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PART 2

5.

A breeze tossed particles against her skin. She blinked, squinted and shielded her eyes against the barrage. Vision didn't help much. She saw only the same alien landscape stretching out around in all directions.

A floor of grey ash, softening and giving beneath her heels.

A featureless grey-white sky soaring up into a giddying eternity.

A forest of pillars irregular intervals apart; uneven dark stalks like dead and petrified trees rising to scale the same endless heights as the sky.

No sign of end or interruption upon any horizon.

She didn't need Wesley and his books and painstaking research to tell her this place was a shrine to desolation.

Lilah walked through the dust, through the pillars, head down to avoid the vertigo of looking up, searching for - anything. Anyone. Mainly Wesley. The footprints she left in her wake sagged back into the dust of the ground, vanishing within seconds, and this place seemed as soundless as though she'd been deafened. Her feet made no noise, the wind no more than that. She could feel her heart pounding, but couldn't hear it. Her mouth was dry and her throat ached with fear.

The wind swirled the dust in unnatural little eddies and currents, spiralling, drawing pictures in the air. Its touch slid down her neck and shoulder like the caress of some slimy, living thing, and she shuddered, backed into a pillar and flinched from the texture of leathery dead flesh.

Something cold whispered through her brain.

//Lilah...//

She was in a goddamned hell dimension. Damn Wesley's little ex-friends. And damn him, too, for letting this happen.

Except they already were, all of them, damned. A giggle escaped her and she put a hand to her lips to keep in the hysteria. Realised only then that she'd heard sound.

She opened her mouth and shouted.

"Wesley!"

The cry hit the air, blazed through it like the passing of a supersonic jet direct overhead, fractured and spun around her. Its echo seemed to linger an eternity. By the time it ended she was on her knees in the dust, hands pressed over her ears, sobbing in soundless dry heaves.

Fuck.

She staggered up again, refilled her lungs determined not to be defeated.

"Wesley!"

Back on her knees, her skirt covered in dust, her head spinning.

"Goddamn it." She got one foot under her. A hand caught her by her hair and slammed her face-down in the dust.

Glass broke and she heard it shatter, felt sharp points nick her exposed skin. More caught in her clothes as she fell and were rammed through the fabric into flesh, trapped between her body and the floor as she hit.

The ground felt soft, like carpeting.

"He's not coming. You can't do anything without a man to answer your beck and call, can you?"

She choked on the dust she'd been spitting. She knew the voice. But he couldn't be here, any more than the carpet or broken glass-

He pulled her over, his hands to the throat she was still trying to force air through.

She gaped up and saw him standing over her/gaped up and saw nothing but the landscape of dust and columns and sky.

It wasn't like she should be surprised to find him a resident of her own personal Hell.

"Gavin, you f-"

A fist landed on the right side of her jaw, backswung to catch her left cheek. "Now, Lilah, you know I won't tolerate that." He yanked her around like a toy on a string and planted an elbow in her eye.

And yeah, she'd been here, done this (where the hell had her goddamn office come from?), knew the ending. Struggling didn't prove any more successful than it had the first time around as he dragged her to the desk, curled a hand through her hair and slammed her forehead into the edge of the wood, and the daze that followed reduced her to sickly-remembered passivity as he draped her across the desktop and ran a hand up her skirt.

"This isn't real," she said, her voice blurred, and she hadn't said that last time. "You get that? You're not even real, you little shit, you're just a re-run."

"You know how long I've been waiting to screw you, Lilah?" he breathed in her ear, oblivious, one hand curled under her back, the other busy elsewhere. Her gasp got stuck in her throat and choked her. "Everyone else gets to screw you. The firm gets to screw you. Why should I be left out? Come on, Lilah, it's not exactly an exclusive venue."

Her hands flailed to push him off, and he slapped them away like butterflies. They fluttered over the surface of the desk-

No!

