Waking entwined with Fred, Wesley wondered for a moment if he dreamt.
Blinking, he ascertained that the woman in his bed was real. Sun streaming in through the open window dappled over her skin, dancing like the sound of her laughter. But she was silent now, extricating herself from the tangle of their limbs, sliding out from under the sheets, her slender body shimmering in the light.
Eyes heavy-lidded from sleep, Wesley admired the view as she swayed in the patch of sunlight by the window. But when she broke the silence with a faint humming, an echoing rustle crept up the exterior wall. Seeing leafy vines suddenly curling over the windowsill, where no plants had been, Wesley was jolted into full consciousness.
No gift were these memories resurgent, but heart-wrenching pain. Angel's lie revealed their shared trust and friendship to be a mockery; this blow fast followed Fred's agonizing death and the birth of this ancient creature into a world that had forgotten her. Fred might have been the shell, but Wesley was the one hollowed out inside, his certainties replaced with lies.
Wesley bit out a sharp exhalation of disdain. "Illyria."
She turned to him, unselfconscious, wearing naught but Fred's face and her own odd look of alien curiosity. He resolved to keep his eyes at face level; this creature had no right to wear nor to show him Fred's body, and he, having failed her, had no right to enjoy it.
His resolve broke almost immediately; looking at her breasts instead of that false visage, he could pretend for a moment, climb back with her into that warm bed of love and illusion. But tempting as that might be, Wesley knew it would garner him no satisfaction; nothing could, now.
She spoke in Fred's voice with an intonation of concern that was maddeningly perfect and utterly wrong. "Wes?"
Wesley closed his eyes, hand to furrowed brow. "Don't. Seeing you like her -- all that I remember just makes it worse. I cannot bear the crushing weight of these memories, the mockery of life that is this world, where a devil's bargain has taken her and given me you."
Illyria looked mournful, if such was possible, and in her own tones said, "I could end it all, crush these teaming insects, if but I had my armies."
Wesley glanced at her, his eyes roving hungrily over Fred's form with its artless innocence belying the ancient consciousness within. He sighed. "But they are dust, like..." He paused, looking at the vines beyond her.
Warring emotions surfaced, one after another. Anger, pain, grief, regret -- Wesley grasped at each one, only to have it slip through his fingers, ephemeral as light, insubstantial as his lost love, his lost friends, his lost trust in Angel.
Illyria gazed at him impassively, inhumanly still. Wesley thought in that moment that she could wait like that until the end of time.
But already his time had run out; there was nothing left in this life in which to believe, for which to care. Why concern himself with the teaming masses? He had trained and toiled all his life to protect this insensate world, and his futile efforts had brought him only failure and lies, grief and disillusionment. All he held dear had been relentlessly stripped away. Let this world be cleansed by blood and tears.
"I can return your armies to you, Illyria. Plants heed your call. Take advantage of that. People scarcely expect their house-plants to rebel, after all."
Illyria tilted her head, considering his words.
He looked once more at her seamless portrayal of Fred, shaking his head emphatically. "But show me no more echoes of that which I could not save. I've had done with humanity; I cast my lot with eternity."
She frowned. "I thought this form was what you wanted."
He gripped her wrist. "I am done with lies, done with what's past. Let it all be lost. Be blue; at least that's honest."
Thus the morning began as the previous night had ended, with a hard rush of bodies coming together. But it was not the same, not tenderness and tears. Stripped of artifice, Illyria sought her gratification furious and fast and inhuman.
In the aftermath, Wesley lay wet and shaking while she was scarce affected. She leaned against his chest. "You're saying I can crush the life from this wretched ball of muck simply by claiming the plants as my army?"
Wesley sighed and ran a heedless hand over her spine in what he would never term a caress. There should be nothing gentle between them, nothing that must needs end in wrenching pain and numbing emptiness. She could save her songs to inspire her troops.
"Yes. And these plants cannot survive unaltered. Any plant with which you commune will wither and die, seeking you instead of the sun. You should find that gratifying."
Illyria turned her head to gaze upon the tangled vines, now purple and blue and oversized, which were beginning to wither. "There are casualties in any war. These are acceptable losses."
* * *
Wesley wasn't certain how long she waged her war of conquest; the passage of time blurred and undulated around him. He felt a strange affinity with her warrior plants. Torn loose from their moorings in the natural progression, they didn't photosynthesize anymore, didn't grow and change. No feeling, no hope, no desire... they mirrored him, in another skin.
