Author: Sullen Siren (adena(at)direcway(dot)com)
Summary: The survivors of the last battle gather at the grave of one who didn't survive.
Disclaimer: Angel, Buffy, and their merry band of miscreants do not belong to me. They belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and the bastards at Fox. Please don't sue, you can't get blood from a stone anyway.
Feedback: Yes please!
Note: Written for wisteria's And Then . . . Ficathon. I drew poisonapple73, who requested more Illyria grieving angst, and a Buffy appearance. I didn't manage Buffy, but she's there in spirit. Hope this is sufficient. And I'm sorry it's so late! Sadly not Beta-read.
"And these are the days
When our world has come asunder.
And these are the days
When we look for something other."
She paced slowly around the newly turned earth, blue eyes fastened on the cold gray stone at its head. "It is foolish and pointless, this grieving and ritual. You erect a monument to a decaying, rotting form that crawls with insects beneath its skin, feeding on its dead flesh. You idolize the dead simply because they are gone and your weak-willed race forgets their faults and remembers only the better aspects."
Gunn looked at her. "We miss him too, you know."
"I do not miss him. The Shell misses him, and there is something amiss in my makeup that I cannot separate the feelings of Winnifred Burkle from mine. I dislike this feeling. This emptiness that writhes inside and cannot be defined."
"It's called grief." Angel's voice was quiet as it spoke from the shade of the large tree he hid from the sunlight under.
"I have long since identified what it is called by, Vampire."
She looked up from her steady stare at the grave. "The Shell. Fred. She cared for you. For all of you. She admired you. Her faith in you is sickening. To believe so in human kind - or in a Vampire. A decaying remnant of a demon housed in a human form that-" She stopped abruptly, a look that might have been realization crossing her face.
Spike grinned a bit from where he lounged against the tree on Angel's left, getting as far away from Angel as possible without setting himself on fire. "Hits a bit close to home, doesn't it pet?"
She looked at him, unblinking. "Yes." Another slow circle around the grave, as if taking its measure. "She thought you heroic. In the end, when the Wolf, Ram, and Hart began to dissolve you alive within its belly, she ached for what was lost. But still she believed. Faith. A human emotion - to love and trust in what cannot be proven. My kind believes in what can be seen, what can be destroyed, what can bleed and scream and worship. That is our faith."
"The best kind of people are the ones who can believe in a better world; because those are the ones who will fight for it, no matter what the cost. Fred was the best kind of person." It was a platitude. Empty and pointless, and Angel knew it even as he said it. It didn't make anyone feel better.
Angel suppressed a shiver as she looked at him with her familiar alien eyes. "Perhaps. Still - what she felt for you was unlike what she felt for Wesley. Even you, who once rutted beneath her thighs and fed her foods to make her fat." She directed the last at Gunn, who looked down, flushing slightly beneath the dark cast of his skin. "It was different, this affection for Wesley. Were it one of you dead, my grief would not run as deep. I think you know that - all of you - and it angers you, in the depths of your mind and hearts, the parts you do not speak of for fear they will betray you." She wrinkled her nose - Fred's expression yet not. "Humanity reeks of secrets. We were the great Lords of the worlds - we held no secrets because we feared the censure of none."
"Bully for you. Now shut up." Spike didn't sound irritated, despite the bite of his words and Angel gave him a quelling glance which he ignored, save to return a rude gesture. Angel decided that the flood of annoyance Spike could bring to the surface without effort was comforting. At least some things didn't change.
Illyria ignored him, changing her direction, fingers trailing over the stone as she circled. "There was no spoken service. No priest. No prayers to a god who does not exist. Why? This was to be expected, no?"
"We didn't think he'd want that. Thought he'd rather quiet, friends, something simple." Gunn shot a look at Angel and Spike, and Angel wondered if Gunn resented his presence. "Sunlight." Gunn's arms were wrapped protectively over his middle as he leaned tiredly on a grave for a three year old girl whose father drowned her. The gravestone didn't say that, but Angel remembered her name from the papers. There were yellow carnations on her grave and Angel wondered if she'd been some golden little girl with flowers in her hair and missing teeth in her smile.
Illyria never looked at the other graves. They were only objects to her, the dead beneath the grass never entering her mind. Only Wesley concerned her. "She cared more for his life than for her own. She called that love. It seems foolish to me. Yet what she felt. It lingers." She put a hand absently to her chest, where Fred's heart had once beat. "Love is foreign."
"It is even to us, most of the time." Angel offered when no one else spoke, each just staring at the grave, each regretting that they'd done this in their own way.
"It should be as foreign to YOU as a soul. But you know both. You are more unnatural than even the rest of your kind." Her gaze took in Spike as well. "Both of you." She stopped her slow circles, standing square in front of him, head titled as she surveyed them. "The girl. The Hunter of your kind with the goofy name. She came for you; it is because of her, and the army of the demon-touched that came with her that we survived. Timely portals in dark alleys. A human witch - barely controlled - using a power she should not have been given access to. She came and fought, and we did not perish, as we were meant to. And then she left you. Why?"
