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Raging Against the Dying of the Light

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That's it, Gunn thought to himself. I'm so damn tired of playin'. He was gonna kick Wesley's skinny English ass to hell and back! He really was! What the hell was the damn fool thinking?

And who the fuck did he think he was?

Gunn crushed the pages in his fist and then slammed that fist into the palm of his other hand – and then once again, even harder. It didn't seem to do much good but, he desperately wanted to punch something and there was nothing else available.

He shouldn't have even opened the damn letter. In fact, he'd already decided that he wasn't going to read it before he'd caved in and changed his mind. His first thought, when he saw Wes's writing, had been to just throw it in the trash.

And even then Wes had to go and let Gunn know he had him all figured out, making a point of writing in the damn letter that he knew Gunn would want to do exactly that. Damn his prissy know-it-allness to hell!

How dare he go off and do something like this? How dare he?

And who even asked that up-in-yo-face traitor with his dumbass Wolverine-wannabe arm-blade to get involved in all this professor shit, anyway?

"Well, it was Fred, originally," Gunn could almost hear the quiet English voice say in that familiar oh-so-reasonable tone.

And Gunn so wanted to scream back, "You leave her out of it!"

"Well, you did ask," The voice chided him, and now he could almost see the amused smile that went with it.

Oh God, Fred! How could he tell her? His fist clenched so tightly that he felt the paper in his hand tear slightly. Oh, Sweet Jesus! Should he tell her about all this? He sure as hell didn't want to tell her.

The thing was, much as he hated to admit it, Wes was right. Fred would blame herself – and for much more than Wesley would ever suspect. More than Wes could ever suspect.

Because Siedel was dead – because of Fred.

Sure, it had been Gunn who had actually snapped the professor's neck, but it was Fred who had been all gung-ho to off the guy who'd sent her to Pylea. Gunn knew that he wouldn't have done it, if she hadn't kept pushing. He slammed his fist into his palm again and suddenly realized that he had begun pacing around the room. Dammit!

He made a conscious effort to keep his feet still and try and think about this calmly. One deep breath. Then another. And one more...

Fuck! This deep breathing shit was seriously overrated. No way it made you all calm and logical. Gunn had murdered a man, a man who was probably goddamn innocent, and Fred was the one who pushed him into doing it. And Gunn couldn't fool himself into believing that both he and Fred didn't know that was the truth of it.

So, he had to wonder, how it was that both he and Fred knew that, but Wes didn't have a clue. Wes was actually blaming himself, somehow making all of it his fault. Typical! Gunn snorted derisively, shaking his head. This time, it's not all about you, Wes!

And now the pacing was back and this time Gunn just went with it. How dare Wes decide that he had the right to go on a suicide mission to rescue a man who was already dead?

"Well, I didn't know he was dead, did I? You kept that piece of information to yourselves." Wesley's voice again – quiet, English and sounding so very calm and rational.

Where the hell did Wesley get off pretending to be calm and rational? It wasn't like Wes hadn't done his share of stupid and crazy things. It wasn't like he didn't keep things to himself – dangerous things. What about Connor and Holtz and all that shit?

"Oh, back there again, are we?" This time the voice was followed by one of Wesley's little sighs, as if he was resigned to the fact that Gunn was some kind of broken record on the issue.

What? Did Wes just expect him to get past all that? Like it was all so much water under the bridge?

"You lied, man! You looked me in the mutherfuckin' eye and lied to me!"

The words echoed around Gunn, startling him. Did he just say that out loud? Damn, he was losing it! And was all Wesley's damn fault! Sure, the world had been dark and dangerous for as long as Gunn could remember, but it had never been this confusing until Wes betrayed them all.

Again the soft English accent flooded his mind. "Because I obviously did it all just to cause you pain and confusion. I suddenly decided that Connor would be better off with Holtz and, by the way, I might as well get my own throat slit in the process. Yes, of course, that was my grand plan. I just wanted to hurt you all. There was nothing at all in my motives about trying to save Connor's life or indeed trying to protect the whole lot of you from the tragedy that had been prophesied."

Now wait just one damn minute! Gunn caught himself turning to stare down a man he knew wasn't really there. Because no way in hell did Wesley have any right to get all snooty and sarcastic, like he'd been some big hero in all that business.

