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Illyria lies still, canted on her side with the demon corpse she fell next to supporting her back. The warm rain falls on her face as blood trickles from her nose and scalp and joins the water running onto the broken pavement. Water that she knows would be pink if she could see color in the dark. She can barely see anything in the dark, but she counts it a victory that she can see at all. A surprising victory--almost as surprising as the fact that she has two hands and two feet and they are still connected to her body--her body that hurts.

Pain. She is becoming accustomed to pain. It is wrong that she is becoming used to it. Pain was a thing for others. Pain was what she inflicted on any who opposed her. Any who angered her. It was never something she had to feel.

She lies in what would be blood and dust if the rain were not washing the dust and blood away. Angel and Spike fell here; Charles lies a hand clasp away from her, his eyes open, staring without sight at the alley that should have taken them all.

She is not sure why she is alive.

She is also not sure when she started to think of herself as she.

Was it Wesley's doing? Did his pain--always battering at her--turn her from a god-king to this diminished thing she has become? This thing that is some mix of Illyria and the Fred creature? Illyria was a king. A god. Not a queen. Not a goddess.

Why did her Qwa'ha Xahn imprison her in this feminine body? Why did he not give her the robust male body that would have kept her a king? A body that would not now be lying in this alley, bleeding from too many holes.

She listens, not moving, not giving in to the urge to groan because her body hurts so badly. She listens and hears nothing in the alley with her. Did they think her dead, too? Did the enemies of Angel leave, victory theirs? Or are they standing now, waiting for her to move, to give a sign that they should kill her?

She closes her eyes, waiting out the demons that may or may not be all around her. In her time, she would have killed them with a thought. In her time, she would have resurrected Wesley, and used the dust of Angel and Spike to make them live again. She would have reached out and touched Gunn, and he would have taken a deep breath, hymns to her on his lips.

And then she would have decided if she would kill them all herself for daring to be things she cared about. Caring was weak. Caring was empty. Caring was...Wesley dying in her arms. But that was not empty. The feeling in her at the moment of his death was full, the grief so close and foreign that she thought she would vomit it up. Grief--she does not like the taste of it.

She gags on blood, and rolls away from the corpse that supports her as quickly as she can, ready for the blow that must come now that she has shown her enemies she still lives. But the alley is empty. Empty, but for dust washed away and Gunn's body. And the corpses of demons--they took out so many before they fell. More than the Wolf, Ram, and Hart expected, she thinks. More than she thought they would.

Not that it matters. The demons would have kept coming if Illyria and the others had not fallen when they did. Nothing would have stopped the evil. That is the nature of an apocalypse. It does not stop. Although in Angel's world, it does. He thought he could beat it. Just like the girl he and Spike both loved always beat an apocalypse. In his world, until this alley, an apocalypse was something you won.

Illyria pushes herself up, fighting for breath as she uses muscles that would rather lie still in a pool of blood-colored water. She considers dying. She is hurt enough to lie here and let the night take her, let this rain be the last thing she ever feels.

But she finds she does not want to die.

Groaning in pain, she rises. Her leather armor is torn, blood seeps and trickles and streams depending on where she looks. She is mortally wounded. Only...she is not quite mortal. So she lives.

She takes a breath. It hurts. She takes another, and another, counting the hurt as the price of life. Of choosing to go on. Even though she has no place to go and no one to help her. Even though she is more lost than not in this world where vampires have souls and die to save mankind.

The end of the alley is an eternity away. But she is the king of eternity, and she will make it to the street. She is almost there when she blacks out. She falls, lies at an angle that strains her back in a way her back should never be strained. This is wrong, to be so weak. She should give up. She should sleep.

But she forces her mind to work. Forces herself to recite the many titles she earned when she ruled a kingdom that would never end. The blackness recedes, and she pushes herself back up, using the wall near her to steady herself.

She is a weak thing. She should let herself die for that reason alone. To erase the shame of being something hurt and small.

"My, god. Let me help you." The voice sounds like her Qwa'ha Xahn, and she feels irritation. Mainly because the man who wants to help her has not called out to her, but to some god she does not recognize. Some god who has no place in a street so close to an alley where evil triumphed.

The man reaches for her.

"Touch me and pay the price in blood."

He pulls his hand back. At her stare, and then at the strange, guttural sound she makes, he turns and leaves her alone. Muttering something about her being crazy.

She is not crazy. She is just not what this world expects. Knox knew that when he brought her here. When he called her back to waking life. But he thought that her kingdom had endured, that her army waited. She thought that, too. She believed, and it may have been in part because her priest believed.

Her priest was useless. Her priest gave her the body of a woman he loved. She knew his thoughts. Her priest wanted to love her in a way a god-king does not love his Qwa'ha Xahn.

Wesley loved her, she thinks. Only not as a god-king. More as this strange hybrid she is now. She is a twisted thing, half human and half god, and he loved her for being that. He loved her, but he hated her first--hatred so strong she could taste it whenever he looked at her, whenever he spoke to her. He loathed her for killing his heart. For taking Fred away. But she fascinated him, too, and she used that once it was clear she needed him, once he killed her Qwa'ha Xahn and took on the role himself.

She knew that every time he looked at her in the beginning, he saw Fred. But then he saw Illyria. Until his end, when she gave him back the woman he loved. She wanted him to love her, but she gave Fred instead. Because...

