Illyria cocked her head, gazing at her reflection in the mirror. She followed the thread of a memory, one of Fred’s memories, her form bleeding into a likeness of Fred. She stepped out of the bathroom and into the half shadowed stillness of the bedroom. Connor lay sprawled on the bed on his stomach.
“I wish to celebrate the shell’s day of birth.”
Connor turned over slowly, dragging the sheet up to a decent position just above his hipbones. His face curled in disgust. “I told you not to do that.”
Illyria sighed. “I do not understand your dislike for the shell’s form. It is almost as bad as Wesley’s was.”
Connor grumbled, sat up, tugging the sheet even higher. “Another name not to be mentioned before, during or after sex.”
Illyria walked over to the bed and stood looking down her nose at Connor. “That would imply that I may never mention either the shell or Wesley.”
Connor glared at her. “I thought you’d catch on quicker, being a former goddess and all.”
Illyria picked him up and threw him across the room. Connor sat naked against the wall and rubbed at the back of his head. “Okay, in this dimension, beating your lover up is not foreplay.”
“I did not intend it to be. I do not wish to have sex again so soon. I wish to celebrate the birthday of this shell.”
Connor grumbled, got to his feet and snagged his pants from the floor. “Fine, we’ll have a birthday party for Fred on one condition, you do not use her form at the party.”
“That is agreeable. Now, how does one go about planning a celebration? I assume it will be quite different from the celebrations of my time. I was worshiped.”
“Yes, I know. You’re going to have to settle for being worshiped by me alone and I’ll handle the planning. We’ll get a cake, some ice cream, have some presents. You’ll like it, at least until you start opening the gifts and realize we’re not showering you with priceless gold and jewels.”
“In my day the gifts were more often the ears, hearts and heads of enemies,”
Illyria informed him.
Connor shrugged a shirt on and started to walk out of the room. “Who knows, in this group you could get a few of those.”
Connor made a mental checklist of everything, glancing around the lobby of the Hyperion. After the battle with the senior partners, the battle that had killed his father, Spike and Illyria had holed up here. Eventually he’d come along to help them, Faith had stopped by for a visit and decided to stay, claiming she fit in better here than at Slayer Central.
Earlier that day, Faith had helped Connor hang a banner that said Happy Birthday. They’d picked up a cake that was inscribed with the same. There was ice cream in the freezer. Illyria was fascinated with the stuff. She consistently ate it too fast so that she could experience ‘brain freeze’ as Connor called it.
Faith ambled down the stairs, glancing at the decorations as she walked toward him. “So, everything’s all ready for Big Blue’s birthday party?”
Connor shrugged. “I think so. Where is she?”
“Beating the hell out of Spike.”
Connor chuckled. “You’d think he’d learn by now.”
“That’s my boy, stupid and pretty,” Faith said.
Before Connor could respond, Illyria walked in from the training room. “On the contrary, Spike is quite intelligent for his species. He is most adaptable and he is nice to look at.”
“Nice to know my girlfriend thinks I’m chopped liver,” Connor smirked.
“She your girlfriend now?” Spike asked, walking into the lobby. “Thought sex bot was more along the right lines.”
“We may proceed with the shell’s birthday celebration,” Illyria interrupted.
“Geez, has she always been this bossy?” Faith asked, taking the cigarette out of Spike’s mouth. She took a deep drag on the cigarette and replaced it.
“From what I understand, yeah,”
Spike stepped forward to light the candles on the cake with his Zippo.
“I do not understand this tradition of setting flame to the bakery confection.”
“Don’t ask me. We didn’t celebrate birthdays on Quar-toth and I’m pretty sure all the birthday memories I have with the Reilly’s were made up,” Connor said.
“We don’t understand it either, Blue. Jus’ sumthin you do on birthdays,” Spike answered.
“Now, make a wish and blow them out. You gotta get all the candles with one breath,” Faith instructed.
“The candles are magical then,” Illyria said.
“Nope, dollar ninety nine at the grocery store, why?” Faith asked.
