A/N: I apologize again and again for the lateness. For many reasons, writing got pushed aside a little. However, rest assured that I am back, in full force, and won't be this late again!
The prisoner shrieked, covering her ears, trying to block out the terrifying onslaught of new information flooding her brain. The lights…all the lights had gone out. Now, this…this word and sent her mind firing bells and alarms that the prisoner did not recognize. She didn't know why she was reacting so to this word, but something deep inside her could not stop screaming.
All around her.
Hannah Hannah Hannah Hannah Hannah Hannah Hannah Han—
The prisoner's lips clamped shut suddenly as a hand—her own—covered her mouth. The sound of screaming did not cease. She curled up, shaking, and felt her tears warming her face. She was silent. She did not know what else to do.
"No! No! I have no name!"
Wesley felt his eyes cloud over as the shriek bounded around his head, becoming impossibly loud. He fell to his knees, blood filling his mouth from some unknown source.
Wesley's forehead hit the rough carpet and he closed his eyes, dizzy, as the scream from the basement raced through the halls of Wolfram and Hart. Wes, the proverbial Pandora, had unleashed a monster that only he could feel, and it was everywhere.
Three opposites from one another.
Wesley sighed, his eyes falling shut, and the screaming began to close in. He didn't recall losing consciousness, but the next thing Wesley heard shocked him into realizing it.
"Oh, for the love of god, Wesley, it's only in your head."
A voice. Familiar. It came from the depths of memory from so long ago.
Wesley turned and, sure enough, saw the figure of Rupert Giles emerging from the gloom of his mind.
"Giles? What are you doing here?"
"Wesley," Giles snapped. "You're an arrogant idiot, you know that?"
Wes had to keep his jaw from dropping. In the real world, he had been used to hearing such things from his father; however, although he and Giles had never been the best of friends, they had remained on relatively friendly terms.
"I haven't done anything—"
"—Precisely!" Giles cut in. "You have not done anything to help this girl of yours, even though you have been given the most valuable of clues. Your father would be ashamed of you."
"He already is, in case you have a tendency to miss the obvious."
Giles shook his head and continued to pace. "Roger always held respect for a good puzzle, Wesley, and you have been given a puzzle to solve, one that will make your task infinitely easier. Don't you remember? Three loves, three jailers, three opposites from one another?"
Wesley folded his arms, defensive. "I do remember, Giles," he replied. The older Watcher sighed.
"Have you retained none of your mythology lessons, Wesley? Don't you remember anything about the Norse gods?"
Wesley thought for a moment, and then he remembered. He felt like whacking himself upside the head.
"Of course!" he exclaimed. "The Nords! The three goddesses that control Fate! One represents the past, one the present, one the future. Three women—men love them, and yet they imprison them forever. The past, present and future are all unique, and since they're all equally powerful they are seen as three-way opposites!"
Giles nodded. "Yes. And these three girls you've been seeing, they represent the Nords."
Wesley was already miles ahead. "Lilah is my past—I'm done with her, and she's fading. Fred is the present, and Hannah is the future—" Wes suddenly stopped, remembering the girl, how she turned so swiftly into Illyria in his visions. He looked up to meet Giles' eyes. "But…Illyria…"
Giles looked grim. "She is not just a fly that you can brush away, Wesley. She was never meant to leave you. Illyria is here to stay. She is part of your future."
Wesley went cold. "No. She can't. Fred and I…"
Giles was fading away, his image slowly becoming foggy. "Wesley, you must accept the truth. Illyria is staying in your world, and she may turn out to be an asset to your cause. She is not leaving you. I'm sorry."
He was gone, and Wes awoke. He was sprawled on the basement stairs, the taste of blood in his mouth from where he'd bitten his tongue.
The lights were flickering faintly, slowly coming back to full power, and Wesley was able to see into the basement. What he saw shocked him.
"Wes? Hey, English, are you in here?"
Gunn sighed into the mahogany door of Wes' apartment, and raised his fist to knock again. Wesley and Fred had both disappeared in the same day, and now the lights were out, the demons were gone, and three people had spontaneously dropped dead because the Senior Partners were extremely pissed off.
I had better get paid overtime for this.
Gunn banged his fist on the door, irritated. He felt like he was going to jump out of his own skin. "Come on, Wesley. Please answer. Please."
Digging in his pocket, Gunn found his copy of the key to Wesley's apartment and sighed, pausing a moment before unlocking the room. He felt bad about breaking and entering, but the entire team was needed for this issue with the Senior Partners and the demons that were gone.
"Wes? Okay, English, I've given you enough warning. I'm coming in!" Gunn stepped into Wes' apartment and looked around; all of the doors but one—the door to the bedroom—were open, and the rooms obviously empty. Gunn went to the bedroom door, gripping the brass handle and turning it. "Wes? Wes, we need—"
Gunn stopped short as he opened the door and saw the figure lying on the bed. He felt the blood drain from his face. He didn't breathe. He couldn't.
"Oh, god." Oh, god.
The girl curled up in the cell was nothing like the girl in Wesley's visions. As thin as a concentration camp prisoner, Hannah's eyes were so dead that Wesley wondered for a moment if the girl was actually still alive. Her breaths were shallow, her skin was hanging off her bones, and her gaze held the quiet stiffness of extreme trauma that sent chills through Wes' blood. It was difficult to believe she was a human being.
Wesley felt his feet begin to move down the stairs, and he slowly approached the cell where Hannah sat on the floor. He knelt down to her level, looking through the bars, trying to catch the girl's gaze to no avail.
She looked up for the first time, but did not look directly at Wes; she stared beyond him, a small stream of spit dripping from the corner of her mouth. Wesley wondered how he could not have ever noticed Hannah's presence before; it was quite obvious that she had been tortured for a long time.
