“Why didn’t you call me sooner?” Willow asked, watching as Illyria threw Spike across the room. She was still trying to wrap her head around the Spike not being dust thing, let alone that, blue hair aside, the woman in the training room was not the bubbly science geek she’d met last year.
“I did call,” Wesley replied, his tone measured. “But I was told in no uncertain terms that this was our problem and not to bother you.”
She still didn’t understand Giles’ call on that one. Yeah, so Angel was running an evil law firm. It shouldn’t keep them from lending a hand when a life was on the line. And Willow had never agreed with the cutting of ties, either. If they really had gone evil, maybe it wouldn’t have been such a bad idea to keep the channels of communication open to keep an eye on things. But who listened to her?
“I could have done something,” she said sadly.
“Willow,” he made her look at him. “I don’t think there’s anything you could have done. It was...inevitable.”
“So, why am I here now?”
“I’m at my wits end,” he admitted. “She’s my responsibility. I promised to help Illyria, guide her, but...”
“You hate her.”
“There are moments when I swear that Fred is still there, somewhere inside. Even though I know she’s not. I know and yet I still hope. After everything I’ve seen and read, I...” he stopped. “I’m a fool, I know.”
“No, Wes, you’re in love,” she touched his arm gently.
He smiled faintly. “After she masqueraded as Fred in front of the Burkles, I couldn’t do it anymore.”
“Understandable. But why me?”
“Because you knew Fred, you understood her.”
Willow sighed. Yeah, she did. If things had gone differently, they probably would have wound up really good friends.
“Okay,” she said finally.
She opened the door to enter the training room just as Spike was on his way out.
“Spike,” she greeted him calmly.
They stood there in silence, waiting for the other to speak. But what was there to say to each other?
“For the most part, her bark’s worse than her bite,” he advised her, before leaving, the door clicking shut behind him.
And then Willow was alone with Illyria, who at the moment was doing a good imitation of a statue as she stood in the middle of the room. She didn’t blink or twitch, and Willow was almost certain she wasn’t breathing either.
So when Illyria finally spoke, Willow nearly jumped out of her skin.
“You are Willow, are you not?” the voice was low and toneless. And cold.
“That’s me,” Willow said as she took a hesitant step forward, realizing her own voice sounded all too cheery.
“You are not like the others,” Illyria’s eyes narrowed. “Great power resides within you. Too great for a human.”
“I’m sorry?” she tried.
The luminescent blue eyes grew wide. “It was you!”
And with that Illyria began to advance on Willow.
“Me?” she backed up. “W-what did I do?”
Willow ran into the wall, and Illyria stopped, mere inches from her, trapping her there.
Head cocked to the side, Illyria seemed to be studying her intently. “I felt you. The mortal girl drawing upon the power of the Ancient Ones. But you survived. Mortals were not meant to touch that power and live.”
The memories sprang readily to the surface. The power flowing through her, filling her, threatening to tear her apart. And all she wanted was more and more. Raising Proserpexa’s temple, channeling the energy, knowing exactly what she was doing.
“It lingers,” Illyria breathed the words, gloved hand running lightly over Willow’s cheek.
Tingling, like a thousand tiny pin pricks, washed across her skin. Electric.
“What are you—” Willow’s words were cut off as her mind went completely blank before being flooded with a flurry of images.
Darkness, always darkness. Armies marching with a single mind destroying all that lay in their path. The god-king, ruling on high above the lesser creatures, mere puppets to her will. There was no power but that which resided within her. She was fear embodied. And she was loved.
But she was proud and had fallen so easily to the cunning manipulations of mere mortals. Trapped forever with the remains of the once indomitable Ancients, never to rise again. This would not be her end. The ages passed and the god-king waited, biding her time until things were set into motion to bring about her return. When eternity is on your side, all things are possible.
Escape into burning, rending pain as greatness was compressed into such a tiny, fragile form. So low and pitiful, but it would do. It would do. Until the form proved too weak, shattering again and again and again, destroying and rebuilding universes in the process. And then they took it away. Gone, all gone, except for a mere shadow of what she once was.
The hand was removed and Willow returned to the present with a jolt.
“Whoa!” was all she managed, trying to orient herself. That was new.
Illyria watched her enigmatically.
How did you wrap your mind around something like that? And the power—to have and to lose it... Even with the contact broken, residual images kept flashing across Willow’s brain.
“And on top of it all, you have to live with her inside,” Willow realized. “You weren’t counting on that, were you?”
