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An Echo, A Ghost, A Whisper

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"Would you like me to lie to you now?"
"Yes. Thank you. Yes."
-Not Fade Away

Spike dared to say that Illyria, the God King, was merely an echo, a ghost, a whisper flitting about Wolfram & Hart, barely there, barely able to affect the world in any lasting way. The world, yes. But the world is no longer Illyria's concern. There is only one in this world who concerns her—Wesley. Illyria has the power to affect Wesley . . . because she is an echo, a ghost, a whisper.

More remains of Winifred Burkle than just the shell. Illyria can become her—if she wishes. Illyria can remember her. There are times when Illyria believes she can think like her, not just look like her. Winifred—Fred—is her skin and lies beneath her skin.

There are moments when Illyria actually fears.

Illyria is not a virus that infected Fred. No, Fred is a virus affecting Illyria every day she breathes and lives and sees . . . Wesley.

"Are you testing the structural integrity of the door frame, or might I pass?" He is sarcastic to Illyria, more so now that they've siphoned off her power. Strangely, Illyria enjoys the sarcasm. Yet there is a part of her that understands that the sarcasm is foreign to these ears. That is the only reason it grates.

Illyria steps aside.

He leaves, carrying books and papers. He looks haggard, stubble on his chin, shirt wrinkled and un-tucked. Illyria only knows this is not his normal appearance from Fred's memories. In Fred's memories Wesley is clean-shaven, wearing pressed pants, cardigans, button-down shirts with a neat tie and jacket. He has glasses that he frequently adjusts and rubs clean, the nervous habits of a man longing for an untouchable woman.

But then there are memories of them touching.

His lips on her face, his hands wrapping around her thin waist, fingers bruising the skin because he wants, has wanted for so long, and finally. . . . She arches into him, their chests and stomachs pressing together, thin shirts separating their skin, but she feels naked, natural, like this is how things always should have been.

Other lovers vanish from her mind and there is only Wesley, only Wesley.

"Fred," he whispers in her memory.

Illyria cocks her head sharply. Her hands are no longer blue. She has slipped into the Winifred Burkle form without realizing she has done so.

Wesley will be displeased.

She inclines her head, her hair tumbling off her shoulders. She intends to shift back, but stops. The ceiling is a dark wood and Illyria can see the history of the trees. The lines stretch back through a time during which Illyria didn't exist. The tree is part of the Earth and Illyria was nothing, not part of the Earth, not part of the other worlds; she was in a place indescribable, impossible to remember. But she knows the tree's history, knows when it was cut down, how the tree felt. She can't touch time the way she once did, but sometimes time reaches out to her, knowing that she can see into it.

She sways on her feet, the spell breaking, the history fading until she is in her flesh prison again.

"What are you doing?"

She spins faster than she means to. Wesley is at the door.

He throws the books on the chair by the door. Dust rises from loose pages—it's an original text Wesley's thrown.

He's huffing, trying to control his temper, barely bottled in. Fred remembers him like this only a few times and is frightened because she knows the line Illyria has crossed.

"It was unintentional," Illyria says.

"Unintentional?" Wesley's voice hisses in a way that is not entirely displeasing. "You shift at will, Illyria. Stop testing me."

Illyria cocks her head. "Testing?" Wesley is the one testing her. First they tested her powers, then her patience, her loyalties, her bounds and restraints, the amount she would bleed, and how she would serve the mortal masters of the Wolf, Ram, and Hart. Now Wesley tests her resolve, her emotion, her . . . humanity.

Her lips curl, but Wesley is the one who looks disgusted.

He turns away, speaks his words to his desk because it will listen better than Illyria. "You promised to never be her again."

Illyria shifts her form. She hadn't meant to hurt him.

Fred stutters apologies in her mind, says, "Wesley, I'm so sorry. Wes, I didn't mean it." She puts her arms around Wesley and he melts into her embrace because he can't deny her; he loves her in a way that is more terrible than any evil Illyria ever wrought.

Illyria turns away and leaves. She doesn't know how to apologize, to feel grief, to comfort, to cry.

Fred will teach her these things.

She hates Fred for it.

When Fred is done, Illyria still won't be human, still won't be pleasing, still will be an echo, a ghost, a whisper of the woman Wesley loves.