"Shit, no, you bastards!" the words wrenched from her throat, screamed up into the grey sky and the empty world and all the nothing that was in front of her. Her hands touched nothing, her back ground into the desk and there was fucking. nothing. there. "You fucks... you bastards... what the hell is this...? this wasn't what happened... didn't happen... fuck, this didn't happen... where's the file on the desk... the file... where's the fucking file... I know there was a file... I picked it up and I put a dent in the bastard's skull that had him hospitalised a week and I broke three of his ribs and whythefuck is this happening-!"

Someone grabbed her by the shoulders, pulled her away from Gavin, slapped her across the face and threw her back into the dust.

"You little whore."

"Wha-?" Her whole body was raw and she couldn't form words properly with her battered mouth.

Where the hell was Gavin? Because she wanted him back. Fine, her personal eternal torment was Gavin Park's scrawny little prick, so bring it on. Like, now.

She stared up at the owner of the accusing voice and shook all over. Noticed numbly how the oily-fingered breeze blew dust on the ground away to reveal tiles, their pattern distinct and half-forgotten, and sculpted the walls of an old hallway. "You're. Not. Here," she articulated with all the clarity she could muster.

Mother was crying. She'd always been good at that, in both her incarnations.

This version was younger as Lilah had almost forgotten her ever being, younger but still old, blue-checked house dress scraping the tiles, collecting up dust. "You'd prefer I wasn't. That I couldn't see how filthy you are. Offer yourself to any man who could pull you up another step on your glorious career. Was it worth it, Lilah? Now you've gotten so far, was it worth it? I knew you were dirty. I knew it ever since I came back and found you with him..."

A hallucination. It had to be. A hallucination, to know who she was and what she'd done. And surely she could tell a hallucination to fuck off-

"I suppose you won't believe me now any more than you did then that it wasn't actually by choice," she croaked. "I guess who cares anyway, when all the others were? Water under the bridge as they say and, in fact, he did me a favour. Taught me something about life, as the cliche goes."

"Don't you talk like this to me. You're still my daughter."

"Yeah? When did that happen? Last time I had a conversation with you when you remembered my name it featured considerable protest to the contrary. But, hell, you know I wasn't going to be poor. So what else was I going to do after dad died when you got with the fucking Bible Bunch full-time and didn't give a damn that the money was drying up while you were out crusading?"

"While you were out with your dirty men." Her bony hands wrung in the fabric of her dress. "Damning yourself."

"Yeah? You never did understand that it's all just skin. I was just trading in skin. Skin and bone and flesh and blood but, hey, I signed away my soul too, so I guess you were right about me after all, all those years. Does that make you happy?"

"I'll see you repent your sins if it's the last thing I do." Mother bent down and Lilah was forced to stand on bruised and aching thighs that shivered under her weight, the shaking memory of a fifteen-year-old's legs. "I'll take you to the priest, and you'll repent."

"The hell I will!" Lilah screamed and struggled against muscles powered by single-minded faith. "Get the hell off of me, you crazy old woman, get the hell off and leave me alone. You're not my fucking mother. In case you forgot, you forgot me, you bitch, you spent your life trying to make me someone else and when you couldn't you tried to forget I existed and then you finally fucking did! That money you hated so much is what kept you alive for the past six years and you don't know who the hell I am so leave me alone I'm not going with you and don't you fucking pretend you forgot me for any other reason than because you WANTED TO-"

***

He had to find Fred.

Was beginning to doubt the possibility of ever finding anything, here. Place was creeping him out. Ashes and weird-ass pillars leading from nothing to nothing and the kind of silence that made him want to yell like a crazy man to fill it.

As hell dimensions went, though - he could imagine worse options. No sign, at least, of fire and brimstone. Not much of anything.

Unreality pervaded the place, yeah; the pillars felt weird and the dust was kinda creepy in itself, too much like funerary ash for comfort, and the air he breathed lacked the city fumes of LA but was somehow dead and stale all the same.

And Fred... she might be here somewhere, alone, maybe in trouble, maybe afraid. Because of him.

