Summary: Illyria attempts to unravel the mystery of Wesley's wanderings.
Spoilers: Post-"Not Fade Away," AU (Jossed by Angel: After the Fall)
Title, Author, and URL of original story: "A Man With No Name" by semby
Lately Illyria thought of herself as a woman, if only in small ways: pronouns, mannerisms, the clothes she wore when she took on the shell's shape. God-king was a thing of the past, when she had cared about worship.
No; that wasn't entirely true. She still craved one man's regard. It was a vexation. But the past year had been all too full of vexations, time enough to become accustomed to the universe defying her.
She had been following Wesley for a long time. He had made himself into a shadow in the world's eaves, like the creatures he hunted, going wherever the trail took him. Once, his hunting-grounds had intersected that of a slayer and her watcher. The slayer's instincts had not been very good. The girl had failed to track the demon, failed to notice Wesley--who had to lure the demon to her--and failed to notice Illyria herself.
Illyria did not expect the slayer to last long, even with the aid of her watcher. But then, that was hardly her concern. There were always more of them.
There was only one of Wesley.
In any case, Wesley had pelted after the demon and whisked its prey out of the way, then lured the demon in the slayer's direction. The slayer, who at least had the fighting prowess of her kind, did the rest.
It irked her that he did this for the sake of strangers without giving his name or acknowledging their words. True, he was not entirely impractical. She had seen him accept gifts of half-wrapped sandwiches with bites taken out of them, or crumpled bills and clinking change, or new if ill-fitting socks, whatever they had in their hands or their pockets. But he feigned ignorance of their language--this from a man accustomed to the decipherment of tongues that human thought should never be clothed in--and stalked away, avoiding their entreaties.
Illyria contented herself with following, with being a shadow's shadow under the eyes of night. Wesley would have laughed bitterly to hear her say it, but she had learned certain things from the shell, certain modes of thought. Everything that moved in the universe was subject to a pattern, some equation of motion. Humans were by no means exempt. And whatever else he had made of himself in this dire questing after duty, Wesley was human. Studied long enough, he would yield his secrets, like an insect or crystal beneath a lens.
For all that she had found a single pattern to his wanderings--random walk, as though the world were his lattice--she was nonetheless taken aback when he returned to England. At first she was certain that he had finally detected her presence and intended to misdirect her. But no: he continued his routine, seeking the telltale signs of demons, ritualized murders and strange chants and footprints that fit no natural creature.
There is power that comes with knowing your enemy's name. Despite his faults, past or present, Wesley was never unprepared for the things he faced, divorced from his tomes though he might be. As for the demons that faced him, not all of them were brute creatures, incapable of recognizing that a particularly efficient form of death stalked them. They made the mistake, however, of assuming that Wesley Wyndham-Pryce was a known quantity, something changeless.
Illyria knew better. And so she kept watching, waiting for the necessary information to present itself. Sooner or later he would slip--he was human, hence imperfect--and then she would have him.
Sure enough, the moment came. A young boy had been lured into a game of hide-and-seek by a demon with a voice like dawnsong. Illyria could not help but think that the boy would have been ill-equipped to deal with even an ordinary human predator. In a way, the boy was fortunate that he was a demon's target, not a human's. Wesley didn't concern himself with mundane matters.
The demon was as beautiful as its voice, and as terrifying. When it came across the boy, hidden rather ineffectually behind a hedge, it reared up: like an angel, if an angel had mouths in its wings and the body of a lion and the rending claws of a bird of prey. The boy quailed, scrabbling behind his back for a rock to throw. Possessed of some small resourcefulness, then. Illyria had little use for children--like slayers, there were always more of them, crawling creatures on this anthill world--but she appreciated that even a life so mayfly-brief would fight for the chance to breathe a moment longer.
"Found you, found you," the demon chanted, harmonizing with itself.
"Get away from him," Wesley said from behind it. He threw a knife coated with some poison. It landed squarely in the demon's spine.
Wesley was an efficient killer, a quality that Illyria had come to approve of. The demon did not have long to scream.
"Mister," the boy said. "Hey, mister. What was that?"
It was too late for Wesley to feign ignorance of the language. "Forget you saw it. Forget all of this," he said brusquely.
But the boy would not be dissuaded. He wanted to know Wesley's name.
