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Title: Old Gods, New Tricks
Rating: PG/Teen
Summary: Fred's being held captive, Wesley's on the warpath, and Gunn (aided by his glamorous undead assistant) tries his hand at redemption. But as Knox comes face-to-face with his God, will his efforts be nullified?
Disclaimer: I'm not Joss, therefore I have no power and am just a lowly mortal trying to get by, afraid at any moment the big guy might shockingly kill me off. ME and such own Fred and the others that crop up in this story, but the words are all mine because they would never be this nice to her.

Originally posted here

Waking alone, in the dark, cold sweat a comfort blanket of times he thought past, Wesley's heart stops dead in his chest.

There is an eternal moment where he thinks it's all been a dream and that Fred has abandoned him for the afterlife. He's a heartbeat shy of totally shattering when he finally sees the note.

Wesley,
Something woke me up. I need to do something; I need to fight. Don't panic, I'm fine. This is just something I have to do.
I love you,
Fred


He breathes a sigh of blessed relief before the panic overtakes him once more. She's not trained. She's strong and she's smart but she can't be ready.

He has an axe in his bag. For precaution against the unbearable.

White knuckles squeeze the handle tight as he storms from the room and into the harsh, dark night.

**

The itching, the burning, it's getting worse.

Knox thought that maybe just being in her proximity it might... calm. But as each second ticks by his chest feels raked by white-hot razors. And the frustration, the silence… Her fleeting breath, closed eyes and synthetic sleep, it's a chainsaw's embrace.

He scratches at closed wounds over his flesh, the laughing and screaming within consuming his sanity one gulp at a time.

Wake up! Why won't she wake up already?

Knox knows he's less than a minion.

He's a shell.

**

He's paced his office two hundred and eleven times now.

Harmony's watching him, huffing periodically about her precious eternal time being wasted, staring as Gunn wrings his hands and rubs the tear-stains off his cheeks.

Two hundred and twelve.

"Shouldn't they have come in by now? So we can see her. So we…" he shakes his head, but whispers it anyway, "so we know she's not dead…" He pauses, looks at the sun struggle to rise beyond the window, and continues pacing.

Two hundred and thirteen.

Harmony rolls her eyes, as though Gunn's moronically naïve, "don't you think they're.. y'know", she makes a point of making an 'o' with her left thumb and forefinger, rhythmically jabbing a digit from the right hand inside. Then, as if Gunn's horrified expression doesn't tell her he gets the hint, she exclaims with much exasperation "screwing each other's brains out?"

Two hundred and fourteen.

He makes a low noise, something throaty, stuck between a whimper and a growl and Harmony's eyes roll once again. She stands from where she was perching—precariously on the edge of his desk—and approaches him, face laden with sympathy.

A cold hand upon his shoulder snaps him out of frantic stupor and into big blue eyes.

"Charles, let her go."

No one calls him Charles. Only Fred.

He doesn’t know whether to shove her away or pull her close. So he does neither, until the lingering touch lingers too long and she pulls away with a glance at the carpet and a giggle serving only her own self-deprecation. Harmony clears her throat, smoothing the creases from her dress and steps back. Realms of space now seem to distance them. "So, and I'll ask again, what about Knox?"

He releases a breath he doesn't know he's holding and walks to his desk, rummaging through the draw until he feels the cold bite of metal skim his fingers. "We find him," Gunn pulls the axe out from the files and similar debris and looks Harmony dead in the eye "and then we do what comes natural."

"Umm, how are we supposed to find him?"

Gunn lifts his coat from the back of the door and shrugs it on, quickly making for the elevator without waiting to see if Harmony follows, "that's easy, we ask Fred."

**

She's been awake for a while now, too afraid to open her eyes. Her wrists bound, handcuffed to a radiator. The metal is icy on her skin.

Her brain feels swollen. It's like her skull's wrapped tightly in gauze, squeezing. Her muscles are less than weak, they're depleted; dead snow making puddles around her aching bone. Where...? What...?

It smells like damp and week-old garbage; chemical yet dirty. Weak coffee is laced through the undertones of blood.

His breaths have been slow and shuddering, familiar. Fred thinks Knox is dying. And she remembers; Knox. He's paced the small space several times, slumping to the floor when his body can't hold him any longer, before clawing back up to pace some more. But now?

Now his face hovers mere inches from hers, breath hot and moist, coating her cheeks in a sticky sheen.

He's waiting for her to relent.

To open her eyes.

And after two minutes of agonising panting, inhaling used oxygen, she looses the battle. Eyes fly open meeting wild, blood-shot green.

"I though you'd never wake up." Knox's hand reaches out in insincere affection, drags violently through Fred's hair, tugging through knots and pulling a weary head down. His thumb traces tears she's unknowingly spilling.

She chokes them back. He's not allowed to make her cry.

After everything she's lived through, everything she's fought and defeated, no weak, pathetic little boy is going to make Fred cry.

**

"Fred? Wesley?" Gunn pounds the door a third time, but can't hear any sound from inside.

"I think we should smash the door in."

"Harm, you ain't helping." He bends down, slipping a hand beneath the skewed WELCOME HOME mat before his fingers skim the spare key. He holds it out in front of Harmony, who huffs in disgust, as though to say my idea was better.

He slips the key into the lock and turns, feeling the dread wash over him as he pushes forward, and steps inside.

"Fred, you home?" He scans around the rooms quickly, bare and tidy, until he reaches the bedroom.