Not just because of him. God damn Wesley for a stinking traitor.

He remembered the confused instant before the world fragmented into darkness and he found himself in this dead place. Fred had been hanging on his arm and yelling something, and the lawyer bitch on his other arm, but they'd disappeared and there'd been no sign of Wesley either. The demon eight-ball had touched them both - his chest burned where it had. If he was here, so was Wesley. Maybe the women.

He couldn't deal with the idea of Fred being here. Not after Pylea. The thought sped his steps through the desolate monotony of a world.

Through the swirling dust and something like the heat-haze of a nonexistent sun that permeated the air close to the ground, he caught a glimpse of a figure up ahead, before they were lost again in the forest of pillars.

"Hey!" he yelled, not liking the way his voice bounced back at him with volume way past the threshold of pain. He staggered and covered his ears, pressed his lips together and started running.

He was drawn on by sightings of the figure - slim, dressed in dark clothes, could have been Fred, too distant to tell for sure - who seemed to hold an impossible lead considering their meandering pace looked barely a saunter.

"Charles Gunn. Been a while since I saw you 'round these parts."

He froze. Behind him, leaning against a pillar-

"George? Man, you're dead. Love to chat and catch up on times, but I got better things to do than talk to some hallucination."

Breathing heavy, he turned his back. Whoever he'd been following still flitted in and out of view up ahead. He needed to catch them-

"Narrow of you, brother." George tagged at his side; he had Gunn's axe in his hand and it dripped blood that looked red and human. George had a pair of small puncture wounds in the side of his throat and wore his collar turned down as though to show them off. "I need to get seeing to the rights of dead black Americans, 'cause they're being seriously overlooked. Would've thought you could get behind that."

Gunn's skin crawled as the spectre followed him through the dust. Not threatening, but creepy as hell. Shadowed by his own personal ghost.

Wasn't real. Couldn't be real. Damn hallucination-rife hell dimension.

He wondered whose blood was on the axe.

"It's all right, dog," George said. "You know I forgive you, right? I wouldn't blame you for what happened. We could've waited. You had places to go, people to see. Your new group. They do good work, I heard. Or they used to. Not so much lately, with the in-fighting. You got my sympathy though, man. Never a good thing when families start to break apart."

"Never is," Gunn said.

The slim figure he followed glanced back but he couldn't make out any more detail than a white face, dark hair.

"You're cold, man..."

He quickened his pace. After a moment, he realised he was leaving George behind. The thud in his chest ousted transient relief at getting rid of the spectre, but when he paused and turned, it was too late. There wasn't anything there to go back for.

He twisted his eyes again to front to see the figure tantalisingly near. A last burst of running and he rounded a pillar to plant his hand on a slim shoulder.

"Hey, thank God I found-"

Wesley spun, shaking his hand off. "Don't touch me, please," he said with that kind of polite aloofness that had always pissed Gunn off the most.

"Shit."

Wesley gifted him a disapproving frown. "You left me behind, found the new thing, moved on." His English voice made ridiculous an attempt to mimic Gunn's speech patterns. "You don't get to kiss and make up now."

Gunn did what he pretty much always wanted to do to Wes in his smug-ass superior mode and had wanted to do a whole lot more the last couple of hours and swung a fist that slammed the superiority off his face. "You bastard. You got us into this shit."

"Responsibility really is an alien concept to you, isn't it?" There was blood on Wesley's lip and his tongue crept out to clean it away, unperturbed. Gunn stared at him a long moment.

"You ain't Wesley."

Wesley was pissed as hell right back at him at the moment. Wesley would have hit back.

"I know. It's fascinating, really. The temporary reality of these memory projections... this is really how you pigeonhole me inside your head?"

"Man, I'd forgotten how much you used to talk."