She does not love Wesley. Illyria does not love. Illyria is revered but not loved, and he-she does not love. It is not required. It is not welcome.

It is not her choice. She would choose not to feel this grief if she could, but her choice is to live or die, not whether she will love. And she would choose anything but this. Love tastes like the sour sweat of burning Boraskin demons who would not scream for her pleasure. Love tastes like the dance of Karkides before the plague storms blew in. Love is a mix of offal and the finest wine.

Love confuses her.

She wonders if she will love again. She wonders if she has ever loved. She wonders if she would wonder about love if she were not so badly hurt.

She limps down the street, holding her hand over the worst of the wounds. She can feel the sticky warmth of red blood coloring her leather, soaking through it. It will make the leather stiff, uncomfortable. Comfort never mattered to her before. Now...now, she will need new clothing because comfort is no small thing when you are no longer a god.

She takes a few more steps, then realizes that someone is standing a few feet from her, watching her. She looks up, sees the woman who served the senior partners.

"You're hurt." She seems lost, this woman known as Eve. "Have you seen Lindsey?"

Illyria does not know where Lindsey is. But she thinks that Angel has killed him. "I have not seen him." She does not care about Lindsey. The creature means nothing to her, and this woman even less. She takes another step.

"I can help you if you tell me where he is."

"He is not here. He did not stand with us." Did not fall with them. "That is all I can tell you."

Eve's eyes leak tears. Her smell changes from that of hope to despair. Illyria sees in her face that her grief for Lindsey will change her. Will make her soft and hard all at the same time.

"He is probably dead," she tells Eve. "He is probably dead, and you will never see him again."

That is how Wesley is, after all. Gone from her. Never to be seen. She will share the grief she feels. She will share the bitter taste of lost love.

Is love ever anything but bitter?

Eve moves close, taking her arm. "I hate you all."

"Then do not help me."

"Maybe I'm going to deliver you to Wolfram and Hart." She walks, pulling Illyria along with her. Her touch is not gentle, yet it is somehow comforting. "How did you survive?"

"I am a god."

"You are nothing."

"Yes." She is a god. And she is nothing. It is a puzzle she will have to solve later because it takes too much energy to walk and think. "Will you turn me over to them?"

"No." Eve pushes her into a car that is parked badly, the front headed in, the back still in traffic--if there was any traffic in this deserted area on this night of the war between good and evil.

Is Illyria good, then? She fought on the side of that, but is she that? She does not want to be good, unless she is the one to determine what makes up good and what makes up evil. As she used to do in her kingdom, when smiting those who did not make her smile was a good thing.

Eve sighs as she backs the car up, then drives away from the alley where everything that was Illyria's world fell. Everything but Wesley, who fell first, lighting her way to this alley. Making her want to fight. Making her want to kill.

Making her willing to die. Even for these puny humans. Even for a world she detests.

Eve makes the car go faster, the outside rushing by so quickly that Illyria feels sick and has to look away. "Where are we going?"

"I don't know. Away from here."

"I do not trust you," Illyria says.

"I don't trust you, either."

That seems fair. Right somehow in the ancient sense. They are not allies; they are enemies. But enemies can run together, when there is a greater foe to fight. "I am tired."

"Then sleep," Eve says.

It is a good suggestion. Even if Eve does not trust her and she does not trust Eve. Illyria knows her enemy will not let anything harm her. She closes her eyes and sleeps.

-----------------

Eve stands at the window, letting the sun pour over her, wishing that Lindsey were with her. But Lindsey is gone, and she has nothing left but the strange creature who lies on the far bed of the little motel Eve stopped at once they were well north of Los Angeles.

She is not sure why she is heading north. She feels as if it is safer there. Although she may turn east at some point--she feels it calling, too. They need to fit in, though. And there is too much middle before they get to places where Illyria will not stand out. Cities will work to hide a blue-haired former god-king who is prone to leather. The heartland will not.

Not that Eve has been to the heartland.

She hasn't been much of anywhere. She was a creature of the senior partners. Then she was Lindsey's thing. Now...now she belongs to herself.

She hears the bed creak, the sound of springs giving as the light form of what used to be Winifred Burkle but is now an almost god-king is eased off the bed.

"I am hungry." Illyria sounds as if she still thinks she is a god-king.

"There's a donut on the dresser."

Illyria does not demand that Eve get it for her, and Eve turns to watch as she limps to the scratched piece of furniture and grabs the donut.

"There's coffee, too. In the bathroom." The kind from the little coffee maker they provide in these places. Eve does not like these places. She would rather stay in a fancy hotel, where you call for coffee. Where they bring breakfast on a steaming tray full of good things instead of making you walk to the office and grab what is left from the box of donuts put out next to a bowl of half-ripe fruit. They call it a continental breakfast--Eve wonders what continent they think would take credit for such a lousy repast.

Illyria comes to stand by her, setting her coffee down on the table. She still looks so much like Fred, but lacks all the softness of the other woman.

The others were soft, too. Angel and Spike, with their doomed champions' souls. And Wesley and Gunn. Even Lorne. Soft and weak, and Eve wonders if he fought in the alley too. "Did they all die?" Eve asks.

