It was dark that was the first thing he noticed. Complete darkness everywhere.
Not black just an unrelenting grey. Then the noise, hushed muted whispers pressed in though the dark from every direction. It sounded like a room full of hundreds of radios all turned down low and set to different stations.
No matter how hard he tried he couldn't focus on one voice more than the others, couldn't make out any words was just conscious of the ceaseless drone.
He tried to move towards the voices but realised that either the voices moved or he couldn't, there was no sensation of movement and nothing beneath his feet, it was like being suspended in water but there was no sensation of heat or cold. Closing his eyes to try and shut out the oppressive darkness, he concentrated on suppressing the panic beginning to rise in his chest. There was nothing. Nothing at all. No beginning, no end. Nothing...
No, that wasn't right he was there, he was something even if he didn't know himself. The voices came from somewhere that was something too. If he couldn't find them maybe they could find him.
"Hello?" That was his voice soft, timid almost but something he recognised, the first familiar something. "Is anyone there?"
The babble of voices continued unabated, without any recognisable change to indicate anyone had heard.
"Can anybody hear me?" Stronger now gaining confidence feeling more of himself come back flashes of memory surfaced. Snatches of pain and fear, while lying on a hard title floor, feeling the pain recede as it was replaced by a creeping coldness.
"Is somebody out there? Anyone? Please?" Louder now, stronger desperation leading him strength.
A name, he had a name! Fred. Not his but that of someone close to him.
Images of long brown hair, sparkling brown eyes and a gentle smile ran through his mind setting off a cascade of other images.
Sitting on a bed holding Fred, talking as they waited, hoping.
"I need you to talk to my parents." She spoke through her tears. "They have to know I wasn't scared, that it was quick. That I wasn't scared. "Oh, God."
Tremors starting to run through her increasing in strength.
Grabbing her, forcing her to look at him and concentrate.
"You have to fight. You don't have to talk, just concentrate on fighting. Just hold on." Fred clinging to him, trying to fight. "I'm not scared. I'm not scared. I'm not scared." Her strength failing, falling limply in her arms. "Please, Wesley, why can't I stay?"
Wesley that was his name.
Then she was gone lying still in his lap. He gathered her up, murmuring into her hair. "Please... Please..." Then the convulsions began and he was knocked across the room where he could only stare in horror, watching as her hair, forehead and eyes turned blue and she pushed herself to her feet examining her body.. "This will do."
Illyria. A god, a demon who looked like his Fred but wasn't, could never be.
Other images fell into place. Someone who'd unwittingly caused the metamorphosis from Fred to Illyria. Gunn.
Standing in the basement of Wolfram and Hart with a shotgun in hand watching Gunn threaten the Doctor, begging him to bring Fred back.
"There's nothing left to bring back. Miss Burkle's soul was consumed by the fires of resurrection. Everything she was is gone. Forever. For better or worse, you made a deal, Mr. Gunn. I suggest you learn to live with it."
No Fred. She was gone completely.
Swallowing hard, he squeezed his eyes shut tighter. Letting the tide of memories sweep him along.
A room with people sitting in it having a discussion. Illyria standing behind him. Gunn to one side and other demons, one he didn't fear people he cared about.
An uncertain Pylean. Lorne. Who would do what he had do but would never re-join them.
And two Vampires, so very different from each other. Angel, dark and brooding with sad brown eyes and Spike brash and cocky.
"This may come out a little pretentious, but... one of you will betray me." Angel informed the group. Spike's hand shot up eagerly, but Angel ignored him looking straight at Wesley an apology clear in his eyes. "Wes."
"Oh." Spike groaned and dropped his hand, then looked up hopefully again. "Can I deny you 3 times?"
This time Angel shot Spike a frustrated glance before focusing again on him. "Vail is the sorcerer of the bunch. You know that game. You've seen his place. He believes you'd make a play for my spot."
"That's not very flattering." He'd objected.
"It'll get you in the door." There was a hint of the same apology in Angel's tone as there had been in his eyes before he continued to deliver the assignments.
As he'd left the room he'd looked back at Angel who was watching him with a blank expression and some unreadable emotion in his eyes.
He remembered the fight with Vail being outmatched in the end, held immobile in the air. Vail's knife sliding into his guts and twisting causing pain to flow through his torso. Able to conjure one last fireball he knocked Vail back across the room into the wall.
As he tried to stay on his feet he'd seen Illyria storm in and let himself fall, letting her catch him.
"Wesley." She lowered him to the floor and looked at his stomach. "This wound is mortal." "Aren't we all?" He forced the joke out past the pain. "It was good... that you came."
"I killed all mine, and I was..."
"I think so. But I can't help. You'll be dead within moments."
"Would you like me to lie to you now?"
Giving in to the desire to see Fred one last time. "Yes." Closing his eyes against the pain, fighting it. "Thank you. Yes." Forcing his eyes open again to see Fred's face leaning over him, tears falling down her cheeks. "Hello there."
"Oh, Wesley. My Wesley."
"Fred. I've missed you." It was getting harder to speak. The pain replaced by a growing numbness.
"It's gonna be OK. It won't hurt much longer, and then you'll be where I am. We'll be together."
"I-I love you." The world was growing darker, his strength almost gone.
"I love you. My love. Oh, my love."
Those soft words were the last thing he heard before being here.
It had been a lie, Fred wasn't here. Wouldn't ever be, because she was no more. He knew now what had happened and where he was. He'd died there on that cold floor. Died knowing he'd failed. He'd failed to kill Vail the one task he'd been given. Failed all his friends. Failed Angel again. No wonder he was here.
Opening his eyes, he stared out at the grey world he now inhabited. He'd only read of this place, humans couldn't exist here, only beings touched by the supernatural and the dead could be here.
"The Ghost Roads."
As soon as he said it he could feel ground beneath his feet and see the pitted grey road leading off into the grey distance. The roads were a limbo that connected Earth, Heaven, Hell and other worlds to each other. A spirit could wander here for eons and never find rest. Others could travel straight to whatever came after. It was said that the trick to travelling the roads was to focus your whole being on your destination, your heart's desire and walk. The direction didn't matter, only the journey.
Wesley sank down and sat on the road to think. How long he sat there he didn't know, but then time didn't have much meaning to him any more. Settling on a decision he pushed himself back to his feet and started walking.
A/N: The Ghost Roads are from the Buffy books The Gatekeeper Trilogy.
Written and originally posted in June 2004