“If I am to wish on them and it is to come true, then they must be magical,” Illyria reasoned.
“Hate to disappoint you, Big Blue, but the wish ain’t coming true. They’re just some wax and coloring wrapped ’round a piece of string.”
” Illyria, it’s just traditional. You make a wish, as kid it’s usually something silly, something you want for your birthday, a toy whatever,” Connor tried to explain.
“I will not make pointless wishes. If I desire something to happen, I will make it so.”
Faith rolled her eyes. “Of course you will, Goddess.” She blew the candles out herself. “Let’s just cut the damn thing and get to the gifts.”
Connor cut the cake into pieces and put them on plates. Illyria was already inspecting her gifts. She picked them up, smelled them and looked to Connor. “You promised me gifts. I do not understand why any of you believe I would want brightly colored boxes.”
“It’s-the box isn’t the gift. You take the paper off and open the box. What’s inside is the gift,” Connor said.
Illyria narrowed her eyes and regarded the box she held carefully. “It is not unlike when I ruled the world. Lesser beings brought me sacrifices wrapped in flesh. I merely had to reach inside to find the real gift, a still beating heart, a length of warm intestine-“
“Alright, that’s enough with the reminiscing, really,” Faith interrupted. “Open the red one. It’s from Spike and me.”
Illyria shredded the red wrapping paper from an oblong, flat box. She opened the box and withdrew a shirt. It was black with a cartoon white bunny on it. There were words beneath it that read “Hate is a special kind of love we give to people who suck.” Her brow furrowed again.
“I do not understand this. Am I mistaken in my understanding of human emotions? Love is an emotion that this shell felt for Wesley. It is an emotion that I suspect I am beginning to feel for Connor. Hate is an emotion I felt for those that killed Wesley. It is nothing like love.”
Spike smacked Connor on the arm. “Hey, Mate, I think the bird just said she loved you.”
“Romantic isn’t she?”
“Crazy for sure,” Spike remarked.
Connor grinned. “Sometimes it’s to your advantage for people to think you’re crazy.”
“Be just like her to use it as one.” Spike lit another cigarette from the butt of his old one.
“One of you must answer my question,” Illyria demanded.
“It’s a joke,”
Faith tried to explain.
“She doesn’t get jokes. She never will she’s an immortal being, an ancient ex-god.”
Everyone turned at the sound of the new voice. Eve stood in the doorway of the hotel.
“Oh Bullocks, if we’d wanted Girl Scout cookies we would have called you,” Spike said.
“Alright, if you don’t want my help, then I’ll go.” Eve started to turn away. Connor was by her side, his hand wrapped around her arm like a vice.
“We didn’t say that.”
“You’re hurting me,” Eve said as she looked pointedly at his arm on her bicep.
“Ask me if I care.” He hauled her further into the hotel and flung her down on the couch. “You came here to help, so help.”
“How cute, a birthday party for the ex-god or is that the ex-Fred,” Eve smirked taking in the cake, sign and gifts.
“You know, I haven’t had breakfast yet, Eve and I don’t have a problem making a snack out of evil humans,” Spike remarked. Fred was a particularly sore subject with Spike.
“Alright, alright. Wolfram and Hart is reforming. I thought I’d tell you know so you can nip it in the bud,” Eve said grudgingly.
Connor’s eyes narrowed and he stepped close enough to her to appear threatening. “Why are you telling us?”
“You really did get your father’s lack of brains, didn’t you?” Eve said. “The Senior Partners make it back to this dimension, they’re going to deal with traitors first. I don’t like being mortal, but I dislike being dead even more.”
“We’re good, but we’re gonna need a few more details to go on,” Faith said.
Eve withdrew a slip of paper from the pocket of her suit jacket. “This address midnight tonight. Bring sharp metal things.”
“Great, another Slayer Birthday tradition, impending doom,” Faith grumbled.
Eve stood up, dropped the paper to the ground and turned to walk away. She paused in the doorway. “By the way, Happy Birthday, Fred.”