"Yes." Illyria bites into her donut. It is chocolate with colored sprinkles and looks strange in the hands of a creature who used to kill humans for sport.

"Even Lorne?"

Illyria takes a breath. "He was not with us."

"But the rest?"

"They fell. They died." Illyria turns the donut over, studying the unfrosted side.

"Do you care?"

Illyria takes a deep breath, and Eve thinks she has struck a nerve.

She does not let up on Illyria. "Wesley's dead, too?"

"Wesley died first."

Eve looks away. Did Lindsey die, too? Did he die first or last or in the middle? Did he think of her at all? Did he care about her at all? "Lindsey...?"

"I told you. I do not know his fate." Illyria reaches for her coffee.

"Did he love me?" Eve says out loud, then closes her eyes. That should not have been voiced.

"He loved some part of you. Something he saw in you that drew him to you. But it may not have had anything to do with the real you." Illyria is squeezing the styrofoam cup, and Eve does not think she realizes it. Coffee spills out, trailing over her hand. It's probably not very hot after sitting for so long. Illyria acts as if she does not feel it.

And she is probably right about Lindsey and love. He probably did not love the real Eve.

"Did you love Wesley?"

"I do not know."

"You're lying." Eve turns back to the sunshine. "You love him still. You always will. He will sit like a cancer in your chest until you die."

Illyria turns to her, and Eve meets her eyes. "You are depressing," the once king of eternity says, and Eve laughs for reasons she does not understand. "Why did you help me?"

Eve cannot answer that with any certainty. Illyria repels her, but she feels some strange kinship with her. She remembers what it was like to be newly created on this Earth. Unused to humans or the way they thought or smelled or sounded. She is human, now. But she did not start out that way.

"I do not know that Lindsey is dead," Illyria says into the silence, and it is as if she is trying to give Eve some kind of gift.

But it is a gift full of nothing. No meaning. Lindsey would be with Eve if he were alive, if only to have someone to gloat to. He would need that--someone to listen to him tell of how he beat Angel. Angel was always far more important to Lindsey than Eve was. "He is dead, I think. And Angel killed him."

Or had him killed. Angel knew how important he was to Lindsey. He might have done that out of spite--killed Lindsey by proxy. Is that where Lorne went? Is that what Lorne had to do? Would Angel do that to Lorne?

She thinks he probably would. Angel was full of surprises--especially at the end. He was more willing to make the hard choices than Eve had ever expected. Lilah tried to tell her that. Lilah, who loved Wesley as much, if not more, than this blue thing standing next to her. Lilah, who was sent far away because the senior partners did not trust her anymore to deal unfairly with the Angel gang. Not when the stakes were as high as they were going to get.

Eve was supposed to represent the senior partners well. She was supposed to pay them back for her life. They'd never counted on Lindsey. They'd never counted on her being human enough to fall in love. Just like they'd never counted on a god-king fighting on the side of good. "Why did you do it?" She sees Illyria licking some of the frosting off. "Why did you fight?"

"It pleased me to do so." Illyria puts the coffee down and runs her hand over the bandages that Eve has wrapped around her.

Eva wadded her torn and blood-hardened leathers into a ball, crushing the armor tightly into the trash can by the door. Illyria now wears soft sweatpants and a t-shirt that Eve pulled out of her own suitcase for her. The clothes hang a bit on her. Eve is small; Illyria is smaller.

Yet...Illyria survived. That terrible, terrible fight and this small, whip-thin creature survived.

"Where would Wesley want me to go now?" Illyria meets her eyes.

Eve shrugs.

"He would want me to do good."

"Is that what you want?"

Illyria does not answer. She seems to be considering. Given her strength, the fact that she lives and licks messily at a donut when she should have died during the night, she has much to consider. Many options. Far more than Eve does.

Where can Eve go to be safe?

"Where can we do good?"

Eve shrugs again. Then she smiles. "Buffy is in Rome."

Illyria nods. "The slayer." She purses her lips. It is the pretty "I'm thinking" pout of Fred.

Eve feels a pang, even if she never really liked Fred much. "What are you thinking?" she asks.

"Do you think Lindsey would want you to do good?"

Eve does not think Lindsey would care what she does now that he is gone. Lindsey was too self centered to think that life mattered once he was no longer a player. "Probably not. But he's not here. I'll do what I want." It is an odd concept. To do what she wants. She's done the bidding of others for so long. "I will take you there."

"To the slayer?"

Eve nods. Buffy may kill her. Buffy may take one look at her and run her through with the nearest pointy instrument. But it is something to do--something she wants to do--and Eve needs that. Needs a focus, something to live for. A mission--or just an errand. Besides, she knows she can't hide from Wolfram and Hart. Not really. Not for long. But maybe with Buffy and her people, she can find a home.

"We'll need some things. We can get them in Portland." They are halfway there anyway. Well past San Francisco. Eve was too scared to stop anywhere near that city--Wolfram and Hart has a small branch office there. She's been there many times.

"I have never been to Portland." Illyria says.

"You've never been anywhere." Eve closes her eyes, leaning her forehead against the window, letting the sun warm her. "We'll leave once you finish your breakfast."

Illyria licks more of the frosting off the donut. "Rome is an ancient city. Full of magic that may be useful to me."