What had happened to not keeping secrets and not compromising the safety of the group, Gunn asked himself. That's exactly what Wes had done and they'd lost Connor because of it. Shit, didn't the man even realize what a hypocrite he'd become? He remembered Wes telling him that he'd be kicked out onto the street if he, Gunn, ever did that again. And then what had Wes gone and done his own self?

"Well, I suffered precisely those same consequences, didn't I? Fair's fair. It's not as though I didn't receive exactly the same sentence that I once threatened to pronounce upon you. You all threw me out and cut me off completely – and turnabout's fair play I suppose – unless one of you needed my help for something, that is. If it was a case of one of you finding yourselves in some irresolvable difficulty, then you were perfectly happy to beat down my door and demand that I give you whatever assistance you required."

Not true, Gunn argued against the accusation. He hadn't actually beaten Wesley's door down...

"Are you saying, you wouldn't have? You, in particular, Gunn, have always been fairly bloody-minded about getting what you want. No please or thank you, it's just simply your right to demand whatever knowledge I might have so that you can use it as you see fit. Never mind what I might want. Or need."

It had been for Fred, for God's sake. Like Gunn was supposed to just let her die? Like Wes would have wanted her to die any more than Gunn did?

And everybody knew that Wes was the one you went to to find out all that stuff about nasty creepy-crawlies and things that went skitter in the night. If someone you loved had been hurt by some kind of demon thing, then your best bet was to ask Wesley to find out how to help them. Yeah, Wes was the smart guy. He was the one you called on speed-dial when no one else could give you the answers you needed.

And Gunn knew that was exactly why Fred had gone to Wes and asked for his help to kill Siedel. He was the man with the answers, the man with the plan. And Wes obviously didn't care about Fred becoming a murderer

"I did what you weren't prepared to do."

He'd actually said that. It wasn't just some imaginary voice speaking to Gunn in his head. Wesley had actually said that – to Gunn's face! Right here in this very room, less than one week ago.

Like Wesley was some kind of man of action and Gunn was just some kind of hanger-on just waiting to be given orders.

And did Wes actually think that he'd done more for Fred than Gunn had? Ha! That was a laugh!

Wes still didn't know what Gunn would do for her. Wes didn't know that Gunn would kill a man just to save her from the darkness of committing murder herself. Gunn had already done it for her and Wes just didn't know. And he probably wouldn't give a damn even if he did know.

Wes thought there was a chance that the guy might be still alive. And so he'd gone off, trying to be a hero. He was trying to save a dead guy – how freakin' stupid was that? And Wes was supposed to be the smart one out of all of them.

"How could you be so stupid, English?"

This time he was fully aware that he had spoken aloud.

The English voice in his mind didn't reply, but a quiet Texan one from the doorway did. "Charles?"

"Fred?" Gunn spun to face her, almost instinctively putting his hands behind his back, clutching Wesley's letter even tighter. "Sorry, didn't see you there."

Fred remained standing in the doorway, her head tilted to one side and her expression a mixture of curiosity and concern. "Thought I heard ya talkin' to someone in here." She hesitated for a moment, then added uncertainly. "Sounded almost like you were talkin' to Wesley."

Gunn searched for something to say. "I'm just really pissed at him, Fred, and well... he ain't here to yell at."

She ventured one of her small uncertain grins. "So, ya thought that you'd just yell at him anyway, huh?"

Gunn shrugged. He knew it sounded lame but what else could a guy say?

"Charles, this is so silly. Can't you just forget about Wesley for a little bit?"

And suddenly Gunn found all his frustration and anger focusing on Fred. After all, this whole mess was really all her fault, if you really stopped to think about it. The professor being dead, Wes being involved in it all and going off to hell knows where – everything, in fact.

It was all because of Fred. And now she was coming in here, with "Wesley" just about the first thing to come flying out of her mouth.

"Can't you?" he asked coldly.

She was startled. "Can't I what?"

"Forget about Wes." He took a step towards where she still stood in the doorway, looking kinda hesitant. She always seemed to look kinda hesitant these days. And she looked like she was almost gonna flinch every time she walked into a room and found Gunn already in there.

She did flinch now, when he mentioned Wesley's name.

"You went to him for help, didn't you? He's the one who showed you how to do that portal thing on the professor, right?"

Gunn managed to catch her eye as he continued walking towards her. He searched her face, looking for any sign of the girl he'd once almost given up his soul for.