"Ah, yes. Thank you. I believe I may have been meandering from the subject a little." His eyes filled with hurt accusation and - irritatingly - pity and he crossed his arms over his chest. "I know you can't help it, but I really am terribly angry. I thought we were friends, but... you ceased to care so quickly. Like a snap of the fingers, and with a soul in your heart. But how could you not? You've seen too much. You've done things, and lost people. Too many things, too many people. Most before I ever even knew you."

"Damn, Wesley. What was that again? Think I drifted off there." This was illusion only. He wasn't about to let a phantom manipulate his emotions. He'd find the real Wesley, who had to be around here somewhere, and beat his face in.

He started to walk away. He'd left George behind, he could outrun Wes too.

Wesley's voice trailed him. "You think you can live in this world, pretend the killer in you and the hole in your heart doesn't matter. You can have the normal life, the normal girl. Pay taxes, grow old, be the good citizen. But you and I know better, don't we? I've seen how much you enjoy the fight."

Gunn stopped walking and rounded on him. "Shut the hell up, you fake."

"I'm not the only illusion here. You know of course she's hardly normal, don't you? There're all the physics degrees and the five years in a demon dimension, for a start."

"And that's what this is about, right? Well, she picked me, not you. For all your fancy talk and your big brain and the fact you both have so much more in common and she'd probably be - she picked me, all right?"

"Hardly the point I was making, as a matter of fact. But never mind, we're moving on now, anyway. Oh, and isn't that a wonderful irony? You've learned to move on so well, Charles, to accept loss and move forward, you forget that sometimes it's just the same as giving up."

"Damn it-" Stop. Swallow. Not real.

"How long do you think it will take for you to move on from her? If she dies, if you get her killed? Or will that be the last stroke? Do you perhaps see her as your connection to humanity?" Not-Wesley barked a long, bitter, laugh that echoed around the pillars and sky to surround them on all sides.

"I said shut the hell up!" Gunn's temper snapped, pressured by the amused tick of a sardonic smile and a world full of maddening hollow laughter, and he was shouting into Wesley's face. Wesley looked undaunted - fact, Wesley looked like he had every intention of keeping talking until someone beat him into unconsciousness.

Damn. He breathed, tried to get a grip. Illusions...

"I always thought we were alike, Gunn. You lost your Reason, but you kept on fighting. Because the fight was more important. But was it really the fight, or was it the kill?"

Gunn knocked him down and he kept talking. Hit him again. Again, and still with the words. He wasn't even sure they were coming out of Wesley's mouth any more or forming as heard in his own brain. His ears were full of bees and he couldn't see his adversary's lips move. Wesley wasn't making any effort to defend himself, but Gunn didn't giveafuck. Hits that should've knocked him cold weren't even making enough of an impression to break the flow of the goddamn words.

George's axe - his axe - was on the ground at his feet, the blade glinting as dust shifted over its surface. He snatched it up, brought it down.

Wesley still talked with his head half-severed from his neck.

He kept swinging the axe until the shape on the ground was unrecognisable and he was splashed over with red like he'd bathed himself in the stuff. It was only then the horror jumped him and sucker-punched him to his knees in the blood and dust. Hands to his face - they were wet. Streaked his cheeks and jaw like war paint as he pulled them down.

Gunn stared at his hands; the red gloves they wore.

"That wasn't real," he said aloud. He heard his voice shake. He repeated the denial, a yell the empty world tossed back at him distorted.

"Hell, no, big bro," the voice of Reason at his back said. "But I sure hope you're not gonna try deny it might as well have been."

***

She had been here years.

No. Not years. No? Maybe years?

She didn't know how long it had been. A long time.

She had been here a long time.

Here was desert, or at least something quite like desert. It wasn't warm, and its floor was ash instead of ground rock particles, and there was no sun, no seasons, no day and night, columns like some big old Roman temple except the temple was the world because there was no roof, no floor only ground and sky. There were no animals to hunt, no vegetation to feed on, unlike Pylea, but she didn't seem to need nourishment in this place. She wasn't even sure the air was - well, air.

