TITLE: Odi et Amo
TIMELINE: Set just after "The Girl in Question"
SUMMARY: It's really all a question of desire.
CHARACTERS: Illyria, Wesley, FOC
PAIRING: Illyria/Wesley, memories of Fred/Wesley
DISCLAIMER: Characters/setting property of Joss. Title is from Catullus: Poem 85.
THANKS: Skripka, Kay and Fromward for beta help... and Snowpuppies for inspiration.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Written for the Illyria ficathon.
Wesley: Does it sting you... my betrayal?
Illyria: Betrayal was a neutral word in my day. As unjudged a word as water or breeze. No. Or perhaps... I am only bothered because I am bothered.
Wesley: That sounds very close to human.
She sits on the floor in this body, this thing comprised of meat, flesh and bone, and it is revolting to her. She is surrounded by base creatures that fill the world with all their noise and stench. They are a pollution that clogs her senses, and yet she is now forced to become one of them. The very notion is an affront that she would never have tolerated... before.
Before she lost everything. Before her army was gone and her dreams became ash in her mouth. Before.
The word has taken on a meaning that Illyria never could have foreseen. It is what Wesley would call ironic, she supposes. That she, who used to be god to all gods, is now no better than the vermin that once walked beneath her feet.
Illyria finds she has no taste for irony. It, like so many other things, is not worthy of her attention. Irony. Mercy. Humor. Kindness. Friendship. Love. They are things that do not make sense to her. She, who reveled in death and destruction. She has no time for such weak emotions.
But desire, that she understands. She still desires violence and power. She still wants to feel something crumble beneath the strength of her hands. She craves worship and adulation. She wants to have hundreds upon hundreds of followers, gathered on bended knee and spread far and wide until they cover the face of the Earth.
Yes, desire is something that Illyria can comprehend.
But it is not desire for power or destruction that consumes her as of late. She still wants those things, of course, but a new desire has been building up inside of her. One she has never experienced before.
She blames it on the shell she now occupies, this carcass she finds herself imprisoned by.
No, not just a shell...
Winifred Burkle is the shell I'm in.
She's the woman you killed.
Wesley becomes irate if she calls this body by anything other than the name that once belonged to it. To her. Though he is angered just as easily by Illyria speaking the shell's name. Sometimes, it is that name that makes him more angry than anything else.
It makes no sense. It is a contradiction. And Illyria does not like contradictions.
Nor does she like these strange desires that consume her thoughts now, desires born of flesh and of memories that were never truly hers to begin with. They belonged to the shell... Fred. And yet here they are, filling her head with unwanted images and making her feel sensations she has never experienced before.
She finds herself watching Wesley too often. Watching the way the muscles in his jaw clench when he is upset, the way his shirt pulls tight about his shoulders when he leans over to get a file from his desk, the way his fingers move across the pages of the books he reads, almost as if he is reading the words through his fingertips instead of simply seeing them with his eyes.
She notices completely inconsequential things about him. Like the way he smells of musk and something else she can only define as Wesley, or the way he speaks, his words rolling off his tongue with a sort of unplanned grace she never seems to grow tired of.
These impressions mix with others to form a picture in her mind, a picture of a man that she cannot begin to comprehend. Even when she remembers things she should not, things the shell (Fred. Her name was Fred. Even in her thoughts, she can hear his voice reminding her of that.) experienced... the touch of his hand, the pressure of his lips against hers... even these things do not grant Illyria any insight into her chosen human guide.
This obsession is folly; she knows it is. A folly of the greatest kind. Yet, she cannot seem to stop herself.
The blond half-breed was more right than he knew when he remarked about her concern over Wesley's recent indifference to her. It does bother her. And more than that, it bothers her that she has sunk to such a low state as to be bothered by him at all. Nothing he does should have any effect over her. He is a tool, to be used and discarded when he is no longer of any use to her. That is the way of it. She should not find herself contemplating each of their encounters beyond the point of being useful. She should not have to resist the urge to replay the shell's memories of him as if they were her own. Her body should not crave things from him that should, by all rights, repulse her.
It is not right, not proper. He is but a lowly creature made of flesh that will one day rot away, leaving nothing but bones behind. She was a god with powers beyond the comprehension of mortal man. He is beneath her in every respect... and yet she finds herself consumed by him.
It disgusts her at the same time as it fascinates her.
It should not be like this! Trapped in this filthy world overrun by humans, living a pathetically mortal life, limited by this dimension and this time. And with a body that has urges it should not.