"Charles, I..." Fred's voice trailed off and her gaze fell to the floor.

Gunn also dropped his gaze. So, she couldn't even stand to look him in the eye anymore. "You didn't think you could trust me to help you, so you went to him. Isn't that right?"

"No!" she protested vehemently and when he looked up, their eyes met again. "I did trust you! I trusted you to..."

He saw her body tremble and she looked down again. As usual, her distress cut through his anger just like one of them demon-cleaving axes. Almost against his will, he found his hand moving to her chin and lifting it back up to face him. His voice became gentle, more coaxing than demanding now.

"Trusted me to do what?" The tears flowed steadily down her cheeks now and his hand moved to wipe them away.

"I trusted you to do what was right. What I was doing... I needed to do it but I knew it wasn't because it was right. It wasn't about what was right. It was about what I needed to do. And Wesley..."

And just when he'd thought a little warmth might be returning, Gunn felt an even colder and darker hollowness opening up inside his heart. "And you knew Wes would do anything for you whether it was right or wrong."

"Oh Charles, you would too. I know that now." She seemed to have heard the sorrow in his voice, but she'd obviously got the reason totally wrong.

He just stared at her.

She faltered a bit, then kept on babbling, like she always did when she was nervous and uncertain. "Maybe I even knew it before but I didn't want to drag you down with me. Guess that doesn't really matter now but at the time I didn't want you to... I love you, Charles. I didn't wanna hurt you like that. I didn't think... You weren't that kind of guy. I didn't wanna drag you down, don't you see?"

"But dragging Wes down didn't matter, huh?"

"No! It wasn't like… It didn't seem like I was draggin' Wesley down, y'know? The way he's been all dark and ruthless lately... And I wasn't in love with him, Charles."

"Guess it really don't matter all that much then."

And why did he think it should matter to her at all? Why should she see Wes as anything more than a source of information to be used and then discarded? Why should she care when it wasn't like anyone else gave a damn?

"What?" He realised Fred was staring at him. It had finally clicked, and now she seemed more incredulous than upset. "You're mad at me because you think I hurt Wesley? I don't believe it! Every time the two of you are in the same room, I'm worried that you're gonna kill each other. And now you're acting like... what? Like he's your best friend again or something?"

Gunn turned away and found himself staring at the corner of the room where he'd confronted Wesley less than a week ago, before that wacky spell to get Cordy's memory back had backfired and fucked everything up even more than it already was. Gunn had got right in English's face to warn him off going after Fred. And then Wes had pulled that blade out of nowhere, held it to Gunn's face and basically told him to step off.

He still couldn't quite believe that Wes had done that. Wesley! Good old dependable English, the guy who had always seemed to really believe that the pen was mightier than the sword and who usually only resorted to physical violence as a last resort. Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, the polite and proper and sometimes rather stuffy-assed English dude who had once been Gunn's best friend. Wes, who'd come alone to the worst part of downtown and ended up taking a bullet in the gut for Gunn. Who'd almost died trying to help him out.

The man he'd told to go to hell, the last time he saw him.

"Charles?" Fred's voice was small and frightened again. "Charles, what's happened? Has something happened to Wesley?"

Gunn had to hand it to her. Girl was damn smart, that was for sure.

So, he did hand it to her. With a deep sigh, Charles Gunn placed the devastating sheets of paper, the ones that Wes had never intended for Fred to see, into her hands and walked out of the room.

He didn't go far, just stood in the lobby waiting for her to read the letter.

It took less than a minute before her sobbing "Oh God!" reached his ears.

People talked about tension that you could cut with a knife. It probably have taken a chainsaw to cut through the atmosphere in Gunn's truck, as he and Fred drove to Wesley's apartment.

After the third attempt, Fred gave up trying to start a conversation even though it was pretty clear that she still wanted to talk. Gunn's peripheral vision caught the flickers of movement from her fidgeting with her hands in her lap. They were only still for a few seconds at any one time and when they were, Fred would let out a heavy sigh.

And Gunn felt Fred's gaze almost boring into him from time to time but he kept his own eyes fixed on the road in front of him, glaring murderously at red lights or anything else that hindered their progress towards their destination. He risked only occasional split-second glances at Fred and if she showed any signs of making eye contact, his eyes were immediately back on the road. There was nothing more to discuss. They were done talking.

