’ organization know what had happened. Wesley couldn’t bring himself to call; calling would have made it real, final, inevitable that he would spend the rest of his days with the face of his former love gazing at him, inscrutable, across the seat of his SUV.
In Phoenix, he stopped to use an internet café, leaving Illyria to examine the pastries in the case, ignoring the looks her unusual hair-style garnered. He accessed the remaining accounts that Angel had hidden from the Senior Partners, relieved to find the millions in place. He transferred what he found suitable to a separate account based in Bermuda, sealing the transaction with a spell. He decided it was time to leave when Illyria asked the barrista whether they performed the proper ritual sacrifices to ensure longevity in flavor content.
They searched out demons along the way, using magic as well as the information Illyria liberated from informants. The pair found their lives falling into a pattern of driving, searching, slaying and sleeping. The motels were always cheap, nameless and isolated. The beds were always hard and scratchy. They always slept on separate sides of the bed, if Illyria actually slept at all. Wes would wake hours later to find her in the exact position that he had last seen her in, gazing at his face as if it held the secrets of the world.
In Amarillo, Wesley’s world shifted again, falling from the orbit it had achieved after Vail had removed his life from his body. They were at a diner on the outskirts of town. Wesley was eating strawberry pie; Illyria was watching, an untouched cup of coffee in front of her. She never took physical nourishment that he could see, stating her shell recharged itself as necessary on the energy she provided.
But the drizzly Thursday was different. He felt it in the electric shiver that buzzed through his skull, down his spine. She watched him across the table, delicate brows furrowed in confusion. He tried to smile, failing as the buzz became nearly interminable.
“You are not well.” Her voice carried an inflection that could have been concern.
“No, I don’t think I am. Something’s…not right.” He threw a few bills on the table and shoved backwards to his feet, hand going to his forehead. “I think we should take a walk.” After so many weeks together, he didn’t even think of going alone. Illyria would never have let him anyway.
They made it two blocks, nearly to the motel, when a man stepped from the darkness of an alley. Wes paused, curious. “Who are you?”
“The one who’s gonna have your head. Ready to play the game, Immortal?”
A momentary confusion followed by a sick twist to his gut; Wesley understood. He wasn’t marked to avenge his friends or do the Powers bidding. He wasn’t returned from the grave to atone for his sins. He was nothing more than a pawn in a Game that had been going for thousands of years. He was nothing.
Utterly demoralized, he stood still as the stranger charged, sword sliding easily from a scabbard at his hip. Wesley looked in confusion as it sliced into his stomach, so similar to the move that Vail had used. His blood poured out, staining the pavement, and he looked into the face of his attacker. The man sneered, yanking the blade free. As he raised it to deliver the blow to sever Wesley’s head from his neck, the stranger’s eyes went wide.
With a peculiar ripping sound, the scruffy man’s head was separated from his shoulders. Before Wesley collapsed, he saw the form of Illyria behind the now headless corpse, her face a mask of rage, all semblance of humanity gone. She twisted the head around to face her, spitting into the sightless eyes, “No one touches what belongs to me.”
The lightening began slowly at first, arcing out from the body, coursing through the mingled blood on the concrete. Wesley slumped to his knees, hands pressed tightly on his stomach wound, letting the electricity suspend him, lift up his tattered body. Illyria stood strong throughout it all, and the last thing Wesley saw before he died was the wind rustling her hair, lightening caressing her skin. In that moment he truly saw the goddess she had been.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
He awoke in the dingy hotel room, lying on his back. He felt a warm weight on his side, the pressure of another body next to his. For a moment, his heart swelled, imagining Fred curled around in sleepy relaxation. Then Illyria spoke.
“You died. Again.”
“It seems so.”
“Yet you are not surprised.” She didn’t release her hold in his arm. As if against her will, she ground out, “You cannot leave me here alone.”
Wes rolled over onto his side, searching out her eyes, electric blue and full of emotion. “I didn’t mean to, Illyria.”
“But you did. What would have happened if that vermin had succeeded in removing your head from your shoulders? Would you have burst into lightening too?” She tilted her head down, touching her chin to her leather clad chest.
Wes knew she must be rattled: she rarely reverted to her true form recently, only when in battle. He was strangely moved, a tendril of surprised affection uncurling in his chest. “Yes. I didn’t understand before, why I came back to life the first time. It seems that I’m an Immortal, fated to play an asinine game of head hunting for the rest of eternity.”