She tries to reassure herself. It is just a chemical reaction. Something born of humankind's desperate need to spread their seed, to cover the face of this planet and turn it into a perversion of the glorious realm it once was... once, in the days of old, when she was still god of all she surveyed.
But that time is no longer. She is now forced to reside in this place, occupying her time with pointless exercises while the blonde one writes notes on his little board, and Wesley ignores her.
He ignores her. Him. A lowly bit of muck that deserves no better than to be crushed underneath her boot heels. He has the audacity to refuse her the worship and adoration she deserves, the wretch! And that is a sign of disrespect that she cannot let go on unpunished. And she would not let it do so. Truly, she would not. If only she could bring herself to rip his heart out from inside his chest...
This is madness. It has to be. She wonders how humans can ever get anything accomplished when they have so many of these... these emotions holding them back. Things like pity, sympathy, caring and love. They are useless bits of sentiment that only serve to make her weak. And that is what angers her the most. The idea that perhaps she has allowed these emotions to influence her, to change her.
How could she have allowed herself to sink so low? It is abysmal. She should take his neck in her hands and twist until it cracks. She knows she should. But just thinking about it makes something twist up painfully inside her stomach.
Illyria stands and stares out the window into the nighttime sky. She can feel this dimension surrounding her, pressing down on her. It makes her feel like she is suffocating; she takes large gulps of air and remembers Wesley's voice from weeks ago, warning her that she would hyperventilate if she continued on like that.
This aggravates her.
One swift movement and the window in front of her is broken, glass falling to the floor in jagged shards. She knocks away more glass from the frame and leans out into the darkness. It is raining and soon her hair is soaked and dripping.
But she doesn't care, because for just one moment, she feels free again. The cool night wind caresses her face and, if she closes her eyes, she can almost imagine that this is all as it was long ago.
However, soon she feels this dimension begin to press in on her again. The sounds and smells of the human filth start to overwhelm her, and the moment is lost.
"There's this old expression that applies here, you know. 'Have enough sense to come in out of the rain.'"
Illyria whirls around, shocked that any being could be able to approach her undetected. "How dare you address me so. I am a god!"
The woman standing before her shrugs slender shoulders, one eyebrow arching as she observes wryly, "Were a god is more like it. Past tense. Because now? You're not even close to being in the same league as you once were."
Illyria's eyes narrow in fury. "I will kill you where you stand for such disrespect!"
"I don't think so." The woman remains irritatingly unafraid. "Because, if you did that, then you'd loose the golden opprotunity I'm about to present you."
"Is that so?" Illyria cocks her head to one side, studying the newcomer carefully. There is an aura of power about her that she recognizes. "You are a creature of the wish. I know of your kind. Lesser demons bound to a life of servitude."
She waves one hand lazily, already turning away to face the window once again. "You are nothing more than a peddler of tricks. I have no use for you. Leave and waste my time no longer."
"You judge too harshly and too quickly."
The woman steps forward. Illyria watches out of the corner of her eye as the vengeance demon shows her true skin, withered and covered with veins. "The power of the wish is not something to be so easily disregarded."
She keeps moving forward until the two of them are standing side by side in front of the broken window.
"I've been watching you, Old One. Your agony is great; it calls out to me. You've been wronged, thrust into this horrible world and denied everything that you once held dear. I can feel your pain. I felt it from thousands of miles away and had no choice but to follow it here... to you."
"What you feel and do not feel is of no concern to me."
The vengeance demon shakes her head sadly. "Perhaps so. But what you feel is of concern to me."
"I grow tired of your prattle. You continue to speak and yet you say nothing."
"Well, then, how's this for saying something? What if you could have it all back? What if I could give you back your army, your powers? What then?"
Illyria waves away the woman's questions. "This conversation is inconsequential. You seek to offer me things that have already been lost."
The woman's mouth quirks up into a smug smile. "Ah, but are they really? You surprise me, Illyria. You spend a few mere weeks in this new form and already you're thinking in such limited terms. The power of the wish goes beyond things like time and space. All you have to do is say the word..."
Illyria stares out the broken window at the night sky for a long time, silent, as she considers the possibility that the vengeance demon might be correct. It seems almost unfathomable. And yet... she cannot simply disregard it as nothing.
When Illyria thinks of herself as she was, all powerful, with an army made up of thousands of faithful followers... she is disturbed to find that she doesn't feel as overjoyed as she thought she would.
Her hands clench about the old, wooden window frame, tightening until her knuckles turn white. There's a sharp cracking sound and a piece of the wood breaks off in her hands. She stares at it, head cocked to the side, and feels her anger begin to build.