"Wolfram and Hart is there, too," Eve whispers, wondering if her breath is fogging up the window. Her breath--from a warm body with a still-beating heart. How long will Wolfram and Hart let her live?

"They are everywhere." Illyria's tone is dismissive.

"Yes. They are. And even where they aren't, they have a very long reach."

"They are inconsequential," Illyria says. This time she sounds a little unsure.

Eve finds that strangely comforting.

---------------

Illyria feels the press of Roman flesh against her and has to fight the urge to lash out, to maim and hurt those who crowd her. Los Angeles was full of people, but they were spread out. This city--it makes her skin crawl how close everyone is to everyone else, how many people there are, hurrying and calling out words that made no sense to her at first, although she absorbed the words into herself just as she did English. And eventually the words turned into things that resembled language.

"Don't kill anyone," Eve mutters.

"Can I hurt them?"

"Not if we want to get to Buffy."

Illyria is no longer sure she wants to get to Buffy. She is not even sure Eve will be able to take them to Buffy. They've been looking all day, and the apartment that Eve says is nearby is always over one street, or on the next block. Illyria is not tired, but her spirit feels weary. And her wounds--healing now--itch as if the constant press of people is an irritant to her system, not just to her mood.

"There. I think it is there." Eve sounds like one of Illyria's courtiers fallen out of favor. Unsure. Ready to say anything to keep her moving.

"You do not know where the slayer is."

"I do." Eve bounds up the stairs, catches the door as a young man comes out.

He looks at her suspiciously, and she smiles at him. An open, uncomplicated smile that reminds Illyria of the vampire secretary Angel tolerated. Harmony. Their betrayer. Or one of them.

The man's suspicion turns to something more appreciative. Illyria can smell his arousal. Eve uses her power--what little she has--to get him to blush.

Illyria wonders why this instrument of the partners is so weak when the other liaison was so full of might. And so full of the will to use it. Illyria can still feel his hands pounding on her, his feet as they connected with her ribs. He nearly killed her. He hurt her worse than the hoards of demons she fought in that alley did. Hamilton--she wishes she had been allowed to kill him.

"Come on." Eve motions her in the door.

Illyria takes the stairs slowly. She does not believe this is where Buffy lives any more than the last five buildings were. Her healing body will thank her not to have strained it for nothing.

"See. Summers." Pointing at the name on a mailbox, Eve leads her upstairs to a door at the end of the hall. She knocks hard.

A young woman opens the door. Illyria can smell the otherworldliness of her, mystical afterbirth steaming all around her.

"You are a key."

The girl slams the door shut.

Eve turns and glares at her. "I said to let me do the talking."

"But the girl is a key." Could she get Illyria back to her home? Would Illyria even survive in her home, diminished as she is?

"And it's obviously a touchy subject." Eve frowns. "Buffy has a sister--that must be her. What is her name?"

"Dawn." Illyria remembers every conversation she has overheard or been a part of since she was made manifest. The slayer has a sister who is named Dawn. But no one said she was a key. Perhaps for very good reason. There was a time when Illyria could have used her without a thought for her own safety.

"Dawn?" Eve calls through the door, knocking again but softly this time. "Don't mind my strange companion. We're friends."

"We are not," Illyria says as the door opens again.

"I'm not inviting you in." Dawn folds her arms across her chest.

"We're not vampires." Eve pushes past her. Illyria stands in the hallway, trying to see past the green glow of the slayer's sister.

"I'm not the key anymore." Dawn looks angry and a little fearful.

"You will always be the key. But you may not unlock anything useful." Illyria, too, pushes past her.

"Buffy!" Dawn sounds frightened now.

A slightly shorter woman comes out of the bedroom. Her power hits Illyria like the scent of roses and carrion. This small, fierce thing is death and pain. Illyria smiles a real smile for the first time since Wesley fell. "Finally," she says, breathing in more of the slayer's essence.

"What the hell is this?" Another slayer comes out from the other end of the hallway. She is dark haired and tan skinned and does not smell like Buffy. She is death and pain, too, but only a beginner.

She is with a redhead who takes one look at Illyria and says, "Fred?"

Illyria accesses Fred's memories. Willow--this one's name is Willow. Fred thought she was cute and powerful. Illyria does not care about the woman's looks, but her power has grown tremendously. She is strong--strong enough to send Illyria to any dimension she wants. If only she knew of one where she could survive better than here.

"She's not exactly Fred. Kind of a long story," Eve says.

Buffy turns to Willow. "You know her, too?"

"Nope." Willow walks over to Illyria. "The new look...I'm not so sure about it."

"But you know it," Illyria whispers, seeing something flare in Willow's eyes, then they go suddenly dark. She has a vision of the redhead with black hair, like the tar river that winds though the Faleshik plain. She sees veins all over Willow's face and hands, veins that spread and fill in her pale skin like the small streams that run off the river when the mountains disgorge the tar like blood from a dying thing. "You are a destroyer," Illyria whispers.

Willow's eyes go back to green. She looks startled. "Was, not am. Good now."

"You were a destroyer. You forsook that path. Why?" Illyria cannot imagine turning her back on that kind of power willingly. Even if she did something of the sort--but only to save herself.

"She's more powerful than ever," the brunette slayer says, pushing herself between them, and Illyria understands that she is the sorceress's lover.

"What do you want?" Buffy moves closer, and Illyria inhales again.