"I have none," Wesley said in a chill voice, and turned on his heel.
You only wish you did not, Illyria thought.
The boy said, "Everybody has a name. Mine's Robert. What's yours?"
"I assure you," Wesley said, "if I went by any name, you would be better off not knowing it."
He could put off the boy, of course; the boy knew nothing about him. But the name--it seemed the name was the chink in the armor he had built for himself.
Illyria stepped from the shadows and called out, "But I know it." The boy stared. Wesley looked shaken. "You have a name." She rarely had patience for humans' penchant for denying reality. She lifted her chin and changed her shape, then said again, in the shell's voice, "You have a name."
The boy ran. She took no notice of him.
"Wesley," she said. She smiled: it seemed appropriate. Humans smiled when they greeted each other. And greetings were weapons in the game of social pleasantries.
"How did you find me?" He was trying to be brave, she could tell. She had not stalked him for this long, hunter to quarry, without learning the nuances of his voice, his posture, the set of his hands.
She walked toward him, her face as keen and loving as a knife.
Wesley held his hands up, and she knew she had him. "Don't do this! Don't be her. I've told you before."
Before: an acknowledgment of their shared past. That he had a past. She was halfway to victory.
"So you are still my Wesley, then," she said.
She looked at him with pity. Time to ease the knife back: she let her features settle into a dispassionate mask, slipped out of Fred's shape and back into her own.
He gathered himself in response and nodded once, sharply. "Thank you. How did you find me?"
"I've been following you since St. Petersburg," she said. "I was curious to find how you had come to live again and expected you would lead me to answers without my having to ask for them. You didn't look as though you wanted to be approached." That wasn't the full truth; she had wanted to wait for the right moment, when he was vulnerable enough to give her answers but not so fragile that he would break at the sight of her. Telling partial truths was also something she had learned from humans. "Why do you claim to be no one?"
"I was in St. Petersburg?" Wesley asked. He lowered himself carefully and sat on the ground. Only someone who knew him well would have detected the stiffness of his movements, the implied exhaustion.
"It was nearly a year ago," Illyria said. "You ignore the important question. Why do you claim to be no one?"
He was silent for a long time. Illyria glowered at him. Finally, he said, "I don't claim to be no one. I claim not to have a name."
"I do not see the distinction," Illyria said. Hadn't her followers spelled out her name in mazes of grain, praised her in languages too numerous to count? "If there is one, it makes you a fool. You have a name. It is Wesley."
"I'm not that man anymore," he said fiercely. "Don't you understand? Wesley Wyndham-Pryce is dead. You of all people should know! Remember only that and forget you saw me here tonight. Forget St. Petersburg. Forget the past year."
As if she were like the boy he had saved, to be dissuaded by the same empty words. She shook her head. "You know I can't do that. Why do you live the way you do? Why do you claim that to be nameless, invisible? People still notice you. They name you in the vaults of their memories, even if only to call you savior or hero." He flinched. "You are blind and ignorant if you think otherwise."
Wesley averted his gaze from hers and massaged his forehead. If she was causing him a headache, did that mean she was getting through to him? After a pause, he said, "There was nothing left for me there."
It was her turn for silence. He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, as though to reassure himself that she hadn't gone away, not yet.
Illyria said quietly, "And what do you think was left for me?"
"You mistake me for someone who would be concerned."
She had miscalculated after all. The Wesley she had known would have been able to meet her eyes when she said that. Too fragile after all. "Yes," she said. "I have mistaken you for Wesley."
He nodded. "I am no longer that man. Do not fool yourself into thinking I could become him again."
"I no longer expect that," she said. She would have to wait longer, shape him into a new Wesley, mold him to her desiring. She had time.
"Good," he said, misunderstanding her. "We'll forget, then--forget the past, forget tonight. I'll continue on my way."
He saluted her, almost like a soldier, before turning his back.
Perhaps some warning was in order, lest she break him entirely. "And I'll continue to follow you," she said.
He stopped short and glanced back at her, a slight crease forming between his brows. But he didn't object, and he began walking away from her.
Her presence would always shadow his, no matter how many of the world's corners he visited in his attempt to escape himself. She waited until he was out of sight, then strode after him, fitting her footsteps to his.