“It is an unfortunate surprise. The essence that inhabited the shell was supposed to be obliterated. But pieces remain,” Illyria frowned. “Far too many pieces remain.”
“So not only do you have to live in Fred’s world, but you know what it was like to be her.”
“Memories and feelings,” she said as if the words themselves were distasteful. “Inconsequential and insignificant. And yet they persist.”
Crazy as it was, Willow understood. And not just from the mind-meld thingy or whatever the hell Illyria had just done to her, but from experience.
“Humanity is a weakness,” Willow agreed.
“It is what holds you back,” Illyria said. Then a slow smile spread across her lips, more chilling than the near inexpressiveness that she maintained. “And you resent it. Guilt and remorse and fear, but not of going too far again. No, the burden is that you took pleasure in it.”
Okay, this was going places it didn’t need to go. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.
The thought of escape had just formed when Illyria’s arms came up on either side of her, trapping Willow between her and the wall.
“Mm, fear,” Illyria purred. “Too long has it been since I was the cause.”
“Glad I could make you happy,” Willow joked weakly, trying to think of a way out. Trying to think of anything other than the leather-clad former god-king who understood her far too well and was too close for comfort. Giles’ non-involvement policy was looking smarter and smarter by the minute.
“You were right. I was flirting with you,” Illyria said, her voice taking on hints of a Texas twang. “Beat yourself up for days and days afterward. Thought you had misread things. But ‘cha didn’t.”
At this, she stepped back, and Willow realized that the blue hair and eerie artic eyes were gone. And so was the leather and cold. Illyria was gone, and before her stood Fred.
“It’s me,” she grinned at Willow’s silence. “Down to every last freckle. Crazy, isn’t it?”
Willow was no longer surprised at why Wesley had reacted as he did. It was so believable.
“What did she have that I didn’t?” not-Fred asked curiously. “And don’t tell me it was because of that silly tongue ring.”
Willow’s jaw dropped.
Not-Fred rolled her eyes. “You’re just catching on? It was an exchange, Willow. You gotta give something to get something in return. Nothing’s ever free.”
“Because I’m lonely,” she replied as if it were obvious. “And you are the only one in this whole wide world that’s my equal.”
Oh boy, Willow needed to get out of here and fast.
Illyria’s measured monotone was like ice, a sharp contrast to the soft warmth of Fred’s form she still wore. “She didn’t understand you. That’s why she left. And you only used her to forget.”
“I-I didn’t use Kennedy!” Willow protested.
“Willow, you cannot lie to me.”
“Oh yeah, you take one little trip through my head and you think you know me? Huh?” she retorted defensively. “All powerful god-king you might have been, but your interpretation skills really suck.”
“Why is it that humans do this?” Illyria-as-Fred sneered. “Lie to themselves when the truth is so plainly clear?”
“It’s called free will, my friend.”
“A waste of time.”
Finally Willow had had enough. “You have got to be the most exasperating creature in existence. No wonder no one wants to be around you. Berating them, tearing them down... Some all-powerful being you are.”
“Was,” Illyria corrected her.
“Yeah, whatever,” Willow said and rolled her eyes. “But hey, at least you admit that you no longer are. That’s something, I guess.”
“You are angry with me?”
“You better believe I’m angry with you!” she shouted. “Sneaking around my head without so much as a by-your-leave. Surprised you didn’t bring up the fact that all of my other lovers left me too! Why stop with the most recent?”
“It was unnecessary to bring up the others,” was the reply.
“You have an answer for everything, don’t you, Illyria?”
“Well, answer me this,” Willow stared Illyria down. “Before they took your powers, why did you stay here?”
“There was nowhere else I could go,” she said simply.
“But why here?”
“Fred made you stay,” Willow gave her the answer.
Fred’s face registered genuine shock. But it was Illyria who spoke. “The shell does not have any power over me.”
“I’m not talking about the shell, Illyria,” Willow advanced on her.
“Winifred Burkle no longer exists.”
“Then why do you use her memories? Stay close to her friends? Take on her form?”
The former god-king had no reply. And “Fred” was looking frightened as Willow turned the tables and backed Illyria against the wall, leaving her no escape.
On impulse, Willow reached out and caressed the soft cheek. The flesh was warm and smooth beneath her fingertips. Alive. Inviting. If things had gone differently, this might have been hers. And maybe Fred would still be here.