Ambivalent, Wes sighed. This definitely added a new facet to his already complex life. It didn’t matter if he avoided Cleveland- the end result was the same. He was trapped forever, here away from the memory of Fred. He vaguely remembered the tales of Immortals from Watchers retreats. The bastardized branch of the Watcher’s council that dealt with the Immortal problem no longer communicated with the formerly London based Council, but they did have records on them. It seemed like Cleveland was out of the question entirely; they were going to England, home to see his family once more.
Illyria wasn’t impressed with his mental retreat and dug her fingers so hard into his skin it drew blood. She watched in fascination as the little blue flickers of electricity danced through the rent flesh. “This is why you smelled of ozone- lightening under your skin.”
She drew the blood to her lips, spitting as it touched her tongue. “You are not like the rest of the human offal. You are different now, but no better.”
Suddenly furious, she shoved him away, leaping off the bed to a crouch. “What have you done to me?”
Startled, Wes shuffled to a sitting position. “Done to you?”
“You make me feel this…ache. I don’t understand. I feel…” She tilted her head, baring her teeth. “This is unacceptable. I am no common human; these emotions cannot be mine.”
Wes blinked, shocked. He reached a hand her way, fingers splayed, “Illyria…”
“No! I cannot become like the sh-- like the other one.” She shook her hair, the blue strands catching in the dim hotel light. “I felt grief for you, this queasy revolt in my stomach that you may not awake again. And when your heart beat again I was…happy.”
Subtly shaking now, the demon slumped against the wall. “What has become of me?”
“You are adapting.” Wes levered himself to his knees, smoothing his palms on the cheap, scratchy bedcover. “I suppose it was inevitable given your diminishment.”
“I am not diminished!” Her eyes flashed, and she stood tall once more. Their gaze held for the space of a heartbeat, and she raised her hands to her face. “I no longer recognize this flesh. I spend so much time in between forms that it feels natural. I have curiosity to try that which you call pie.”
She sprang at him, pushing him flat on his back. “I am not curious. That is a human trait. I. Am. Not. Human.”
With that, she grabbed him around the throat, easily holding him down. “You make me feel. You should be punished.”
With nails sharp as knives she ripped his shirt, scoring deep the flesh beneath. One hand still clenched tightly on his neck, she slashed again and again. “Make it stop, make me clean again, take it back.”
Stifling cries of pain, the former Watcher grabbed her wrist, attempting to stop her next strike. Now covered in his blood, she flung his hand away, gripping even tighter, suffocating him. “No more. No more.”
And Wesley did the only think he could think of. He wrapped his arms around her, holding her in an embrace pregnant with meaning. His sight grew dim and the world washed away in the blood seeping into the mattress.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
This time, as he came awake, he knew the form held cuddled to his chest, the peculiar hitching sob like noises emanating from the demon straddling him. His skin was caked with blood, and when he moved, the dried areas cracked and split. Wesley ran his hands down her back, fingers rippling over the leather-like carapace she shielded herself with. She made no movement then, no more attempt to harm him.
“Are you quite done?”
She was silent, and Wesley tilted Illyria off his chest. She looked at him then, eyes bright with defiance, skin still patterned with blue. “It does not make it better.”
“No, I would imagine not.”
“Am I cursed with this forever then, these feelings?”
Wes smoothed the hair from her face, tucking a blue lock behind her ear. They were sitting now, her back ramrod straight and inhumanly rigid. His lips tilted up and he breathed, “Oh, Illyria…” With that, he leaned down and kissed her, lightly, lips trembling with guilt and fear.
She did not respond, frozen with confusion and disgust mingled with want. He sat back, watching those so hated emotions flit across her face, the fear of her own transformation, and he smiled. “I imagine we are both cursed.”
Folding in on herself, she looked at him. Serene once more, her skin and carapace faded to human. “It is appropriate, then, that we are together at the end.”
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
The trip to England was uneventful. Two first class tickets on a direct flight, Illyria’s face smushed to the window the entire time. She turned to him over the Atlantic, faint amusement on her features, and said, “In my time, I would not of have needed this metal beast. I would have skipped through space like a stone on water, leaving destruction in my wake.”
She watched for his reaction, obviously pleased with herself when he responded, “And I’m sure you would have been beautiful.”
England did not impress her; the rain dampened her hair and made her usually prickly mood downright overtly hostile. She dismembered a Horvath demon in the airport for jostling her luggage and Wesley was forced to do a vanishing spell to hide the remains. He cautioned her to refrain while in public, but at her snarl of irritation, he merely surreptitiously prepared the ingredients of another spell.