"You smell good."

Buffy doesn't say anything, just stares at her. As if Illyria is taking up precious time, yet she can tell from the way Buffy's hair is crumpled and sleep still lies in her expression that she was napping.

"She fought with Angel." Eve is watching Buffy carefully. "And Spike." She smiles, and Illyria thinks it is a cruel look. She has more respect for Eve suddenly. Goading a slayer this way is dangerous.

"What?" Buffy turns to look at Eve. "Spike's alive? Was alive?"

"The final battle." Willow sighs. "I told you I felt something..."

Illyria can tell she is lying. The man-boy who came to get the demented slayer--he must have told the witch that Spike lived, but not told the slayer. Perhaps Spike asked him not to?

Dawn swallows hard. She looks at Illyria. "You fought with them?"

Illyria nods. "They are dust."

Buffy punches her into the wall. Illyria takes a moment to regroup before picking herself up off the floor.

"I did not turn Spike to dust." Although she did, once, over and over again in that timeline before she was diminished by Wesley. Just before she nearly destroyed the world with power badly contained in this body she does not like.

She waits to see if Buffy will strike her once more. "Nor did I slay Angel. They died fighting. I fought at their side and should have died, too. But I did not."

"Why not?" the dark slayer asks.

Illyria decides she is annoying.

"Because she's not Fred anymore." Willow moves closer. "Who--what are you?"

Eve sighs. "Look, can we go into the origins of bluebell later? We need sanctuary. Or we need to move on." She looks at Buffy. "I've heard the Immortal lives nearby."

Buffy nods. "You're welcome to him."

Illyria watches the slayer. She does not seem bitter. The words are said matter of factly, as if she does not care what the Immortal does.

"I'd rather have you." Eve says, and Buffy's eyebrows go up. "I mean...not that way. I don't really swing that way. But if you do...?"

Buffy's look gets even stonier. Illyria reaches out, letting her hand fall onto the slayer's upper arm. The muscles are so taut, and power streams off her and into Illyria, filling her. Buffy turns her head, staring at Illyria, her look shocked.

"I take with no permission," Illyria says softly, feeling her wounds healing faster.

"You fought with Angel?"

Their eyes meet. Illyria sees the pain of loss. Two losses despite the fact that Buffy asks only about Angel this time. The slayer loved both the vampires. But Illyria answers as she was asked. "He fought well."

"But he fell?"

Illyria nods.

Buffy does not cry, and she doesn't pull away from Illyria's grasp. "We heard so many things the last few days. Rumors, mostly. Nothing from anyone who really knew." She bows her head. "He's dead," she says, and Illyria knows she means both of the men she loved.

"He is dead." Illyria wishes she had captured some of the dust when Angel and Spike fell. She wishes she could give it to this powerful young woman who is letting her suck energy out of her even though her heart is breaking.

"You came here why?" Buffy finally pulls away. She turns to Eve, her posture one of a hunting cat on the edge. As if she wants to make something--anything--pay for the death of her vampires. "And who the hell are you?"

"She is evil." Illyria stops Buffy as she takes a step toward Eve. "But she saved me. And she is alone."

"Glad the gratitude kicked in." Eve crosses her arms, a mirror to Dawn. She is trying not to look frightened, but Illyria can smell her fear, and she thinks Buffy can, too. "Wolfram and Hart wants us dead."

Buffy glances at Willow. "Call Giles. He'll know what to do with them."

Willow nods and goes to another room. Illyria can hear her talking. The dark slayer is circling them.

"Stop that," Eve says, walking to the couch. "I'm no threat. Ask her, if you don't believe me."

Buffy does look to Illyria, seems satisfied by the nod she gets. She stops the dark slayer. "Kennedy, leave her alone."

They have a stare-down, and Kennedy lasts longer in the battle of wills with Buffy than Illyria thinks she will. Finally looking away, the other slayer leaves the room, going to join her lover, anger streaming hot in her wake.

"She will challenge you."

Buffy smiles. "Been there, done that. More than once, in fact." She moves away from Illyria, her gaze thoughtful. "Take a load off."

Illyria is not sure what she means, but then Buffy gestures to the chair. Illyria sits, intending to only perch regally, but her muscles seem to betray her and she slumps, more tired than she realized from Eve's endless game of "Find the Slayer."

They sit. And Buffy and Dawn watch them. Willow comes back in, standing behind Eve, staring at Illyria. Kennedy stays in the other room.

"You wish to know what I am?" Illyria stares back at the witch.

"Shouldn't we save the explanations for when Giles gets here?" Dawn sighs. "Is anyone thirsty?"

Eve raises her hand.

"Anyone who isn't potentially evil?" Dawn mutters.

Eve just laughs. "Who in this room fits that description?" She crosses her legs, leans back and closes her eyes as if she does not care that she is surrounded by potential enemies.

A little while later, there is a knock on the door. Buffy opens the door and lets a man in. Illyria stares at him with little interest until he opens his mouth and says words she can no longer take in because he says them with Wesley's way of speaking.

Buffy points, and he stares at Illyria, frowning slightly.

"Wesley," Illyria says. Not meaning to.

"Right island. Wrong man. Just another watcher." Eve looks up at Giles, her smile more a smirk. "I was the liaison to the senior partners."