He passed his days in her temple dimension. She opened a suite for him, for them -- library and bedchamber, overlooking the central court.
The dust of her former armies was gone. The courtyard was a riotous mass of plants, all purple and blue, not reaching for light unavailable in this pocket dimension, but sending tendrils blurring back through Illyria's portal into that world he left.
Wesley couldn't join Illyria, couldn't ride at her side as she surveyed her domain. But nights (or perhaps days, indistinguishable as those states were), she would lie in his arms after their exertions and tell him of her conquests, her victories.
When finished exacting her revenge for her long imprisonment, she would transport them to another world, one without the taint of both their failures. Wesley wanted to believe, told himself he could leave both sets of memories here, shedding them like so many dead leaves, like a curtain of needles rustling to the ground.
But when she slept at last, he would lie awake and remember.
* * *
His library was equipped with a globe. He had insisted, and she had produced it, scoffing at the notion. When she woke and departed on one grey morning like all other grey and measureless mornings in this place, he found himself restless. He couldn't read, couldn't immerse himself in dimensional theory and substrate codices, could only contemplate this representation of the earth.
He trailed one finger pensively across the cool marble surface, spinning it faster and faster. Beijing, Moscva, Reykjavik. Toronto, Tokyo, Canberra.
The muted tones on the globe were wrong by now, of course. Water levels changed drastically as plankton battled the barrier reefs and as climate change disrupted the sea's ancient rhythms. Illyria's dominion over the earth was almost complete, nearly every life-form perishing in disasters natural and unnatural or succumbing to low oxygen levels.
He tapped a finger on Roma, wondering if Buffy went quickly. Not many slayers got a chance to die thrice; he had a morbid hope that it was a novel experience, that death hadn't gotten to be tedious for her. He didn't know which city held Faith's grave, if grave there be: one more in his string of failures. He didn't stop the globe at Los Angeles.
He might have, but at that moment Lilah walked in from the courtyard. Her presence where only Illyria ever strode was a study in contrasts and rather a shock.
She was vibrant, energetic, pretty as the day she gave them the keys to that cursed kingdom. He realized with a rush of grief how he'd missed her, mourning her quietly even before knowing the full events of the lost years.
She spoke first, breaking the silence. "I didn't think you had it in you, Wes. You know that Team Angel kept fighting the good fight without you? Or should we call it Team Spike now? I guess the Powers rewarded Angel for his years of faithful service with the metaphorical gold watch."
Lilah approached, stood intimately close, and tapped a well-manicured fingernail against his chest. "Tick, tick, tick ... so went his heartbeat. Too bad there was no air to breathe anymore."
Wesley felt a wrenching stab of loss, foolish, unbidden. He thought he had let that go when he left Angel and his scattered team behind, when he threw in his lot with Illyria. He turned away from Lilah, hiding the tremor that passed through him, the grimace rising uncontrolled to his face.
He moved to place the globe between them, spinning it slowly to occupy his eyes and steady his hands. "This is an accurate enough representation of the world, even now." He lifted his gaze. "An artist chips and chisels at the marble, and if he takes too much, it cannot be returned. No redemption."
Wesley looked at Lilah, intent and serious. "I'm sorry I couldn't save you, Lilah. As for Angel, he and I trod the steps in a dance of betrayal. Perhaps it was always going to come to this."
"Hey, lover, no talk of saving, not now. You're as damned as I am." Lilah didn't seem devastated by this notion, a tiny smile playing at the edges of her mouth. "Anyway, I just came to warn you that you and your blue girlfriend had best find a new hidey-hole."
Wesley raised an eyebrow and frowned at her words. "Indeed?"
"You two kinda derailed the apocalypse the Senior Partners had been planning, ending the world on your own schedule like that. Between the two of us, I'm impressed." She shot him a long look from beneath darkened lashes.
"Thank you, Lilah." Wesley essayed a small smile. "It's an unexpected pleasure to out-scheme your employers."
She made a show of checking her watch, as if time had any meaning in this place. "Well, back to hell. Before I go -- good for you. You managed to make more of that little girl than I ever expected. Far cry from the first one, way back when. Congrats, Watcher."
Wesley raised a hand in an instant of fury, almost striking her but instead dashing the globe to the stone floor, shattering it instantly. He noted, in a dispassionate place somewhere the hurt couldn't touch, that she didn't flinch.
Lilah pondered the broken pieces between them for a long moment before she turned on her heel and left him to contemplate the ruin.
Under his boot, Wesley methodically ground the shards of the globe into sand.