There had never been a question of whether or not they'd go after Wes. At least, not in either of their minds. They'd discussed how they'd do it and where they'd open the portal from and even exactly when they'd go (answer being, "as soon as possible"). But there had never, ever been any idea of them not going after him. And Wes should have known that – damn fool should have known it!

But Gunn wasn't sure too Wes had known it. These days, he really wasn't too sure what Wes thought about anything. There had been a time when Gunn had almost felt that he could read Wesley like one of the ex-Watcher's musty but well-thumbed research books. Now, he didn't have a clue what went on behind those steely blue eyes. It wasn't like they talked that much any more anyway, and when they did, it was mostly a lot of threatening glares and posturing.

"I had my throat cut and all my friends abandoned me."

And at the time, Gunn had almost said, "And you damn well deserved it, you lyin'-to-our-faces traitor!"

But now, those words had him wondering. Did Wes truly believe that there was no one on this Earth who cared whether he lived or died? After all, the only times they'd ever gone to him – Angel, Fred and Gunn, himself – was when they'd wanted something from him, when they'd wanted to pick his brain for the information and expertise that they all just used to take for granted before.

Gunn didn't know if Angel and Fred had said anything else to him, if they'd talked to him about this and that, what he was doing now with his life, or even if they had just asked about his general health. Not a strange thing to bring up really, considering that Wes had been recovering from having his throat cut when they'd...

When they'd asked him not to return to the hotel. Gunn shook his head, a coldness running through him at the thought. Or had they just got the information they wanted and then told him he could still go to hell, for all they cared?

There was no question he'd made his feelings on the matter crystal clear. He'd told Wes point blank that there was no way he'd even be coming near him if it wasn't that he needed his help to save Fred. And his righteous anger had increased when Wes had replied that he was only helping because it was Fred that was in danger. The rest of them could apparently go rot, as far as Wes was concerned.

In retrospect, Wes had almost certainly been lying about that, since, not too much later, he had started trawling the ocean looking for Angel and conducting his own investigation into Cordy's disappearance. Despite the Englishman's couldn't-give-a-crap attitude, Wes was still doing for the people he used to care about.

A red light forced Gunn to stop the truck and for what seemed the first time in an eternity, he lifted his hands from the wheel. Without quite knowing why, he found himself staring at the palms of his hands, as if there were some kinda answers to be found there.

Who the hell did he think he was kidding? The people Wes used to care about? It was obvious Wes still cared about them. He just didn't believe that those people gave a damn about him.

Or did he? Gunn's brow scrunched in consternation. Why else would he have sent that letter?

It couldn't have just been to let them know about that missing Della Bosca girl, could it? A car horn blared from behind the truck and Gunn realised the light was now green. Resisting the urge to retaliate, he put the truck into gear and decided there had to be more to Wesley's actions than that. Wes must have wanted Gunn, at least, to know what had happened and where the fool had gone.

Why? Was he bitter enough to want Gunn to feel guilty because Wes was trying to save Siedel? Prove he was better than Gunn because Wes was trying to put right what he'd done and Gunn wasn't? No, that idea was nothing but ridiculous. Wes didn't even know that Gunn had anything to do with what had happened to the professor.

So, did Wes just wanna stick it to Gunn's face that he was willing to put his life on the line to fix Fred's mistakes? As if that somehow proved that Wes loved her more or something? Well, yeah actually, Gunn could somehow see Wes doing just that, even though it seemed kinda petty. Wes certainly wasn't above being petty.

But would Wes really do something this suicidal just to be petty? Once Gunn would have said, "No way!", but now he was kinda thinking, "Well, maybe".

Or was there really nothing suicidal about this at all? Was it just that Wes really believed that he would be able to rescue Professor Siedel and Laurie Drummond and return without any assistance from Gunn?

Hell, he'd probably even half-believed that Gunn would just follow his instructions about rescuing the Della Bosca girl, as if Wes was still running the agency or something.

But the big question was did Wes really believe that Gunn and the rest of them wouldn't follow him into hell just to make sure that he got out alive?

Yeah, he probably did.

The idiot driving the car in front of them slowed suddenly and this time Gunn did use the horn. Fred looked over at him and this time their eyes did meet. Hers were still red but no longer moist, although they did overflow with sympathy.

"We're almost there, Charles," she whispered, obviously trying to reassure rather than reproach him.