Angel shifted uncomfortably. "It's complicated. Buffy and I, we have separate lives, and the curse-"
"No moment of true happiness. I remember. I do not think such is possible in this world."
"It is." He looked at her. She looked small, as Fred always had. He wondered when she'd stopped seeming larger than her size. "Was it in yours?"
"Happiness, joy, sorrow, despair - they were the emotions of human kind. Of mortals. We were above them." She pursed her lips in an odd gesture. "No. It was not. Not for my kind, at least. But then, I was unique. The great powers, the Old Ones - we were none of us the same. I was Illyria, the Shaper. As worlds fell at our behest I painted new ones. I created life from the brown worms of the earth, raising it to new life forms, some beautiful beyond speaking, some more horrible than your frail mind can comprehend.
Spike grinned at that. "You were the fruity artist of the bunch then, hmm?" Gunn echoed the smile. The first Angel could remember seeing since the Slayers came through the portal, and they'd all won the fight and failed to die.
Illyria frowned. "I was the Creator. The God-King of all worlds. Lesser gods - Abghast, he of the dark and the water; Glorificus, Queen of chaos, Empress of the rotting places; Laaantain, Sovereign of the sky-people and the keeper of Avarice - powers beyond what mortals could ever achieve, all of them and countless others. They worshipped at my altar, fed on the scraps I tossed to them, feared the fury of my wrath. I was God to gods. Above all." She gave Angel a look that might have been pleading, had it come from anyone else. "What am I now?"
Spike spoke when Angel didn't. "You're just what you are, love. All of us are. We don't fit into a box anymore, none of us."
She made another slow circuit as Gunn rose, walked away, his steps slow and limping. The vampires stayed, caged by the sunlight, forced to remain in the shade of the tree until the sun set. Her eyes watched him and then looked back at Spike. "You love her too. Buffy." There was a faint sneer on her name, as if it angered her to say it. "She left you as well. Why did you not go with her? Why did she not stay for you?"
"Wasn't my place to go, wasn't her choice to stay." Spike's voice was low as he answered.
"She does not love you?"
"No. Reckon she cares, but she doesn't love me." Angel didn't turn to look at Spike. He knew Spike better than he wished he did. He knew that the admission was costly for the younger vampire.
He wondered if he was a worse person because he felt a rush of pleasant superiority at hearing Spike say that. He supposed it didn't really matter. He wasn't a person at all. Not really. No more than Illyria was.
She knelt beside the grave and watched them, her back to the headstone, her feet pressing into the slightly mounded earth. "She would not have left. Winnifred Burkle would not have left Wesley. She would not have left him alone. He would not have left her. Is that a greater love than what you have with the demon-hunter?"
It was him she asked, Spike dismissed from her attention as if he had never been there. "No. Just . . . different, I suppose. Buffy and I, we've had problems. She's a different person now than when we were . . . We'll always love each other, but maybe we're not meant to be together. At least not right now."
"There is no destiny. If you are not together it is because you choose not to be. Nothing is meant to be save what you and those greater than you create. I crafted destiny, once. I know that it is not some great and just Fate setting things in motion. It is just the hand of the more powerful rolling the dice as they will. The wolf, ram, and hart rolled as they wished. Moved you as pieces on a board."
Angel stared at the grass. "Then we choose not to be together."
"Because that's how it has to be."
She stepped forward. He hadn't seen her rise, she'd done it quickly, movements serpentine and fluid and failing to catch his eyes, somehow. She stood beneath his chin. So small. Fragile looking. "I do not understand."
"Neither do I."
"How am I to live as part of a race that does not comprehend even its own intricacies?"
"You'll learn, pet." Spike spoke quietly, and not unkindly, though he watched the horizon, waiting for the sun to set enough to set him free.
"You wait for the right time. Both of you. As Wesley did. As Fred did. And then I came and all they had was no more. You should not wait." She didn't wait for them to answer, moving forward again to stand at the grave and then moving with a sudden flurry of movement, hands and feet striking at the gravestone, shattering it into a thousand pieces of gray rock. "He is not here. It is a monument to empty skin. It is a lie. Wesley did not want lies." Her cheeks were wet and Angel pretended not to notice, because he couldn't afford to care for something that wore the carcass of his friend like a dress.
It was odd that a vampire found what Illyria had become more disturbing than what they themselves were, he supposed.
Illyria looked at them. "I have no place here."
Angel wanted to say it, but couldn't. He was half relieved and half angry when Spike did it for him. "None of us really have one. But you can hang about with us. Whatever we do now. Working for the home office seems out. Maybe we'll track down Buffy. See if the Slayer brigade needs us."
"I do not think she liked me. I could feel the lesser demon chained in her and it offended me. We are hunters, warriors both. We ached to destroy one another. Were I myself I would have crushed her like an insect between my fingers."
Angel smiled. "Buffy usually likes that in a person."
She looked at them and then they waited in silence as the sun set and made their way back to the car where Gunn waited, wounded and bitter, uncertain and displaced - but alive. Like they all were.
Illyria looked at the car - red and shiny and most likely stolen from somewhere, though Spike wouldn't admit it. "I wish to learn to drive."