Blue hair, blue skin, blue eyes.
You're not looking at your friend; you're looking at the thing that killed her.
Giles always used to say that, and OK, in practice it's never quite that simple, except with Jesse maybe, because Harmony? Pretty much the same as ever only with fangs, and, from what Spike says, a whole Bridget Jones wannabe thing going on.
And vampire Willow? She was me. Totally. Only in leather. And I thought I was special even then, and could never be evil.
I remember how much better I thought I was than Faith, how I could never kill.
Vampire Willow showed me stuff I needed to know about myself; and I didn't listen.
Still, this new blue Fred that isn't Fred at all...
Ancient demon godthing from before the dawn of time that ate Fred like a virus and then decided ooh! good is the new evil.
She did fight in Angel's last fight, which counts for something, and she seems to have been close to Wesley. And she wept when Spike mentioned he died.
Not making ancient demon godthings like they used to, clearly.
She killed my sort of friend, and now is her. Kind of.
Important to keep open mind. I am not going to go all Xander about this. We must judge her on her merits, which OK include brown leather superheroine body-suit that is obviously intended to distract lesser minds from basic issues.
Thank god Faith is away in Cleveland; she'd probably find it really distracting.
And Kennedy - so not thinking about that one in this context. Not my business any more.
Husky voice; tight outfit; highly sexual and deeply annoying.
Only, why are those big strange blue eyes staring at me so very hard?
I had not thought to find real power in this degenerate world. A world so enfeebled that the Wolf, the Ram and the Hart hold it in their grasp and the so-called First, that pitiful minion, could actually have made a bid to shake them.
The half-breeds are worthy enough warriors; it is no humiliation to fight beside such. And Angel had much of the stuff of which a ruler is made.
Some of the ruthlessness and much of the honour.
And a capacity for bitter jests like sending his clown to kill his would-be rival.
He will be worth observing if he ever returns from where those two Powers took him.
Spike is a warrior, but no ruler. A battle bard and a satirist. Such I would have at my court to advise and admonish, now I have learned that this is a world in which it is best to heed counsel.
And here, in this bickering crowd of human children, three that stand out. The Key, of course - I might have known that would still be in the world - but how strange that it has become loving and wise. And the Slayer - so tiny and yet so great a warrior.
And the red-haired human girl that dares fix me with eyes that flicker black and red.
She may call herself by the name of a tree, but her name is Magic. Wild Magic more powerful than I believed still possible in this degenerate world.
The humans fly the air in metal shells for lack of magic, and talk across the world in lines of force for want of it. Worthy enterprise for clever slaves.
And here is one who might challenge any power I ever knew. Who needs no clever tricks of metal, nor places of power, nor jewels.
She is pure power in and of herself. And pleasing to look upon.
Which is rarely true of the powerful.
These three children destroyed the annoying brat Glorificus before ever they came into their power.
I shall walk wary among them.
Except, why is it that my body sings and throbs that she looks at me with those ever-changing eyes?
'We need to talk,' Willow said, reaching across the room with her mind.
'Indeed' Illyria answered, aware that among all these people. who chattered away meaningless around them, the two of them were alone and naked, thought to thought.
She needed space and time to talk and could no longer create them for herself; she reached into the mind that lay before her and planted the knowledge and desire to be alone for a while. And the thrill of contact with that power was a whiplash in her mind.
The room full of chattering people grew still around them.
'What did you just do?', Willow said and neither of them could have told whether she said it or thought it.
'I did nothing, except help you see what needed to be done. I have knowledge in these matters, but retain little power. You have power, but not enough knowledge. And this is why, as you say, we need to talk.'
'You've got a hell of a lot of nerve. Except I guess a hell of a lot of nerve goes with the whole being a demon thing. You killed her and you walk around wearing her like second-hand clothes'
The child was deceived by appearances. Interesting that she could be so fallible in her power.
Illyria opened her mind fully. She hated to be thought guilty of crimes she had not chosen.
'As you see,' she said. 'I am not what I was. I am a thing of double nature that I would have despised myself for accepting.'
Willow wandered in the labyrinth of that mind for a long long second. Here were battles in which Titans were minnows and here was the taste of tacos made of bark; here was the joy of slaughtering jewelled legions and there, yes, there was herself seen in Fred's eyes and a moment of questioning everything Fred had thought she was.
'I am burdened with her,' Illyria said, ' and find it is no burden. I am her memories, and perforce I honour them. I am her monument and her murderer and her successor and her chief mourner. How can I not be? I feel the moment of her death at my hands as an eternal present in which I am born and she dies and she is born and I die. Trust me, there is no need for further revenge.'
Willow had never before known that the used-up words 'I feel your pain' could have meaning, deep meaning that burned like ice and fire. And she found herself gazing into an abyss of another's rich selfhood and was ashamed at how little she knew, how little was the world and time she had inhabited before this time.
She stepped back and Illyria danced in and riffled through Willow like an efficient checking of a card index. And stepped back with a cat's smile.
'Kind of dull and provincial, I guess', Willow said.
Illyria paused, digesting twenty three years in a second and furrowing that blue-stained brow.