Likewise there were no green people or grey people or hairy people or spiny people to hunt her, but there was so little else she missed even those. Man - or woman, she supposed with a giggle - couldn't live on a vacuum.

Vacuum, desolation, despondency... despair. A world of emptiness, a temple to despair. She remembered that phrase, coming back to her in a flash like she'd read it somewhere, or maybe heard it spoken.

She smiled at the memory of books and talk.

Perhaps she was dead. Perhaps dreaming. Pylea had been a dream, hadn't it? Or had that been the other place?

She remembered-

There had been a dark-skinned man, a good man, who held her and loved her and said sweet things, and they lived together and ate together and fought evil together. Before that-

Other faces. Another man... not really a man at all; a hero, a monster, a knight on a white charger. A princess, brave and funny and kind, and kinda scary too some of the time. One of the green people, only not like the other green people who didn't tend to wear bright colours and burst into song.

A third man. Clever and soft-voiced and nice. Until he wasn't.

She caught them in glimpses among the jumble in her head that lacked logic or order. A frustration - logic and order turned the universe around, didn'tyaknow, and she'd an inkling her brain used to have a significant reliance on them too. In their absence, things fell apart. Chaos and madness were no good, no good at all.

A bright flash of darkness - and see, logic had packed its bags outta this place, or how could darkness be bright? - had put an end to the dream world where things made sense and had brought her back to this one.

She slunk through the endless landscape, cowering down behind columns, ducking between them. Nobody was in sight and she was sure she would've looked pretty odd to them if anyone had been, but you never knew. She'd learned that, yes. Sometimes the things you saw weren't real. Sometimes you were seeing so many things that weren't real you didn't see the things that were real at all.

For all she knew, the denizens of this place could be invisible. Strings of calculations and theory poured through her head at the idea - how would invisibility work? The calculations came as natural as the animal caution that imbued her movements.

Dust and dust and dust... how long had she been journeying?

She was lost. She knew she was. She was lost and she needed to find her way back again. Back, back... back to the grim kind man from the world she'd dreamed?

That sounded right. She caught a tantalising glimpse of a name and pounced, tracked, hunted it down.

Gunn. Gunn, his name was Gunn. Such a strange name. Not a name but a thing. A - she ransacked the disarray of her brain for the right image. A weapon. Like a crossbow, but not at all really.

It fit the man in her thoughts very well.

So, Gunn. Maybe he was lost, too. If so, she had to find him. He'd never been lost before and he wouldn't understand what to do, wouldn't be able to look after himself so well as she knew how. She would be able to show him.

She searched through the columns, peering around, keeping her caution. It was like a forest. Or a parking garage. Darkness and cement pillars. She giggled and hushed herself as she heard the sound fall peculiar on the air. Yes, just like a parking garage, only it wasn't dark here.

Well, only on the inside.

Inside...

No sun in the sky for illumination. The light wasn't real.

She dropped into a crouch, chasing her thoughts. The dust tickled at her knees.

Not real not real not real not real...

She was doing it all wrong. The dream was to blame. It had got into her brain, dulling her instincts, making her stupid.

She closed her eyes, tried to close her ears, block treacherous outside stimuli that could be faked. Really felt instead of just seeing, listening, feeling, and felt them all around her, not so far away at all. And so scared, so much fear and anger and hate, and she had to-

Fell through a rabbit-hole in reality and reached out and touched-

"Gunn?"

He was laying into the ground with bloodied fists, struggling as though against an opponent. She scrambled to his aid, aimed sharp kicks where the head of the invisible attacker ought be.

"Get off him! Don't you hurt him!"

Her kicks failed to connect. As he continued fighting, she cautiously went down on hands and knees and felt for his opponent, and her hands passed through air.

Gunn drew to a halt and looked up at her breathing raggedly. "Dead," he said, voice raw, face stretched in horror.

"Dead?" A revelation, as the lost look in his eyes told her she wasn't the one seeing things - or not seeing things - here.