"Was?" He seems to move so carefully. Not as if he is afraid. More as if he is trying to hold back a more dangerous impulse.

Illyria reaches out, tasting his essence. There is darkness in this one. Far more than there was in Wesley. She reaches farther and is surprised to see him turn around slowly, staring at her in a way she has trouble deciphering. He knows she is reading him. He knows what she is seeing inside him. And...he seems to not care.

"You have killed," she says. "For her, your slayer, you have killed."

"We've all killed." Buffy sounds bored. Like a god-king might.

Illyria thinks she could love Buffy. Or maybe it is only that Buffy is the first thing that has felt like home. Illyria imagines her on the battlefield. According to Spike, this slayer led the others against the hoards of Turok Han. To do that, to live...it beats a former god-king's trick of staying alive in an alley by pretending to be dead.

Did Illyria really do that? Feign death to escape it? She feels shame.

Giles moves closer to Illyria. "You are...?"

"A pain in the ass," Eve says.

"I am the ruler of all I see." Illyria smiles for him. The way Wesley used to when he was being sardonic. She sees recognition register on Giles' face. He knows the look.

"You were that, I think." He shakes his head. "Buffy, a word?"

She nods and they disappear into the room Kennedy still shelters in.

Eve turns to Dawn. "Where's that drink?"

"As if." Dawn gets up and joins Buffy and Giles.

Willow turns, leaning against the window. "What happened to Gunn and Wesley and Lorne?"

"Wesley died before the final battle," Illyria says. "Gunn during. They fought well. Lorne may still live."

Willow takes that in. Her expression is so sad.

"Why did they do it?" Illyria leans forward, thinking this powerful woman who once commanded death will understand and be able to explain.

"They were champions," Eve answers for her, sarcasm splitting the word in half, making it a weak thing. A silly thing. A futile thing.

"Did they accomplish anything?" Illyria suddenly wants the answer to be yes.

Willow closes her eyes. "We fight. We die. And yes, we make a difference just by having tried." She takes a deep breath. "Is Fred inside you?"

"No. I am inside her."

Willow looks hurt by the answer. "You killed her."

Illyria decides now is not the time to hide the truth. "I destroyed her utterly. Her soul is forfeit."

Eve laughs. Both Illyria and Willow look at her, and she stops smiling. "The soul is immortal and can only be freely given to destruction. Fred's was stolen. It isn't gone. It isn't lost." She leans back, closing her eyes. "It just isn't inside her body, anymore. But Fred lives on."

"That is not true." Illyria fears she sounds like a child.

"Oh, yes it is. You can't work for the senior partners as closely as I have and not get to know the cosmic way of things. Fred is a long way from lost. Why, I bet she and Wesley are enjoying a tearful reunion even now in the afterlife. What do you think, blue-girl?"

"Your pain is making you cruel." Illyria looks away, but Eve's words stick in her heart like swords. Is Wesley with his beloved? Will he even remember Illyria?

And why does she care?

Giles and Buffy come back in, Dawn trailing behind them.

"It's too dangerous for you to stay here. Not when we don't know who you really are, or if you can be trusted," Giles says. "But we have a place you can sleep for a few nights."

Illyria gets up, ready to follow him, but Eve lazily opens one eye. "I know things you might be interested in. Things that might keep all of you alive a little bit longer than otherwise."

Illyria meets Buffy's eyes, is satisfied to see something pass between them. Warrior to warrior. Ruler to ruler.

"She has nothing to tell you," Illyria says, suddenly not wanting to impose any longer on her fellow warrior. Where she comes from, imposition is a form of weakness.

Eve turns to her. "Shut up."

"We will go. There is no room for us here." She looks at Eve. "Come."

"Dumbass smurf," Eve says as she gets up.

The words remind Illyria of Wesley. She thinks Eve meant them to, even if she is unsure how Eve knew to say exactly that.

"You will need us," Eve says, a bit of panic in her voice now.

Illyria reaches out, touching her shoulder. "No. This is not our place."

"Speak for yourself, you sick hag." Eve is backing away, as if Illyria's touch has burned her. Her eyes are wild and she is staring at Buffy, as if she can force her to change her mind.

"You aren't on our side." Giles looks for a moment at Buffy, before turning to Illyria. "And we don't know where your loyalties lie."

"They lie with myself." She respects Giles' decision. Her choice for herself was to fight with those who were good. But she may not make that same choice again.

She finds it hard to look away from him. He is resolved and hard in a way Wesley wasn't. He has to break the look between them. He has to be the one to turn away and lead them out of the room.

"Thanks for nothing," Eve says, her voice trembling a little.

This time Illyria does not try to comfort her.

----------------

Eve paces around the rooms the watcher left them in last night. They are in an apartment far from Buffy's. Some sort of safe house, no doubt. Meant to protect both those given sanctuary, and the friends and family of the slayer.

"You are accomplishing nothing," Illyria says. She is sitting on the window seat, legs tucked beneath her. Staring out at the Eternal City.

Eternal, that is, until someone from Wolfram and Hart busts in and kills them both.

"And what are you accomplishing?" Eve asks, moving over to see if Illyria is looking at anything in particular or just being her normal weird self and staring off into space.

"I am regenerating."

She is regenerating in Eve's favorite jeans and sweater. Eve came out from her shower to find Illyria going through her suitcase.