The ride home was smooth, no more unexpected deaths, and Illyria was quiet. She narrowed her eyes as his father’s estate came into view. “I have memories of this man. He was not an acceptable father to you.”
She turned to him, assured of this verdict, and he could not tell her no. He wasn’t sure if she even knew that the only memories that Fred would have had of Roger Wyndam-Pryce would have been of the cyborg instead, but he refrained. The imitation had been all too realistic.
None of his family was at home. The servants informed him that Master Wyndam-Pryce was seeing to Council business in London, an emergency call from Rupert Giles. Uncomfortable, Wes dismissed the butler, leading a predatory Illyria down the hall to his father’s private study.
Hours had been spent here as a youth, desperately trying to live up to his father’s expectations. He’d studied the watcher lore, practiced the spells, but it had never been enough. So many failures in such a small space. Wesley was surprised he could breathe at all. Perusing the books on the shelf, he came to the one he remembered. It alluded to the Immortals, their Game, the foundling status of them all, the Quickening that transferred the memories and life force from the losing Immortal to the winning one.
Stunned, he let the book drop from his fingers. Founding.
He was not his father’s son. He was no man’s son.
Failure after failure meant nothing, for how can you please a man who cannot think of you as his own?
A snick of a blade sliding from a sheath brought his attention back to his companion. Illyria was examining an ancient sword that hung over the immense mantle. She titled it in the firelight, running her finger lightly over the blade.
“This will do.” She handed it to him, hilt first. “There is old magic here; it tickles my skin and warns me away. Appropriate for dismembering more vermin should they challenge you.”
He accepted it, weighing it in his hands. It was a good sword, one of the best ever made; his father’s most cherished possession. He smiled, showing teeth. Illyria answered with one of her own.
“I wish to do more violence. The metal beast was unpleasant. Find me something to kill.” Her voice was low, hypnotic, and he found he wanted nothing more than to do as she wished.
On his way out, however, he heard the rumble of tires on gravel. His father was returning from London- with guests. Frozen in the foyer, Illyria tense at his back, he watched Roger exit the car, gesturing to the driver. Behind him, Rupert Giles and that annoying Andrew boy followed. The all paused in shock when they saw the pair of them standing on the steps.
“Wesley.” His father inclined his head, unemotional as always. “What brings you here?”
Wes ignored him, eyes darting to Giles. Both the watcher and his associate, if Andrew could be termed as much, looked at him in shock.
“Wesley? You’re alive?” Giles choked out the words, hand going to his glasses. Andrew’s jaw was wide open and he made a few sputtering noises.
“But our reports were that everyone fell in the destruction of Wolfram and Hart. There were no survivors.”
A flash of fury burned through Wesley and he stalked forward, bringing the sword loosely in front of him. “Yes, no survivors, that’s what happens when you’re abandoned to your fate. Couldn’t help us, could you, since we were obviously evil now, weren’t we? No better than the law firm we were trying to defeat.”
Giles made as if to speak, but Wesley cut him off. “You could have sent aid. You could have cared.”
“But you lied to us about Fred’s death,” Giles gestured behind him, up the stairs, “She’s alive. How could we trust you?”
Wes began to laugh then, a hysterical sound that bounced off the stone entry way like spilled marbles. “Oh, what a simple place this would be if we all lived in black and white.”
Illyria stalked around him, movements sharp and insect-like. The wind of her passage brushed against him, murmuring promises of mutilation and destruction. He could have held her back, but did not. She moved down the steps, head tilted as she sniffed the air. Wes watched the confusion on the trio’s face grow as she came near.
“You think we lied about Fred’s fate? That Angel attempted a ploy to somehow corrupt you? Andrew was there, he knew what we did, how we fought, yet still you punished us for some fucking imagined transgression.”
Roger started, eyes narrowing dangerously. Wesley held up a hand. “My dear, they don’t believe me. They left Fred to her doom. Why don’t you show them what happens to allies when they’re left to fend for themselves.”
With that, the illusion of humanity Illyria wrapped around herself melted away, leaving nothing but the demon in place of the woman. She looked at them, eyes alien, palm up. “I should eviscerate you where you stand. Nothing but human refuse, a blight upon my world.”
Giles gasped and they all moved back a pace. Andrew sputtered something, finally getting out, “But, Fred! You’re Fred! Aren’t you? I met you in LA, collecting the rogue Vampyre Slayer.”