"Yeah, I know," Gunn sighed heavily as he turned back to road and took the last corner before reaching Wesley's building. Fred's obvious nervousness was giving him yet another uncomfortable twinge. She had been unnaturally quiet for the entire drive there, almost as if she'd been scared to interrupt the silent rage that seemed to be seeping from his very pores, and he'd been glad of her silence even though he knew she needed to talk to try and ease her own mind.

But she said nothing further, when he parked the truck and led the way up to Wes' apartment.

She had already told him that she still remembered the spell to get them to that hell dimension Wes had followed Siedel to, but they both knew that they still needed to take a look around Wesley's place to check out if he'd left any other clues about what he'd been doing. They needed a plan and every little bit of information might help.

God, thought Gunn, now I'm even beginning to think like Wes!

When they reached the top of the stairs, Fred found her voice again. "Maybe it woulda been better to have Angel and Cordy come too?"

Gunn shook his head. "No, Wes was right. Someone has to rescue that girl. Probably best to get Angel to do it, and Cordy said that she knew how to find Groo. And he's definitely the guy ya wanna send to Pylea, former champion and ruler of the place and all that. Don't worry. We'll probably be back at the hotel before they're even done packin' for their trip. And we'll drag Wesley's stupid ass back there with us."

"You really think so?" Her voice was small and uncertain and on the verge of tears again.

"Baby, I know so. We're goin' in there and draggin' him out. I ain't takin' no for an answer." Gunn gave her a grim sideways smile.

"If he's even still alive." Fred picked at a cuticle, her face downcast and hidden by her disheveled hair. Gunn brushed a lock back so that he could see her eyes and she brought them up to meet his.

"Don't talk like that, Fred," he chided her gently. "Sure, he's gonna be alive. I know Wes does some really dumbass things sometimes, and this has gotta be one of the dumbest-ass of all. But think who you're talking about. You don't really believe he didn't already plan all this down to the tiniest little detail, do you?"

"No," she said, her hesitation letting him know she was trying to strike a difficult balance between not being too supportive of Wesley and yet not condemning him outright, "but you and I both know that things don't always work out the way he plans them. Like you don't really think he planned on gettin' his throat cut that night when he took Connor, do you?"

They'd reached Wesley's door and Gunn turned back to look directly into her eyes, as he said very firmly, "Fred, he's alive and we're gonna find him and we're gonna bring him back." He managed to produce what he hoped was an encouraging smile for her. "And then I'm gonna kick his ass for being a damn fool and you can help by telling him just how stupid he's been and using them big words he seems to actually respect."

Fred found a small smile too. "I think he's always respected your ass-kickin' ability."

"Damn straight!" Gunn couldn't help grinning. For a moment, he found himself believing that it would all be as straight forward as he'd just said it would be.

He stood in front of the door and then drew back a few steps ready to break it down. But just as his shoulder made contact, the door opened suddenly and he stumbled awkwardly into the apartment.

"Well, well, well," a familiar voice purred. "Charles Gunn. And look, there's little Miss Physics 2003 right behind him. Now what would the pair of you be doing breaking into Wesley's flat?"

"Lilah!" Fred exclaimed. "What are you doin' here?"

"Well, even though I asked you first..." Lilah Morgan smirked indulgently. "I've got nothing to hide. It's quite simple. I'm looking for Wes. He and I have some unfinished business."

Gunn almost did a double take. Wes? When did Lilah start calling him "Wes"? And what was she doing in Wesley's flat, holding the door open like some hostess inviting them in to a party?

"You're lyin'!" Fred burst out. "Wesley would never work for Wolfram and Hart!"

"True enough." Lilah folded her arms and leaned against the doorway. "It's not really company business, just a little sideline that the two of us have got going which we've found to be mutually beneficial." She gave them one of her predatory feline grins. "And one that doesn't compromise our Wesley's little crusade against the forces of darkness too much, of course. So, don't be worryin' yer pretty little head about that."

Had Lilah just mimicked a Texas accent for a second there? Fred's eyes narrowed at the self-satisfied older woman, her jaw clenched so hard that Gunn worried she might break a tooth. "What do you mean?" she demanded, squeezing the words between tight lips.

Gunn had an uneasy suspicion he had quite a good idea what Lilah meant and it wasn't a pretty thought. And the way Fred was reacting to all this made him even more uneasy. But all that didn't really matter right now.

Lilah didn't seem to want go into it either and she waved the question away.