The bedclothes are heaped twistedly on the floor, the curtains drawn and dusty. Books lie open and sprawled around the room without the affection either Fred or Wes would give them. A note lies folded neatly in the centre of the stripped bed.

He skims it quickly, almost slipping over on the stake peeking out from beneath the bed.

And he runs.

He's out the door in a moment, Harmony lagging behind.

"What's wrong?"

The tears prick at his eyes again, dread an icy weight in his gut, "I think Knox has Fred."

"Oh."

"In the state he's in he can't get far. I'm thinking auto-pilot, like when you're drunk. There's only one place your body can take you. Home." He's gonna save Fred. He's gonna save her if it kills him, or he's as good as killed her himself. Then he stops dead, "do you know where he lives?"

Harmony smiles for a moment, "Lyman Place off Fountain Avenue."

Gunn's mouth falls open

"I'm a good assitant." It takes a moment before they start running again. "Well, can we smash his door in?"

**


"It was you", Fred spits through dry lips, "that thing, Illyria, it was all you." He's strong, too strong. Stronger than her, and she's a Slayer. And yet he looks so close to death. Body frail and hung, skin draped unfittingly across sharp bones. The cuts on his chest are healing, bruised face less swollen, more gaunt.

Knox throws back his head, shrieking in laughter, and replies to the contrary, "I was this miniscule little cog in a greater plan", he smiles at her through a gap between his finger and thumb, the space between them shrinking smaller and smaller...And he claps. "But you had to ruin it all, didn't you? Little Miss Burkle had to cling on so tight!" His voice is a vicious roar, eyes roll in his head with ferocious madness, voice falls into a lament, "you had to fight off the beautiful process..."He raises a hand, curved perfectly for a barbaric smack, "if you weren't so damn stubborn!"

Her voice hitches, eyes squeezed shut as she prepares for the blow.

It never comes. The hand falls soft, and caresses her face. Knox leans closer so he can whisper, "but then, I don't suppose I'd love you so much…"

She sniffs back the tears again, and feels a Slayer-like surge of defiance. "Trying to kill me, that's the way to win my heart."

"You say that now, but you don't understand yet, you're the only creature worthy of this gift. And I know you don't love me, but you will. You'll have to."

Then he lowers dry, cracked lips to hers and forcibly steals a kiss.

There's a moment of delirium, like with the sarcophagus in reverse. This cold flurry of air pumping from her lungs and into Knox.

It's like a fairytale, you see. Only the frog becomes not a prince, but a God.

Knox collapses backward, screaming hoarsely, clawing maniacally at his own skin. He writhes like he's fitting, entire body in spasm. The noises are low and deafening as they strike Fred in the chest. Despite her better judgment, she feels so sorry for him, so guilty.

He screams once more and stills.

She watches his body grow cold.

Phantom knives slash at Knox's skin, savagely streaking it with unearthly blue. The breathless abyss swallows the space, sunlight trickles lethargically through the cracked window.

Stillness.

The air quivers, building to a crescendo of tension and held breath, and he sits up, opening glacial eyes to meet Fred's. And Fred knows Knox is dead.

This is Illyria.

He glances down at his body. It is adequate. No less, but no more. Not what he had expected. His fingers skim his chest, and he winces. Organs may liquefy, but idols are made to last, and they lie, still nestled beneath the corpse's skin.

This is the body of his Qwa'ha Xahn. Memories flick back through his mind of a life foreign and yet familiar. He knows everything, all rituals, all practices, all keys. This… This could work.

Illyria moves forward, kneeling, his blinking, adjusting eyes find the huddled form of Fred, chained to the radiator, and he grins savagely. "You were to be my shell."

Fear trickles through Fred, an ungodly mix of ice and glue. She nods with pointed silence.

"And yet here you sit, beating and sweating and stealing oxygen. You fought me and lived. This…" Fred's throat closes, she swallows over a ball of swollen fear. "I can respect."

Something like awe consumes Fred as alien eyes glare out at her through Knox's face, and hands reach out. Inexplicably, unlike with Knox, when Illyria's hand outstretches, she doesn't flinch.

Fred isn't afraid.

The hands reach between her and the radiator, grabbing the handcuffs with impossible strength.

The door explodes open, slamming into the wall. "Get away from her."

Gunn bursts into the room with pronounced violence—Harmony hovering behind closely at the door. An axe hangs haphazardly in the hand behind his back.

His expression is thunderous, eyes wild. There's no hesitation as Gunn strides blindly forward—barely glancing upon Fred—and swings the rusted axe at the hunched form of a now-deceased Knox, nestled between Fred and her freedom.

"No Charles!" She screams.

The axe crashes down.

And it splinters upon impact with Illyria's neck.

Gunn recoils with shock, a moment lost, when glacial eyes find his. A claw grips his throat and he's careening backward into the wall, smashing through plaster and slipping out of consciousness.

There's a shriek from the doorway, then Harmony's there, unimpeded entry all but unnoticed as she slaps Gunn's face in a desperate frenzy. Her demon roars inwardly, trying to claw it's way forth. The allure of the blood is violent, and the sluggish crimson seeps slowly from the wound on Gunn's crown. The need to press her lips to it is maddening, but firmly, she restrains. Even she doesn't know why.

Illyria looks quickly between the fallen man and the chained woman, nodding once to himself as a decision arrives.

Pulling the chain of the handcuffs that tether Fred to the heater, the metal gives way. Bending, breaking. Fred is free. And Illyria is storming from the room, and out into the rising daylight.

And after a moment of comprehension, Fred follows.

TBC...

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