Title: shut down the city lights
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.
Spoilers: Post-series for Angel; post-Avengers, pre-Thor: The Dark World for the MCU. No intentional comics canon.
Summary: She's always had a hard time saying no to her boys, even if they change across dimensions. 2000 words.
Notes: Originally posted elsewhere Sept 14, 2014. For teaandhoney, for Day 14 in Wishlist 2013, for the summary, and also: "Post-NFA, Fred knows the feel of god-kings, perhaps a bit too well. She barely survived last time (didn't really) and doesn't want to get too close this time but she might not have a choice."
Identity is a slippery thing. The dictionary says it's 'the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.' But what happens when that person- or thing- doesn't know who they are? Fred remembers... but Illyria remembers, and...
And that's the whole problem. She, whoever she is, can remember living for endless millennia, master and ruler of the primordial world. But at the same time, she can also remember growing up in Texas with loving parents, all the science she could want, and a lifespan measured in sublime and traumatic moments. Two souls: the god-king trapped in a stone coffin by those jealous of her power, and the mortal girl, cast as victim for the crime of being smart enough to embarrass her so-called betters.
There's another definition of identity: 'a close similarity or affinity.' Maybe that's why Illyria burned through Fred's spirit so quickly; maybe that's why Knox chose her to be Illyria's host in the first place. But she stopped asking 'why' the day she died; what matters to whoever she is now is 'what next.' After the spell altering her memories broke, after her powers began to return, after the Wolf, Ram and Hart attempted to revoke her existence... she'd been one for a little while, and then suddenly wasn't, dragged back into multiples of being. The god-king and the physicist, now sharing the same shell.
If a woman screams as the universe flexes around her, and she sounds like a woman long dead, feels like that woman, fears like that woman- is she Fred? Or is she the being whose power ignited the conduit? She knows which answer probably motivated the attackers who caused her crisis of identity... and until that moment, that belief had even arguably been the truth.
But as they no doubt realized afterward, however briefly: it's a bad idea to poke a god-king with a god-level weapon. Neither party is likely to enjoy the result.
The place where Fred wakes after what will hopefully be her last encounter with the Wolf, Ram, and Hart is golden in every sense of the word: shining, opulent, and blazing with power like the heart of a star. The very bridge to the realm's gate glimmers with enough energy to power all of Earth. But it's also decadent, a culture fossilized in amber: latter day space Vikings with the technology to smash worlds. Fred stands in the grand hall, brought there by the keen-eyed being with the oversized sword guarding the portal where she'd fallen to ground, and feels the breath of Vahla ha'nesh against her fractured soul.
It kind of tickles. And makes her wonder what Mama Burkle's little girl has stumbled into this time.
The sky overhead is spangled with stars even in the midst of day, a jeweled setting for the gilded walls and smoothly arching lines of the native architecture. The gatekeeper called the place The Realm Eternal, and its builders had clearly catered to that mindset. She can't help but wonder whether they'd believed their own propaganda; the great colonnade leading up to the central citadel lacks only ranks of decaying soldiers to be a duplicate of the ruins of her own ancient realm, though their lifespans can be no more than a gnat's beside Illyria's.
The highly polished hall inside, full of laughing, casually armed and armored people suggests not- though she might be prejudiced by her memories of life as a 'cow' on Pylea. But the man seated in the throne at the top of a waterfall of shining steps hints otherwise: he, at least, wears the lines and scars of wisdom earned through experience, and eyes her grimly, a weapon like unto that which sent her hither in his hand. Fred's reminded, just a bit, of Angel after Connor, and even Wes- as he might have been if he'd survived a few more thousand years of supernatural warfare.
Heimdall presents her to Odin- the actual Odin, eyepatch and all, and Fred wouldn't be surprised if the Norse legends back home had similar inspiration- and the Allfather narrows his eye at her. At full strength, Illyria would have feared his wrath less than that of an angry infant; but she is not as she was. Whatever else she is now, she is vulnerable.
And that is where the question of identity catches her: wondering how to introduce herself to a hostile being she has no reason to fight- but who can also see that she's more than human.
"I am Odin. King of Asgard, Protector of the Nine Realms," he says, half introduction and half warning.
"I'm Fred. Winifred Burkle, physicist, who sorta... came across something unexpected," she replies, trying for transparently harmless. "Not my first accidental trip through a portal, but the first one after I picked up my passenger. It sure feels a lot different when you have the senses to appreciate it properly, doesn't it?"
The big, blond man standing at the king's left makes a surprised noise at her occupation; when she glances at him, the distant, furrowed brow has transformed into an expression of avid interest. But he doesn't say anything, and she turns back to Odin's stern, judgmental presence.
"Passenger, you say?" he arches his brows.
"I don't suppose you've heard of Illyria, god-king of the Primordium?"
He stares at her thoughtfully, eye still narrowed. "You speak of the time of darkness, before the arrival of the light."