She ran her hands again through the area he stared at so blankly, sifted sand through her fingers. Picked two handfuls and let it run out of her palms in rivers. The living wind caught some of it on its way to the ground and abraded it against her skin.

"There's nothing here," she said. "Look. Just dust. It wasn't real. Come with me, please, we have to find our way."

She let the last of the dust trickle away and stood. Held her hands out to him, for all the use her strength would be in heaving his tall frame upright if it didn't want to cooperate.

"He wasn't real?"

"No. I don't think anything here is. You haven't hurt anybody."

"Nuh-uh. Doesn't matter. He's still dead. The others, too. It doesn't matter whether they were real or not, 'cause they were real to me when I killed them."

He was on his feet now, but backing away from her. "You need to stay away from me, girl. You need to. There ain't nothing I do but kill. Sticking with me is the best way to get yourself made a corpse."

"You know that's not true." She leaned forward to grip his shoulders, held on tight when he flinched back. Another name broke free of the morass in her brain. "Charles. Charles... you have to believe me. You're a good man. You wouldn't hurt me."

She remembered saying those words to somebody else, who'd gone on to prove her wrong, and bit her lip to stop the thought running out of her mouth.

He was staring at her, blinking as though really seeing her for the first time. "Fred?"

"Yes!" She jumped in excitement. She'd known she had a name, for all that she'd lost it again in this place. She hugged him for giving it back to her. "Yes, it's Fred, Charles, it's Fred!"

He was laughing with a strained wonder, and the sanity was beginning to return to his eyes. Fred loosed her grip to lean back and take in a better view of his face.

"It's this place. It tricks you and it gets into your head but it's not real. You have to remember that it's not real and then we'll be all right. Whatever it tricked you into thinking, you have to not think about that, okay? Okay?"

"Fred, you-" She saw the edges of his smile fall. "Oh, man, no. You - what did this place do to you?"

"What?" She heard her voice shrink and then her throat swallowed it up completely and she looked down at herself, clad in rags, lifted a hand to her face and remembered she'd had glasses there but they weren't there anymore, which explained why the world was blurry...

She felt his hands on the side of her face and he lifted her head up. She tried to smile at him. It came out wrong. Her thoughts broke loose and followed. "No, no, no, no... I - I'm crazy, aren't I? I'm crazy again and you don't love me any more now I'm crazy. And I mean, that's okay, 'cause who would, and I can't blame you for that..."

She felt him stiffen through the contact of his warm palms. "Damn it, Fred. 'Course I do. I love you crazy, I love all of you, no matter what. It doesn't matter."

"Really? I mean, would you still love me if I had no arms or legs?" She squinted at him, curious at this declaration.

"Baby, I'd love you if you were a brain in a jar."

She giggled as her crazy brain in her head dug up the memory of that movie. "You really mean that?"

"Sure I do. No matter what. And things'll get better, just like they did before. I already know how strong you are. You gonna be all right?"

She nodded brightly. "Are we escaping?"

"Yeah," he said. "We're getting out of here. We're gonna go find that bastard Wesley and make him get us the hell back to LA."

***

Connor was following him, slashed throat gaping to expose muscle and cartilage, sometimes an infant crawling impossibly on limbs not developed enough, sometimes that wild teenage boy, sometimes other ages in between, a multitude of small children feral from the hell dimension where he'd consigned them.

Sometimes he blinked and it wasn't Connor, it was Faith, another child of the dark, her eyes like holes and a shard of glass in her hand, gripped tight enough to drip her own blood onto the dust floor. The blood faded away upon landing.

And sometimes it wasn't Connor or Faith. Should he even wonder why all the worst horrors of his life seemed to revolve around these spectres of damaged childhood?

Wesley knew how this place worked, knew that Connor and Faith and that other small boy weren't real, understood the forces that manifested them. It didn't mean they didn't bother him, but - he, of all of them, had to maintain some measure of control in this place. He had the knowledge, knew the rules, knew the theory that might take them home. He suspected the darkness in him ran too deep to permit this dimension full reign over it. He couldn't afford to let go.