"Not important right now. I suspect what's really important is finding out where Wesley has gone. I simply got a cryptic message saying he'd be out of town for a few days. Now you lot haven't cared to look him up much recently and yet here you are now, seeming to be all concerned about his welfare. So, I'm guessing that you got a more detailed description of what he's currently up to... and that it's something appallingly dangerous. Am I right?"

"Don't tell her, Charles!" Fred's voice was cold and hard.

But Gunn didn't think she was being very logical about this. "Why not? It's not like she can hurt him, even if she wanted to."

He saw Lilah's eyes flicker but she said nothing, clearly waiting for them to make up their minds on whether to share their info or not.

Fred walked right up to Lilah and got in her face. Gunn thought it looked kinda impressive. They stared one another down for a few seconds before Fred said coldly, "He's gone to another dimension to try and save somebody."

Lilah raised her eyebrows. "Pylea again?"

Gunn fleetingly wondered if Wes had told her about that, but then he remembered the Wolf, Ram and Hart books back in Pylea and realised that she'd probably just found out through her evil know-it-all law firm.

"No," he informed her. "Another one."

"Another one? You people do get around. So what now? You two follow him there?"

Gunn didn't reply. It was obvious that Lilah knew the answer anyway.

"Don't be alarmed, kiddies. I just want to see him returned to the bosom of his loving family. Figuratively speaking, of course, unless there's something about the closeness all you goody-goods seem to have that you'd care to share."

Gunn's expression turned from scornful to sceptical and he knew that Fred's unseen gaze was frankly incredulous.

Lilah just grinned at them and gestured to a corner of the room where several boxes were stacked.

"You'll want to take at least as much protective equipment and supplies with you as he did. I've organised a month's supply of standard army rations, the latest in protective suits and oxygen breathing equipment. The suits are a Wolfram & Hart prototype actually, bullet proof, fire proof, etc, etc. But try not to get them too dirty – I'm having a hard enough time figuring out how to expense this stuff as it is without worrying about damage costs. Oh – and here's one of our new portable shelters. Shouldn't be too hard to figure out if you've been camping before – you have been camping before, right? And look – they actually packed the Rod of Auer I asked for. One of the standard magical implements used for locating human souls, although we have no idea if it will work in an alternate dimension. Be interesting to find out, though, don't you think?" She looked impossibly pleased with herself, as if she'd managed to swallow the Tweety Bird even though it had supposedly been locked safely inside its cage.

Might as well have a yellow feather sticking out of her mouth, Gunn thought sourly.

Folding the box lid shut, Lilah dusted off her hands. "That takes care of my little alibi. I'll just write it up as a Field Experiment with no one at the firm any the wiser. Just don't get killed. I don't even want to think about how much of a waste of time this will all have been if you don't bring back what you're looking for."

"What? How did you..." Gunn wasn't sure if he said it or Fred did.

"Oh, please!" Lilah reached to a shelf behind her and held up a pad of writing paper composed of pale blue pages of exactly the same shape and size as the ones Wesley's letter had been written on. "He wasn't even trying to hide his trail. This was just left lying on the coffee table. And yes, he wrote several pages one on top of the other making the indentations left by the pen that much harder to read. But hey, we've got a really neat little scanner at the office that deciphers all that in mere seconds. State of the Dark Art, you might say. And he left receipts from wilderness and adventure stores and even various mystical retailers in his desk drawer. Like I said, he wasn't even trying."

"But why..." Fred voice sounded small and dazed.

Lilah seemed to become more serious. She almost seemed earnest. And despite all he knew about her, Gunn found it hard not to believe what she was saying.

"I don't want Wes stuck in a hell dimension. I want him back here in this dimension, fighting his little battles but not encroaching on my turf too much. There's only so much in terms of resources that I can wangle out of Wolfram & Hart for this because, as I said, Wes isn't involved in company business. And the Senior Partners certainly wouldn't condone me or any other Wolfram & Hart personnel travelling to a hell dimension to search for someone who isn't directly involved in a current company project."

"But they won't mind us two risking our lives to field test some of your prototype equipment for you, isn't that right?" Gunn said derisively, crossing his arms over his chest.