'No,' she said. ' Never dull and no more provincial than anything else in this world.. I knew you were a being of power. But to have taken so much power for yourself when you were born with nothing but intelligence and skill, without even the knowledge that there was power to be taken - believe me, in a world I ruled, I would have found you terrifying enough.'
'You needn't be nice,' Willow said.
'Believe me, I only recently came across the concept of nice. It means acting as a cow among cattle when one is the dragon at their throats.'
'I've always been nice; it's the thing everyone notices about me. You must be confusing me with Cordelia.'
'Cordelia? Oh, one of the two powers that took Angel away? She was that child who taught you so much about hate and power ? I think better of her for that. How strange that she gave all that sharpness up to become something as bland and spiceless as a seraph. Or perhaps seraphs too are not as I remember them. Did every power in this world grow up in one small settlement? How remarkable.'
Willow's mind shrugged. 'Hellmouth? Hello? What does not kill me makes me stronger thingie?'
'And yet,' Illyria thought, flicking into Willow's mind the way that Xander looked to her,' some of you have no power.'
'Depends what you mean. And Xander would surprise you.'
Illyria digested a few more memories, chewing them sweet and bitter in her mouth.
'I see,' she reflected. 'You are right. He has no powers at all, and yet he has changed destiny more than any of us. He stayed your hand from the world's throat and you let him live unchecked. I shall never understand.'
'How much power did Wesley have?' Willow pressed in with a thought darting like a blade, 'and yet he changed you forever.'
'Ah,' thought Illyria with a slowness half menace, half languour ,'this love that you use to control each other, that I find dragging me into humanity like a trap of sweet poisoned syrup. But yes, Wesley had little power in the sense I mean, and yet, as you say, so very much. He stripped me of power to save me and this shell he loved, and I found myself compelled to kindness in return.'
'Love makes us better, it keeps us whole. Someone once said to me that I made her complete.'
'What is there to this love, except longing and mourning and pain? And occasional sweaty grappling that leaves you discontented and with aches and numbness in your innermost flesh.'
'It's part of what makes us, or keeps us, human. You should try it some time.'
'That is an acceptable proposition. Or is the word proposal?'
'I have these feelings, and they were once hers. She loved Wesley, and I learned from that, but he is dead and left me imperfectly instructed; she interlocked her body with the man Gunn and she loved him too - but he died bravely before I could try the touch of his flesh. And there is you.'
Illyria placed a firm hand on Willow's shoulder.
'You please me, I find as you did her, and I claim you,' she said. 'Is that not how things are done? Or is there some purpose to the brushing of lips beyond ceremonial?'
The hand was so little and yet its firmness made it heavy enough to break bones. The eyes that stared into Willow's were blue and limitless as the depths of sky, and yet some part of what she remembered as Fred glinted somewhere behind them.
Arrogance, cluelessness and cuteness.
Some protest was necessary.
'You can't just pounce on a person. Worse,' she said, 'you can't just say that you are pouncing and regard that as enough without doing it. If I'm going to be swept off my feet, they should at least leave the floor.'
Illyria stepped back a pace, and yet the weight of that hand did not change.
'Memory tells me that the redness in your cheek might indicate shame, but is more probably arousal. You are a superior being, so shame is unlikely.'
Only a supervillain would go on and on like this, Willow thought; only a supervillain would make a girl wait.
She is older than time, and under the pride are nerves; older than time, and yet so very young and new.
With a thought, Willow cupped a small blue breast inside its leather carapace; with another, she brushed blue hair aside.
The blue flesh of Illyria's cheek felt tender, yet hard as diamond. Her breath was dragon-hot and Willow found herself basking in it. Magic cradled them like fire and air, soft as cloud, stronger even than desire, as they found delight.
They were out of time, caught in a dance that made them a being with many limbs, a dance of the mending and ruin of worlds. Time started around them and they did not move.
Where her friend had been, there was a statue with two backs spinning with a gyroscope's stately leisure. And whatever was going on between them, a magic delicate as lace, inexorable as glaciers, was altogether too much information.
'Bloody Hell,' Spike said, ' those girls work fast.'
After a few hours, they wandered back into the room they had left to find little change.
'They'll be done when they're done', Spike said.
'I guess they're not in any hurry,' Buffy said. 'So, what do you think is going on?'
'Buffy,' Spike said. 'They're two of the most powerful beings in the universe. Clearly they're shagging. Apart from that, I have no idea. Planning some colossal use or abuse of power, I'd think.'
'Should we worry?' Buffy said. 'I don't know your friend.'
'Not exactly my friend,' Spike said. 'She killed my friend and took her place, but not so as I'd hold a grudge. Having her around is like having a tiger curled by the fire - pretty fur and likes to be stroked, but then there are the teeth.'
'So not so different from you, then William?'
'Spose not. Except she nearly exploded once. We blew up Sunnydale between us - she'd have done for the rest of California.'
'Should we worry?'
'Naah. Not so much. Willow's a good kid.'
'Not so much the kid, but yes, good.'
'Blue isn't good, but she has this other thing going for her, that'll do. Like it mostly did for us.'
'Love?' Buffy said.
'Maybe that too,' Spike said,'but what I was thinking of was honour.'