Wes chuckled deeply, following to lay a gentle hand on the small of Illyria’s back. “Oh, you did meet Fred, Andrew. Now may I introduce you to Illyria? She has quite a way with words.”
Roger and Giles froze, all trace of confusion gone. When Andrew made to say something else, Giles gripped his arm tight enough to make him squeak. “Impossible.”
“Such a definitive term, Rupert, impossible. Like vampire births and resurrections long after death.” He sighed then, wondering just where his sanity had disappeared to, which pocket he had stored it in because he wished he had it again. He wished he wasn’t here on the steps of his family manor, introducing the shell of his former girlfriend filled with the soul of the demon he couldn’t bear to be parted from. Standing there having died twice already, yanked back from oblivion by the whim of a God he no longer believed in.
“Why would my son associate with one such as this? It died thousands of years ago, never to be brought back. It’s dangerous, Wesley, evil.” Roger had a disgusted sneer plastered on his face, but his hands were trembling.
“Her name is Illyria, and she is no more evil than any of you, if you look closely enough. I have what I came for, and now we’re leaving. I promised Illyria I would find her something to kill. If you would wish that to be something other than you, I suggest you let us pass.”
“You are dead to me,” Roger’s whispered words hissed over the assembled group. Wes froze in his walk to the rental car, lips twisting up into a smile.
“No truer words were ever spoken, Father, more than you will ever know.” Wes held the door for Illyria, walking to the driver’s side door slowly. “I wish a lot of things. That you had sent help when we needed it, Giles; that you had understood what we were truly trying to do. That all of my friends hadn’t died destroying the organization devoted to spreading hell on earth, literally, to make the world safer for everyone you care for. But this?” He gestured between them. “This has been most liberating.”
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
Wesley was challenged a second time three weeks later. They had virtually disappeared from the rebuilt Watcher’s radar, using both magical and conventional means to hide their tracks, only surfacing to slay whatever demon needed slaying. Wesley found it an almost relaxing existence. The funds Angel had provided were more than sufficient for many years to come, and Illyria was beginning to express more of an interest in the world around her, despite the desire to wreak vengeance on the world that had deprived her of her army, her power, her companions.
A side trip to exterminate a nest of Volzag demons terrorizing a playground in Kent satisfied Illyria’s urges that day. It was dreary and wet, and she itched for a fight. When it was over, she cleaned the blood from her blades, muttering under her breath, “I wish the half-breed was here. He was a most resilient play-mate.”
Wes paused in his own de-entrailing. He laid a hand on her shoulder gently- she was still sensitive about touching, even though she had taken to curling around him while he slept. “I do too. Though, probably for different reasons.”
She smiled, or what passed for a smile for her, and stood. He checked that no one had seen their escapade and nodded that they should head back to the lodgings. On the way, he felt that now familiar buzz along the base of his skull and loosened the blessed blade from its scabbard.
He wasn’t sure what to do, other than to wait for the Immortal to approach or not. Twice before, they had encountered the buzz but had been left alone. Illyria stepped back, eyes alight with interest.
A dark form detached from the stone wall some twenty paces ahead, and Wesley knew this would be no mere passing each other in the night. A formal challenge was issued and accepted, and within moments Wesley slipped into the graceful slash and dance. He spun away, parrying each blow, sure in the knowledge that his swordplay was considerably better than his opponent’s.
It was peculiar, but he began to enjoy this strange waltz. Illyria watched from the sidelines, grin feral, body prepared to pounce. Wesley felt the movements flow through him, and when the time came to take the blow, he was unsaddled with guilt. This was his life now, his future spread in front of him in a blue gilt haze. When the blade came down, the lightening burst around him in painful exclamation. He saw Illyria step over the headless corpse, reaching out to him with one fine-veined hand, and he clasped it to his chest as he fell to his knees.
She held him as he arched backwards, the memories, the life, the essence of his challenger flowing into his very soul. He opened his eyes, finally, and smiled at her, blue tinged hair floating in the unearthly breeze. When he could move again, he drew her down and kissed her. This time, she kissed him back. Rain fell down, washing the blood away, and Wesley stood, sword in one hand, Illyria cradled in his arm. He tilted his face up, letting the water sluice over them, and smiled. Dawn would come again, and this time he wouldn’t be late. He’d be right where he needed to be.
Please see the sequel One Good Turn
: Methos' perspecive on the new players in the Game.