Lilah grinned again with feigned jocularity. "Absolutely. I'm seeing it as beneficial all round." Fred was still eyeing her suspiciously. "You're sayin' that you'll just give us all this equipment–? " "–Well, more like lend it to you. I'll want it back with a full report on how it tested in the field." "You'll lend it to us free of charge," Fred repeated, speaking very distinctly so as to minimise her accent while Lilah looked more and more amused, "just so we can go look for Wes?" Lilah planted her hands on her hips, gunslinger-style. "Well... yeah. Have you never heard of not looking a gift horse in the mouth, Miss Burkle?" "I sure as hell don't trust gifts from you!" Fred flared. "You could have set this all up, sent Wes to that place, made him write that letter." "Made him write that letter?" Lilah raised her eyebrows again. "Do you really think there's anything I could have done to make him deliberately hurt you in that way? Seriously? Or do you just want to believe it's not true? It would all be a whole lot easier for you to wipe away the black stains on your conscience if it wasn't. And really this whole thing has been about various people trying to make things easier for you, hasn't it, Miss Burkle?" Lilah then produced one of the cruellest smiles Gunn had ever seen. "So, how about you just don't worry about it all then? Wes is very capable." They watched her run her tongue over her upper teeth, which was a strangely disconcerting gesture. "I'm sure he'll be able to look after himself, even in the depths of hell. That's more or less what you – his dear, dear friends – have been expecting from him all this time, isn't it? I'm sure he can cope with whatever troubles he's facing by himself. Come to think of it, he'd probably die of shock if any of you actually went out of your way to give him a hand. So, you two can just sit tight here. Or maybe you'd be more comfortable back at your little hotel headquarters? I'll leave it to you to decide." She glanced at her watch. "I really should be getting back to the office. You know how it is – places to go, people to kill." Her eyes crinkled. "A little Wolfram & Hart in-joke. You understand." Her gaze fell upon the stack of boxes in the corner and she gave a little sigh. "Well, since I've already gone to all the trouble of filling out the paperwork on all this stuff, I might as well leave them for Wes when he gets back. I have no doubt the rogue do-gooder will find a use for them." With a shrug, she sauntered out of the apartment, stopping to turn back briefly once she reached the corridor outside. "I'll leave the two of you to close up, shall I? It's lucky I was here to let you in – it would have been so tedious for you if you'd broken down the door and were forced to wait for a locksmith. Time and tide wait for no man, woman or – child." Her gaze lingered on Fred whose jaw clenched even tighter, as Lilah smirked. "Oh, and Mr. Gunn...?" Gunn answered in spite of himself. "What?" "When you kick his ass, be a pal and give it few choice kicks from me, too. He deserves it. This has to be one of the most idiotic things he's ever done." With a small wave, she disappeared down the corridor. "Bon voyage" drifted along the empty passageway behind her. Gunn and Fred stood staring after her until the sound of her car engine revving and peeling off died away. "Charles, what the hell just happened?" Fred finally asked. Gunn shook his head, still kind of dazed. "Seems like we're gonna go through a portal to a place no one has ever come back from yet, to rescue a friend who – I dunno – musta took me too seriously last time I told him to go to hell. He's there cause he's tryin' to save a guy he thinks he helped you send to hell a week ago – but he don't know the guy's dead – oh, and there's also that excuse about him gettin' info from that Drummond woman. So, we're goin' to get him back, usin' gear supplied by the most evil law firm in any dimension. And I am so gonna kick his skinny English ass for bein' so stupid – and Lilah wants me to kick it a few times for her too, cause she agrees with me. That about it?" "In a nutshell, yeah," Fred sighed. Walking over to Wesley's bookshelves, she took down the book containing the spell to open the portal and tucked it under her arm. "Guess we'd better get started then." Gunn closed Wesley's apartment door, secured all its numerous locks and then pushed one of the weapons chests in front of it, just to be extra sure. Fred looked at him questioningly and he shrugged, "Can't be too careful – not when the bitch from Evil Incorporated seems to have a key." Fred grinned at that and the two of them headed over to the corner where the Wolfram & Hart boxes were stacked. Sorting through the various packages of supplies, Gunn managed to drop the Rod of Auer on his foot. Damn thing was heavy! Through gritted teeth, he repeated what he just knew was going to be his mantra for the foreseeable future, as he visualised the only nice soft place he could put his foot that would make everything, including his aching big toe, feel so much better. "English, I am so kicking your ass," he said, before locking eyes with Fred. "C'mon, Texas Rangerette. Let's portal."