"That's... a poetic way to put it," Fred nods. Then again, Illyria could be poetic too, in a violent, bloodthirsty sort of way; maybe it's something that comes with extreme age. "But, pretty much."
"But that is legend," the blond man objects. He wears his hair long, in a way that would have got him mocked in Texas, but suits him; it swishes over the shoulder clasps of his red cape as he shakes his head. "The subject of stories read to us as children. The universe is old beyond counting; yet the dark elves were said to live then, and Grandfather defeated their people less than ten thousand years ago. Surely no living being could actually survive so long."
"You know as well as I, Thor, that many legends have their basis in truth," Odin says, dismissively. "And Midgard, too, had its dread powers in those days. But I do not recognize the name Illyria... and even if you do belong to Midgard, I am afraid we cannot afford to return you whence you came while war still rages across the Nine Realms."
Two guards, standing at the foot of the stairs, move behind Fred as Odin gestures to them. It doesn't take much thought to realize what that's about; he wants to set a guard on her, maybe keep her under house arrest. On the one hand, Fred can't blame him; she did appear out of nowhere on his doorstep. But on the other... she won't tolerate being treated like that yet again, not while she can help it. She takes a deep breath, and surrenders a little more to the part of her that is Illyria.
The guards halt as armor replaces her clothes and a blue tint washes over her hair and skin, looking back to their king for his reaction. The blond man-Thor- startles at the sight, taking a step forward, hand gripping the hammer dangling from his belt. Odin stands, expression hardening as his grip tightens on his spear. And Illyria gives the king a wintry smile.
"I am not of your Nine Realms; I do not recognize your right to deny me. And I know more of portals and magic than your people have forgotten. Have me followed if you must... but I will not be contained, patronized, or treated like a sheep who's managed to wander out of the field after you got tired of playing shepherd."
"Your host is Midgardian, even if you are not," he fires back, "and I'll suffer no challenge to my authority here."
She lets the power go, changing back, catching her breath- as she always does- through the grief that washes over her at the memories it still brings up. It isn't- entirely- a lie any more, but that hasn't yet lessened the ache of Wesley's loss. She lets it fill her eyes as she smiles crookedly at the king of this realm's gods, and hopes that this'll be enough.
"I'm no threat to you. Really, I just wanna go home... and maybe figure out exactly how I got here. In all my studies of p-dimensional subspace, I've never seen this kind of effect before." She barely survived the last god-king she confronted- didn't really- but she isn't being given much of a choice this time, either.
There is a long pause, as Odin studies her; then he inclines his head ever so slightly, eyes glittering like those of the raven perched on the arm of his throne. "You will be our honored guest until the realms are once more at peace," he says, as though issuing a great concession without promising much at all.
Fair enough; it's a start at least. "I appreciate your hospitality," she says, inclining her head in return.
He details Thor to take her to the 'keepers of knowledge'. And that's how her stay in Asgard begins.
That's not how it ends, of course. But that's because it doesn't end.
She figures out a way to reach Midgard, at least, early on; the scholars are fascinated by her discoveries, embracing them as a way to ward the otherwise undetectable cracks of Yggdrasil. But the longer she's there, the more she drags her feet on actually going. Not because it's becoming home; most Asgardians prize strength and honor over cleverness and 'trickery', leaving her just as much an outsider among them as anywhere else. But because of the others who stand out, especially Queen Frigga's sons.
Thor seems intimidating at first, but turns out to be a marshmallow when she gets him alone. He asks first after another physicist named Jane Foster, but seems eager for her company even when she can't help him, plying her with other questions. He's young for his kind, newly wakened to responsibility, but as earnest and determined to protect his people as any hero back home.
Fred first meets Loki after she manages to slip away from the warriors and scholars 'waiting on her convenience'; he taunts her with barbed comments when she shows up in her mortal form, and stops speaking entirely when she shifts into Illyria's skin. Something about her red-and-blue form makes his eyes glitter with rage, hatred running like a fault line beneath his sanity. But on subsequent visits, curious about why Thor and his mother still speak of him with pained fondness, she sometimes earns other tidbits from him: throwaway comments about the magic and science of Asgard that astound her... and a familiar sense of loss, deep enough to shatter worlds.
She might not belong in their world. But she knows them. When it's just Thor 'guarding' her so he can ask her about human courtship methods, or when she sneaks away to trace glowing equations on the shield of Loki's cell... she feels somehow more whole then, and both of her remember.
The handsome man who would save his people from monsters; the scholar-magician put in an impossible position who'd made the wrong choice, to everlasting regret. The only thing missing is the man who'd sold his soul for weapons to fight the enemy... and she wouldn't be surprised if he's here somehow, as well.
She's always had a hard time saying no to her boys, even if they change across dimensions. Even if she isn't even sure who she is. She'll help them however she can, because that's what heroes do; because there's more for her here in Asgard than any empty hotel in Los Angeles.
This time, she will stay. It might not be home... but it will do.