"This will do," the god-king said, taking the clothes into the bathroom with her--god-kings took forever to shower. Eve's hair was dry by the time Illyria finally emerged.

There is a knock on the door, and Eve jumps. So, they've found them already. "What do we do?"

Illyria looks up at her as if she is an idiot. "Open the door."

"And just let them kill us?"

The god-king looks away. "It is not them. It is the slayer."

Eve backs away. She doesn't trust in Illyria's powers. Not now that she is less than she was. It could be the Slayer. It could also be Wolfram and Hart's assassins.

Illyria gets up and knocks her aside, pushing her into the window seat as she walks to the door. "I saw her approach."

"Oh."

The door opens. Buffy has her hand poised to knock again. She meets Illyria's eyes. "I know you were expecting me."

"I was." Illyria gestures for the slayer to enter. An oddly gracious movement of hand and head. "You wish to know more of their deaths. You wish to hear every detail until your body and mind and soul are filled with how it was for them."

Eve sighs. No one will give her that for Lindsey. No one gives a rat's ass that she doesn't know how Lindsey died, or when, or even if. Eve matters not at all in this equation.

Eve may never have mattered to anyone. Not even to the senior partners, who made her so different from the other liaisons. They made her weak and small and pretty. Fond of high heels and silk dresses. Not like Hamilton. Not strong and fierce--and dead. Illyria said that Angel told her he'd killed Hamilton. And Eve is glad. Hamilton was always like the big brother from hell--sort of a given when you're talking about Wolfram and Hart.

Illyria sits close to Buffy, and as she tells her tale, the slayer leans in. Illyria has a photographic memory, which makes for a riveting tale--if you're a slayer and have no life. Eve is beyond bored. She turns to the window, staring out at the city that Lindsey once said he'd take her to.

Losing herself in the view, Eve considers her next steps. She has no skills. No talents to fall back on. Unless you count duplicity and the ability to hide the fact that she is working for multiple sides? That could be useful. If she can bring herself to really live. Ever since she signed away her immortality, Eve has done nothing more than hide in Lindsey's apartment. The only time she ventured out was to find him. To not find him. To never find him.

She puts her head in her hands, blocking out the view, trying not to cry. She fails. The view is still there, and her tears don't block it the way they should. The two women on the couch ignore her. Illyria drones on about battles and valiant deaths. Buffy says nothing.

Eve pushes herself off the window seat, walks to the bedroom. Ready to grab her things and leave them both to their common cause.

"What can you do, Eve?" Buffy's voice isn't mocking. It's a real question. "To help us, I mean?"

Eve turns to look at her. She shrugs. If she can't answer that question for herself, how can she tell a slayer anything she wants to hear?

"She can dress well, and blend with those you fight. She was privy to the inner sanctum of your enemy--or one of your enemies." Illyria's voice has not changed from when she was recounting the deaths of the hero-vampires. "She is a skilled liar, is not afraid to meddle, and often has surprising insight and suggestions for dealing with difficult situations."

Eve frowns. "Where are you getting this?"

Illyria suddenly morphs, and both Buffy and Eve draw back. The blue-haired god-king is gone; sweet, little Fred sits in her place. Sweet, little Fred with the god-king's voice. "I've observed you. Winnifred Burkle had even more opportunities to do so." She turns back to Buffy. "She is often annoying, yet she saved me for no apparent reason other than she felt sorry for me--or perhaps kinship because we'd lost those we cared for. In that, she is weak."

"Hey! Gratitude would be nice."

"I am listing your characteristics, not recounting my debts to you."

Debts? Illyria owed her for more than one thing? That was interesting.

"She is willing to engage the enemy. She will get as close as you need her to." Illyria's voice has changed, become Fred's playful one. "Even carnally close."

Eve prays to all the gods that Illyria will not tell Buffy that Eve had sex with Angel. Over and over and over, even if it was mystically induced.

Illyria morphs back to the god-king, then moves on. "She appears completely unskilled in combat. But knows much in the way of magical references."

"Combat skills I can fix." Buffy is staring at Eve as if she has had a chance to sleep on her decision to cast them out and regrets it.

"I too can bring much in the way of skills." Illyria is staring at Buffy as if she would like to devour her. Yet Eve thinks it is neither a predatory look nor a lustful one. It is more as if, for the first time, Illyria has found a kindred spirit. Former god-king, former cheerleader and popular girl. Both changed by circumstance. Eve supposes it fits.

Maybe Illyria can start borrowing Buffy's favorite outfits now?

"You can't stay with us. You'll have to stay here. But you can help us with the slayers." She is looking at Illyria. Then she turns to Eve. "And you can help Giles. He'll be by to get you later."

"Joy." But Eve feels a surge of relief.

Until, that is, Illyria turns to her and says, "If he thinks you are evil, or that you will hurt Buffy and the others, he will kill you."

"Thanks for that, bluebell."

Buffy gets up. She barely looks at Eve. "Illyria, we have slayers coming in all the time. With languages we don't understand. I'm thinking English is not your original tongue?"

"You are correct. Nor is Italian, but I can speak it now. I absorb language."

Eve nods. Girl has talents in that area, that's certain.

"That could be useful," Buffy says.

