Caught In The Teeth
There had been a break in the pain where everything stopped.
Then he was in darkness and then, for the longest time, there was pain. Pain as an entity that crawled into the hollow of his bones and burned in the corners of eyes he could not wipe and was terrible noises in his stomach and a nausea in his brain that made thought impossible. He was not a person, just someone who had once been able to think and knew that it had been taken from him. And that was the worst of the pain.
And after what seemed like weeks or months, it died away to a background buzz of mere agony, and the lights came on.
'That's what it's going to be like,' a voice said. 'For the rest of eternity. Except when we turn it off to remind you who you were, and why we are doing this. You really have managed, it has to be admitted, to annoy us exceedingly.'
It was his father. Or rather, because intellect sifted back limping behind memory, it was the robot in the shape of his father, because his father did not, so far as Wesley knew, have shattered diodes sticking out of the fractured gloss of his forehead. It really wasn't a good replica, at all.
The terrible thing was, he realized as the pain flooded back and the darkness, was that you would last forever and not go mad past mending. And the knowledge that he had failed everyone, and lost everything, forever was far worse than the pain. He longed for the mercy of forgetfulness to wash over him like a white pillow to cut him off from the world and the past.
He had signed his contract to get a chance of breaking Lilah's, and he had signed his own death warrant and Fred's.
At least, he thought, his bleeding mouth twisting in a moment of happy sardonicism, at least she is utterly annihilated and does not have to face this.
Except that fragments of her flitted inside the wonderful brain she had left behind, and he found space between screams through his broken teeth to wonder how much of Fred there was left to change Illyria. That was the real pain, to be ended and never find out what happened.
That's you, Wyndham-Price, he thought between peaks of fire that washed over him, even now always thinking, and always sentimentalizing.
And suddenly there was light, and a noise of things breaking, and no more pain.
No more pain at all.
He opened his eyes and the first thing he saw was the robot more shattered than could ever be put together again.
And the second thing he saw was Lilah, with an unfeasibly large gun in one hand, and reaching out to pull him off the table with the other.
'Come with me,' she said. 'Quickly.'
He looked at the broken machine at their feet.
'Come with me if you want to live?' he said. 'Hardly appropriate.'
'Living no longer an option,' Lilah said. 'Other things, though, may be.'
And suddenly he was running after her down endless gloomy corridors and there was nothing behind them and a smell of banked fires that were dying for want of fuel.
Eventually, she paused and sniffed the air, and clicked her fingers. Suddenly, there was a large settee in a paneled room and she was sitting down on it, sipping a Margarita. Suddenly, he was no longer torn and shabby, but clean except for a touch of stubble and dressed in smart clothes.
'A lot of it is illusion,' she said. 'They're lazy that way. And cheap. Much of fighting them is a matter of will.'
'Fighting?' he said.
'It's what you do these days, I'm told' Lilah said. 'And whatever happened back in the world, you made an earthquake here. They got sloppy and they got understaffed and reinforcements were having to be sent everywhere. Which is when we saw our chance.'
'We?' Wesley said.
'Oh,' Lilah said. 'You'll know some of the Escape Committee. You sent some of them here yourself, or had a part in it.'
'Lilah,' he said. 'I may have been damned, but I am not sure I want to be part of a cabal that sends a Legion of Supervillains back into the world.'
'Hmm, same old priggish Wesley. It would be a waste to leave you in endless torment, much as you might be prepared to take that for the team.'
She stood up and pointed at him.
'How desperately provincial of you to think that anyone much, once they got out of here, would choose your world, or anything like it, to flee to. And besides, lover' she rolled the word round her lips like poisonous gloss,' it wouldn't be the first time you've made pragmatic alliances. Or been a strange bed fellow.'
She sat down again, and trailed her long delicate fierce hand up the perfectly pressed slope of his thigh.
'And that's the other thing,' Wesley said. 'I have my memories back, now, all of them. And I know what we were. But things changed. And then I lost her.'
Lilah looked at him with tired realism in her eyes.
'I know that,' she said. 'I have not been entirely out of touch.'
And she kissed him chastely on the side of his face.
'I want to work with you, and use your brain, and have you at my side as we fight the Regents, and guarding my back with the worst scum of history to keep in line. And I know you'll do it, because I ask you to, and because there was once a dollar bill that said you would.'
She kissed him again, and he found himself fighting not to respond, and fighting fiery tears that there was nothing left in his heart to give her except, he supposed, his loyalty.
'But,' she said, 'I don't expect any more than that. I rescued you from eternal torment, but there is too much regret between us.'
She stood, clicked her heels, and suddenly they stood on a great battlefield with uncounted hordes behind them and even more facing them.
'I love you forever, and you will never love me again. And that remains true whether or not we prevail this day.'
She waved the banner she was holding to signal the charge.
'After all, Wesley.' Lilah said with her usual smile. 'We are in Hell.'