“I do not understand the significance of this ritual.” Illyria stared intently at the gathering of Wolfram and Hart employees, austere and severe as, well, a hell-god at a New Year’s party.
“Well,” Wesley said, taking an extra sip of whiskey to fortify himself for this explanation. “The start of a new calendar year is often…”
“It appears to be an exercise in self-mockery. They make empty promises for improvement and share them to amuse others with their lack of discipline.”
Wesley finished off his tumbler. “It isn’t wholly mockery. Many people earnestly seek self-improvement on the new year.”
Illyria took a step forward, head cocking bird-like as she continued to study the cheerful group around the punch bowl. “I wish to understand human behavior better. If I am to subdue this culture and bind it to my will, I must first confuse their natural defenses and fool them into misjudging my intent.” She turned sharply, eyeing Wesley with what could be termed a smile. “That will be my ‘new year’s resolution’.”
“I don’t think that is in the spirit…”
“Indeed.” Illyria smiled. It was a frightful expression, as artificial as a Barbie doll. “You have nothing to concern yourself as I will be genuinely seeking self-improvement in a weak, human form.”
Wes grimaced, debated whether or not to correct her poor performance, but decided that helping hell-gods was not on his New Year’s list, so he just downed another finger of whiskey and nodded. “Good. Great. I’ll be… mingling.”
This left Illyria alone to contemplate how best to accomplish her subterfuge. The room was full of humans and human-demon hybrids attempting socialization. A more fit laboratory for human interaction could scarce be assembled. “I shall mingle,” the god-king declared, and stalked the perimeter of the room. Illyria frowned as the one called Gunn put his hand on the white-haired one’s shoulder and shook him. She approached. “You seek to damage my pet.”
The one called Gunn narrowed his eyes, an involuntary reaction he had often in her presence, as though he wished to stop seeing her. It was not unlike Wesley’s reactions.
Spike, for his part, burst into laughter and clapped a hand on Gunn’s shoulder, as Gunn had just done to him. “Like Charlie boy could hurt me.”
Gunns’ eyes narrowed even further. “You let her call you her pet?”
Spike held up his whiskey glass, fingers splayed out around it in a warning gesture as he shook his head.
Illyria cocked her head. “You imply that I require the half-breed’s permission to make him my pet. I do not.”
“Charlie, just let it go. No arguing with Blue Meanie.”
Illyria tilted her head, regarding the two men. “I wish to hear your resolutions.”
Eyes widened. Illyria very nearly smiled in satisfaction.
Gunn craned his head to see over the crowd. “Weren’t you talking with Wes?”
“He is ‘mingling’. I wish to hear your plans for self-improvement in the coming calendar year. I too have resolved to alter my behavior for this arbitrary and infinitesimal time period.”
Her pet than presumed to rest his whiskey-glass on her shoulder. “Good for you, Blue!” Illyria let him know of the inappropriateness of his action with a chilling stare. As usual, the white-haired one was immune to such communication.
Gunn scratched the back of his head. “Um… what is your resolution, then, Illyria?”
She smiled, a manufactured grimace that the humans claimed put them at ease, but which, Illyria found, created unsettled expressions like prey sensing a predator. “I will understand human behavior and modify my own to mimic it.”
“Please, please start by not smiling like that,” Gunn held up a hand as though to ward her off.
“Y’look like a deranged muppet,” Spike said.
The horrifying simulacrum of a smile thankfully vanished. “You will tell me your resolutions, and I will mock your probability of success.”
Spike raised his glass. “Hell, she figured it out.”
“I don’t do resolutions,” Charles said, raising both his hands. “And I think I’m going to mingle wherever Wes is.”
Spike’s eyes widened and he started to follow Gunn, but Illyria’s frightfully strong hand closed on his elbow, stopping him. “You will mingle with me.”
The half-breed expelled a larger-than-necessary breath – especially considering the half-breed’s ability to go without breathing. “Blue, you don’t just go manhandling a bloke like that. We’re at a party, right? You want to mingle, you blend, you go with the flow. Find people who want to talk and follow their lead, yeah?”
“I wish to practice with you. You are a known quantity.”
The half-breed expelled more air, looked at the ceiling, and muttered, “Why do I attract the barmy ones?”
“You do not ‘attract’ me. I selected you for your relative resilience and amusing qualities.” She titled her head. “You look aggrieved.”
“Well, forgive me if your little ‘pet’ shtick was the closest I’ve come to a compliment in decades.”
She examined him – there was no other way to describe the slow, thorough look. “You are emotionally fragile. Yes, I will start with you.”
“Hey! Watch who you’re callin’…”
“Come, you will mingle and I will assess the results.” She looped her arm around his in a way that would have been companionable if it weren’t for the steel-cold feel of her.
“Look, your highness, I’m not your pet and you can’t just order me to do tricks for you.”
She rested her head against his shoulder then, in an eerie approximation of how Fred would. “You were going to mingle anyway.”
And so Spike found himself wandering through the Wolfram and Hart New Year’s party with a shockingly quiet Illyria on his arm. She even relaxed a bit, becoming pliant against him, less a harsh god-king and more a soft woman. But he wasn’t going to trust that feeling as far as he could throw it.
“Blue, what’s your game?”
“I have no game. This is genuine interest in human interaction,” she said in the same deadpan that she delivered everything.
“Right, pet. And I’m just here for the food.” He drew her into a corner and turned her to face him. She let him. “Leery – you want to stop this game while you’re behind. You aren’t going to convince people you’re sweetness and light, not that know what you are.”
Ilyria ran her hands up his arms, curling them around his shoulders as his mouth opened in alarm. In Fred’s gentle drawl, she said, “Oh, sweetie, you’re so cute when you over-estimate people.”
He took hold of her wrists and tried to remove her hands from his shoulders, but what looked like an affectionate touch was as firm as granite. “Look, I practically made my career on being under-estimated. Won’t work for you. You’re too high ‘n mighty – haven’t got it in you to play the dupe.”
She stepped back, her embrace lost all its softness but her hands didn’t leave him. “You insult me and doubt my ability to use whatever tools I have present.”
“Now, pet, let’s not go…” The air left his lungs as he hit the wall. Also, a ceiling tile twenty feet overhead cracked.
“You are a fool. I will bend this world to my will. It is only a matter of how long it will take.”
He leaned forward as far as her stiff arms would allow, jaw jutting out defiantly. “That so? You can’t even fool an ‘emotionally fragile’ vampire. How you going to control the world when you can’t even control me, eh?”
One blue-tinged eyebrow raised, her head tilting oddly to the side. “I shall have to alter my resolution.”
The room swung hard to port and Spike found himself being dragged swiftly down a corridor by an intractable hell-god. “Leery? Pet? I meant… shit…” The music and lights of the party diminished at the end of the hall, those few who looked up from their conversations to see Illyria dragging Spike away hardly commented on it. At a Wolfram and Hart party, this could be the equivalent of grabbing an appetizer. “Should have said ‘this is beneath you.’ Yeah. C’mon, you don’t want to stoop to our piddling… miniscule… worthless human emotional crap, yeah? Leery? Blue?”
He hit the far wall of the training room and fell on his hands and knees, looking up in time to see Illyria shut the door behind her and mash the steel door handles together like twist-ties.
“Oh bugger me,” he said.
Illyria approached unhurriedly. “I believe I have a year in which to accomplish this.”