Willow wasn’t sure who made the first move. First there was silence, and then there were lips. Opening willingly, tongue tasting eagerly. Her hand slid along gauzy fabric, hinting at the flesh that lay underneath. She could spend hours exploring. But it wasn’t real. It was just an illusion.
Reluctantly, Willow pulled back far enough to break the kiss without losing contact.
“Illyria, change back,” she ordered, surprised at how even her voice was.
“Why can’t I stay like this?” Fred’s voice almost whined. “You think it’s wrong, too, don’t you?”
“Of course it’s wrong,” was on the tip of Willow’s tongue to say. But what would be the point? That wasn’t her real motivation. Instead, “Because I don’t want to kiss an illusion.”
There was a faint, fluttering sensation as Illyria shifted back to herself, mostly. She remained in the skirt and light shirt she had worn as Fred.
The feel of Illyria as herself versus as Fred was different but subtle. She really wasn’t cold, after all. That was just all the blue and Illyria’s indifference coming across. Her skin still felt very much alive. It was neither hard nor ungiving. Willow couldn’t say exactly how it was different, but it was.
And this time when she kissed Illyria, she met resistance. She felt Illyria’s uncertainty.
“Relax,” she whispered before trying again.
Much better. Illyria was still hesitant but not unyielding. She allowed Willow inside, slowly responding in kind.
In the back of her mind, the part not consumed by the feel of another body pressed against hers and responding to her touch with increasing fervor, Willow had to wonder how she’d gotten from trying to help Wesley to making out with his problem.
She gave a low moan as Illyria’s fingers brushed questioningly across her breast. Seeming to catch on that this was a favorable response, Illyria lingered there, her touch becoming firmer, thumb teasing across her nipple. Willow arched into it.
Illyria withdrew from the kiss to speak, but continued fondling Willow’s breast. “How is it that this brings you pleasure?”
How? She didn’t know how, it just did. And she told Illyria as much. Then added, “Word to the wise, don’t try to analyze this, okay?”
“But it is the only way to understand things,” Illyria countered.
Willow sighed, really not in the mood to play teacher, at least not in this way. “No. Some things can only be understood by experiencing them.”
“This is one of them?”
“Yes, it is,” Willow said irritably, patience in short supply with her body being denied its present want. “And if you don’t stop talking, Illyria, you won’t get that chance either.”
“Proceed,” the former god-king acquiesced.
Smiling, Willow set about giving Illyria the proper experience, determined to break through the cool detachment.
She slipped her hand under the thin fabric of Illyria’s shirt, grazing lightly over the taut skin of her stomach. Willow might have imagined it, but Illyria seemed to shiver slightly at the touch. Capturing Illyria’s lips again, Willow widened her explorations, delving below the waist of the skirt, debating with how far to take things. Finally deciding that, worst case scenario, Illyria would send her flying across the room, Willow’s hand sought lower and lower until, trailing over coarse hair, she found wet, waiting flesh.
Illyria gasped. “What are you—”
“Shh,” Willow whispered, fingers flitting light over Illyria’s sex. “No talking, remember?”
And Willow increased the pressure of her touch, parting Illyria’s folds to find hot, slick, and extremely sensitive flesh, going by the way Illyria’s body bucked at the contact. She worked slowly back until one finger slid easily up into Illyria’s channel. Soon she added a second finger as she pumped in and out of the cushiony depths. Then she moved her thumb up to work over Illyria’s clit. Willow felt Illyria tense and relax as she grew closer to climax, unblinking eyes going wider as the sensations washed over her. Her mouth fell open in a silent cry when she came at last, muscles clenching tightly around Willow’s fingers.
Willow extricated herself and stepped back, feeling no small amount of pride at having brought off a once great god-king. It was definitely good on one’s ego.
Illyria’s palms were pressed into the wall, bracing herself as she came down. She made several attempts to speak. Finally she spoke, voice a little less certain than before, “That was...interesting.”
Willow snorted. “Just interesting? Let it never be said you haven’t mastered the power of understatement.”
“I am unable to come up with the appropriate words to describe these sensations.”
“That’s better,” Willow grinned.
“I may have underestimated the worth of your species,” Illyria said. Then, after thinking for a moment, she asked, “Is there more?”
“Oh yes, Illyria, there is more,” Willow assured her.
“You will... It... I would like it if you would show me this more.”
And while Willow was certain that this wasn’t what Wesley meant by using any means necessary to educate Illyria, she was more than happy to oblige.