It had taken too long as it was to fight free. If the others had also been transported, they could already be lost by now.

"Lilah?"

She was curled in on herself, head buried, arms around her knees. Huddled, rocking back and forth, back and forth. Her hair was in disarray, all trace of style gone. Her neat skirt had become a garment with all the elegance of a grey sack and was scrunched up by her posture, revealing a slice of buttock with a distractingly ugly red weal branded across it. He only recognised her by the process of elimination that confirmed she was certainly neither Gunn nor Fred.

She seemed not to hear him repeat her name.

Wesley knelt and firmly untangled her arms, caught her head between his hands and lifted it. "Li-"

She was just as unrecognisable when he could see her face. It was swollen, bruises darkening her flesh, one eye shut.

She reached out shaking fingers and dug them into his arms, pushing him away. The noise that crawled up out of her throat could only be called a whimper. Her terror of his touch was unmistakable.

He had ice water in his veins, but that touch felt like it was burning him, hot and fierce as a homemade flame-thrower cobbled together from lighter and aerosol spray, and he tried to drop his hold, but she in turn was trying so hard to push him away he couldn't extract himself from her grip.

The terror, the bruises, and he was almost sure he'd been caught up again, all this far too near to the stuff of his own nightmares. Almost sure. It would have been more convincing had it been anyone but Lilah.

"Lilah," he snapped. He couldn't slap her to bring her out of it. That would hardly help, even if there had been any patch on her where he could do that without causing her undue pain. "Lilah! It's Wesley. Whatever it is you've experienced in this place, it wasn't real. It isn't real, none of it. You and me and quite possibly Winifred and Gunn are the only real things here. You have to snap out of it. Can you hear me? It's Wesley. Wesley. You remember, your favourite pet project?"

The expression on her ruined face didn't change visibly, but the pressure of her fingers on his arm stopped trying to push him away and became a desperate, possessive clutch.

For a long moment she just clutched, and breathed, and he counted the rasps of her breath.

Then she said, "Wesley?"

Then she said, "Oh, my God."

And abruptly his arms were full of desperately clinging lawyer, the pressure of her grip creating bands of pain across his chest and back where he'd had his own old scars reopened, too many to count.

She was real, in the midst of this nightmare place, so he held her tightly in return and ignored the pain. She sobbed into his bloody and tattered shirt, and he remembered how once he had held Fred like this, in the midst of danger.

But Lilah was not Fred and after a moment her torn-out emotion silenced, he felt the familiar poise creep back into her form, and she raised her head, loosened her vice-grip a little.

Her eyes flashed with anger and her face was hard under the battered mask. "We have to get out of this fucking place," she said. She looked him up and down. "What the hell happened to you?"

"You did, in a way." He was unable to hold back the sarcasm as that particular connection struck him. "You sent her after Angel, after all, two years ago. I suppose it was more than a little irritating for you when you realised someone else caught the brunt of her aggression."

"The rogue slayer?" A smile touched the edge of Lilah's mouth, until a wince wiped it off again. She shrugged one shoulder daintily. "Nothing personal, Wesley. Bygones, right?"

He glared, too raw to accept her dismissal of it. She should realise how little he too liked being forced play the victim, even if he had been typecast in the role. "So. What happened here?" He traced a finger lightly - but not too lightly - down her swollen cheek, and watched her flinch.

"The day I tell you that, they'll be serving up ice-cream treats in Hell," she said viciously, shoving him away.

"We shouldn't lose each other," he cautioned dryly to her back. "Alone, we could easily get caught up in the visions again. Once our spirits and bodies are broken down, there'll be nothing but the battered threads of our souls left to drift in this place for eternity."

"Right." She reluctantly moved back in close, her shoulder to his. "So how do we get out of here? We can get out of here, right?"

"Yeah, Wes," a voice behind him said with grim joviality. "How do we get outta here? You want to share, bro?"

***