She has become weak. She can feel all of these pathetic emotions inside of her, growing like a cancer and slowly breaking her open from the inside. It's revolting to think of how like them, how like these humans, she's become. She has to do something to change it now, before it is too late.
And as she opens her mouth to accept the vengeance demon's offer, she is shocked to hear herself say, "Leave me for now. I must think on what you have said."
But the woman nods, like she was expecting that answer all along, and disappears in a flash of light, leaving the former god standing alone and staring out at the rain.
The first time she approaches him about her desires, he denies her. As he does the second time and the third time. Illyria would hate him for this, if she could only remember how. It is another example of her weakness, this thing Wesley calls "humanity" seeping into her being and turning her to rot.
It is on the fourth time that he surrenders to the inevitable and Illyria is glad. She will finally be able to purge herself of these filthy emotions. No longer will she remain a shadow of her former self. With this act, everything will be made right and she will have no more use for him.
He is silent, sitting in his chair and staring out the window at the night sky, a bottle of his usual poison in one hand, already half empty. He will not meet her eyes. She compares this to the shell's memories and finds a discrepancy there, but she pushes such thoughts aside. It does not matter. This is only a physical act. His emotional state does not concern her. And no matter what his feelings on the matter are, his body is more than willing.
When she lowers herself onto him, she is shocked at the rush of feelings that threaten to overwhelm her. She closes her eyes with a gasp, unable to comprehend how something so vile, so beneath her, could become the very center of her existence. It disgusts her at the same time as it terrifies her. And she desires more.
She moves, up and then down, a tentative motion, and she feels something begin to build inside of her, the pressure becoming greater with each movement of her hips and threatening to consume her. Her body grows warm and aches for something she doesn't understand, but something she desires to possess. And finally, she feels as if it is within her grasp, this elusive sensation, and she exults in the feeling. It is the ecstasy of death and the thrill of destruction and the hunger for power, all combining inside of her, building to a fever pitch.
She opens her eyes, needing something else without even understanding what it is that she seeks. She looks at Wesley and sees his eyes closed, a fine sheen of perspiration on his brow and his lips pulled down into a grimace. He does not look at her; he does not acknowledge her, and it makes her stomach clench up painfully.
She feels something break open inside of her, spilling out and drowning her in sensation, making everything seem suddenly brighter and more real in a way that defies comprehension. She slumps forward, resting her head on his shoulder, as tremors wrack her body. She can hear his breathing, harsh and angry against her neck, as his hands grip her about the waist and begin to move her body in rough, sharp motions, bringing himself to a quick ending. She feels wetness running down her thighs and hears him bite back a curse, his hands dropping away and releasing her.
She pulls back and looks at him, unsure of herself in a way she has never before experienced. It angers her, but she finds herself saying nothing. She simply watches as he picks up the bottle of poison he calls whiskey and takes a long drink. Her eyes remain riveted on his neck as he swallows, unable to look away from the movement of his throat, even as she feels him grow soft inside of her.
He sets the bottle down and looks at her for the first time since he agreed to her demands. She can see many emotions in his eyes; the scent of self-loathing and grief rolls off of him in waves, making her feel nauseous.
"I trust we're finished," he says. His voice sounds like quiet death to her ears. "If you don't mind, I'd rather be alone now."
Illyria stands on legs that feel unsubstantial and unsure. It takes her a moment before she resumes her usual appearance, the force of her will reasserting itself over her clouded emotions. She says nothing to him, simply turns and walks out of the room.
As she closes the door behind her, she hears muffled sobs coming from inside and has the sudden and irrational desire to go to him and offer meaningless words of comfort, lies to ease his pain. But she does not give in. She ignores his wet sounds of grief and just walks away.
The next time she sees the vengeance demon, Illyria is standing in the middle of shell's lab in the lair of the Wolf and the Ram. It has been a week and Wesley has been avoiding her again. It grates on her nerves, but she will not admit to it.
The blond half-breed had made a disparaging remark about her "hurt feelings" only once. She responded by making him bleed and moan, and now he always remembers to hold his tongue about such things in her presence.
"Have you made up your mind?" the wish giver asks, meeting Illyria's eyes with a cool, clear gaze.
Illyria thinks of the power that had once been hers to command. She remembers the glory that had crowned her head and the army that lived only to serve her every whim. She remembers the feeling of being able to travel between dimensions and alter time to her liking.
But then she remembers the sound of Wesley's voice, and she recalls the way he once looked at the shell with a softness in his eyes that Illyria herself has never known.
It angers her. It frustrates her. It makes her want to inflict pain on someone, anyone.
And yet, when the vengeance demon asks for her answer, Illyria says no.