"I speak ten languages fluently," Eve says, holding her hand up as if in school. She makes the gesture vaguely sarcastic, feels a need to challenge Buffy even if it is both stupid and ungrateful when the girl is giving them a shot.

"I'm sure Giles will be thrilled to hear that. Especially if some of them are musty, old things found on the scrolls and books he likes so much." Buffy walks over to Eve, and Eve has to fight not to shrink back. "Let's be clear. Giles is very dear to me. If you so much as look at him wrong, I'll kill you."

"Like you killed Glory?" Eve knows it is dangerous to push her. But she does. "Oh, wait. You let her live." Even if Giles didn't. Even if Giles killed the boy who'd housed Glory. Eve knew that was what Illyria had been referring to last night when she met Giles.

"I was younger, then." Buffy leans in, her hand darting out faster than Eve can track, fastening on her neck, pulling her up, Eve's feet dangling a bit off the ground. "I'm not young, anymore. I'm not merciful, either. We clear?"

"Clear," Eve manages to cough out. But she thinks Buffy is lying. A hardened Buffy would let them leave, would have kept them cast out. This woman finding them a place--she's not hard. She still believes in something.

Eve wonders what that is like. All her life, she has never believed in anything. Except for Lindsey, who didn't come back for her.

Buffy lets her drop, is turning before she can see that Eve has landed on her feet.

But Illyria notices, and she has a little smile on her face. Eve thinks they are both the kind who land on their feet.

She realizes Illyria just saved her life. One less debt. How many more are there?

"Illyria, come with me," Buffy says.

"Don't get that sweater all bloody," Eve says.

Illyria just smiles. Ferociously. Buffy grins at the expression, feral in her own way. Eve has the impression of two tigers, walking off into the urban jungle.

"About your hair..." Buffy says as the door closes.

Eve takes a deep breath. She walks to the window again, staring out until the phone rings. Thinking it must be Giles, she answers it.

"Ciao, bella." It is a woman--a bit scratchy and far away. Italian from the sound of it. Husky, breathy, sensual. Eve knows who it is. It is Ilona--Wolfram and Hart has found her.

"What do you want?"

"Ah, you want to cut to the chase, eh? All right, then. No formalities. You are wonderful at double-cross. We want to make use of that. Consider it payment of an old loan."

"Consider me declaring bankruptcy. All debts are forgiven." Eve feels her heart beating madly. She has never, in her life, stood up to anyone when it meant she might suffer in some way for it. She has skulked and schemed, but outright defiance? Never.

"You are saying you will not work for us? You know the price will be very high for non-cooperation."

"I don't care." She slams the phone down.

The door opens, and Giles walks in.

The dark-haired slayer from last night is with him. She is holding a cell phone. She smiles--and it is the first real smile Eve has gotten from anyone since she arrived at Buffy's place.

"I used to be big into drama." Kennedy says that in the Italian voice of a hellish Sophia Loren.

"A test." Eve would probably test herself, too, if she was in their place.

"We had to know." Giles is looking at her with something akin to pity. "And you passed. Good for you."

"Why not just tell your precious slayer that I failed? I probably will. I'm not used to being good."

He laughs. It is very British. Understated. Just a little puff of air as he looks down in amusement. "I knew someone else like that. A former vengeance demon."

"Yeah? How'd that end up?" But Eve thinks she remembers the demon. If it is Anyanka he's talking about then...

"She died saving the world," he says.

"I'm not going to die for you people."

"I imagine she would have said the very same thing."

There is a moment where Eve feels something inside her settling down. She is afraid it is the part of her that needs a purpose other than herself. The part of her that is always at someone else's beck and call. But maybe this time, in the service of good, that part of her will be a strength and not a weakness?

"Are you done with me?" Kennedy sounds bored. She picks a piece of lint off her shirt. Eve notices she's really well dressed.

"Where did you get that sweater?" Eve asks.

"A little boutique near the Forum. We get a discount. The woman who owns it is an ex-watcher." Kennedy cocks her head, studying Eve. "Maybe if you work out, and Giles says not to kill you, I'll take you there." Her smile is feral, too, but in a different way than Buffy's or Illyria's.

Eve feels sort of at home. "I'll hold you to that." Not that she can afford much. Wolfram and Hart have frozen her assets. She looks at Giles. "We do get paid, right? Unlike the smurfette, I am not doing this out of the goodness of my heart."

"We're not even sure there is any goodness in your heart," Giles said, taking her arm and waving Kennedy off. "And we'll discuss the creative ways we've found to finance our operation once I'm sure I can trust you."

His touch is warm, and Eve thinks he knows she is craving that touch. She's been on the run with a demi-god who thinks an apocalypse equals big fun and speaks strangely. Someone as seemingly normal as Giles, with a gesture as seemingly normal as his gentlemanly escort, is soothing.

She knows it makes him more dangerous than all the rest. Something else in her settles down. Probably the part that needs to know whom to serve. Needs to know who is the alpha in the room. Illyria found her alpha in Buffy. Or at least the counterpart to her own annoying macho-ness. Eve thinks Giles is more her speed. Brains, charm, and just enough darkness to make the transition bearable as she tries to move from agent of evil to agent of good.

Lindsey must be spinning in his grave.

Eve smiles as she lets Giles lead her to her new life.

Let him spin.

 

FIN