"I'm here to help you," Wesley murmured. Hannah's only response was to turn her head and go back to staring at the wall. Wes felt his heart break for her; trauma had penetrated the girl so deeply that it had forced aside all rational thought, destroying her mind—perhaps permanently.
Why would anyone torture someone until they were reduced to this? Wesley wondered. She's so young…why is she here?
"She sees," a voice from behind him rang out clearly, and Hannah's eyes showed a fleeting look of terror before turning grey and lifeless again. Wes turned to see an old man standing in the corridor, dressed in an old green overcoat that was pockmarked with holes where moths had eaten it away.
"I beg your pardon?"
The old man took a step forward, his shadow beginning to block out the light. "She sees. They show her images, dreadful ones, all the time, every day. She can't even tell anyone, because she doesn't like to speak. Only mutterings here and there. Crazy since she was a little girl. Tried to cut out her own voice box, she did, slashed her throat in an attempt to die. Didn't succeed, obviously. Only five years old…silly girl."
Wesley felt sick. "Surely you're not serious."
The old man began to chuckle. "I do not jest, my friend. Young Hannah has been crazy for a long, long time."
"And how long has she been here?"
The old man shrugged. "No matter, my friend. And, just so you know, she has you to thank for her disintegration, really."
Wes' brow furrowed. "I don't understand; I've never even seen this girl before!"
The wizened man chuckled. "Not Hannah, Wesley. Your lover, Fred. You're killing her; I'm merely the janitor who sweeps up the pieces."
The old man pointed to the far wall, where an image seemed to form on the plaster like an old movie; a memory. Wesley saw himself standing in the big board room on the main floor of Wolfram and Hart, surrounded by his friends, the Eye of Animus twined around his hand. The Memory Wesley drew a long deep breath and whispered in Latin; he raised his hand and drew the number 779 in the air.
Wes looked away. He knew what happened next: the world had flashed blue-white for a brilliant second, throwing perception to the edges of the room. The Wesley in the memory lay utterly still, and in the real world Wes could still feel Fred's scream on his skin as he had felt it that night, watching her writhe in his vision. He turned back to the old man as the memory finished, not understanding.
The wrinkled, stained face broke into a frightening smile. "The Kei-An lock, Wesley. It was never meant to be opened, especially not by the likes of you. It set off a chain reaction that cannot be stopped." He chuckled. "Do you know who Kei-An is, my friend? Do you know? It is the name of the demigod known as The Soul Stealer."
Wesley blanched. "No."
The man nodded. "Oh, yes, Wesley. You set off the trap. Had the Box never been touched, Fred would have withered away, gone to whatever Afterlife she believed in. But now..." the man held up his gnarled right hand, showing Wesley what he held: a tiny image of Fred sitting in his palm. "Now, she will know pain greater than any that could ever be imagined by mortals." He squeezed.
Even though the hologram—was it a hologram?—was barely larger than his thumb, Wesley could hear Fred screaming, and felt her bones—worn down and weak already from sickness—straining under Kei-An's hold as surely as if they were his own. Anger surged; realization dawned like a glacial frost, sudden and cold.
"You!" Wes snarled, advancing to attack, but Kei-An tapped his wrist provokingly, reminding Wes of the hologram.
"I advise caution, Wesley."
"Why? You're killing her already! I might as well try!"
Kei-An grinned even wider. "And, of course, there is nothing that you can do. Smart boy. Now, the question is, how can I get you to join her?"
There was a sound from behind; Wesley whipped around to see a shadow detach itself from the wall and advance on him, but it was too late. Wes caught a glimpse of the man's face before his assailant hit him; Wesley saw stars explode before his eyes, and then there was nothing at all but one final, amazing realization:
Ah. The Betrayer. It's him.
Fred's cries didn't last very long; her soul's house ate them up, swallowed them into foreboding silence, until she finally gave up trying to make herself heard. She sat in silence on the bedroom floor, surrounded by debris and chaos, an empty shell. She was nothing. The cold was numbing the pain quickly, but Fred's mind was still reeling; there had never been anything before like this. She had tried to fight it, tried to be strong like she knew she could be, but it was too much. Winifred Burkle had collapsed, letting the pain wash over her in waves, crushing her. She had thought it would be better if she didn't fight it. It wasn't.
Fred? It was not a voice that spoke; it was a thought, but Fred recognized it all the same. Her eyes opened. Smell. Voice. Sound. Him.
He was there. Standing across the room. Facing the door for some reason, with his back to her.
Fred stood, letting her feet carry her across the room, and with only the slightest feeling of dread she took Wesley's sleeve, turned his body, and looked into his face—but Wes' face was no longer there. It had been replaced with a charred, burned mass of flesh that was unrecognizable. Blood dripped from the holes where eyes used to be like tears.
Her hands snapped open, releasing the corpse from her embrace. It slumped against the wall and dissolved into ash.
Fred began to scream. She screamed until the sound held no meaning and her ears were blocking it out, and even then she was unable to stop the terror from rushing through her veins. She screamed and screamed until she, too, began to dissolve—to what nightmare, she could only guess.
Kei-An watched Wesley's body crumple to the floor, and he began to laugh. The old man's figure melted away to reveal the demigod in his true form, a slithering black shadow that dripped blood as it moved.
"You've outdone yourself, Hamilton," he cackled, moving to the cell to watch Hannah cower. "It's all falling into place."
The assassin stepped forward, out of the shadows, into the light.
"Very good, sir. Shall kill him now, or wait for him to wake up?"
Kei-An appeared to shake its head. "No, Hamilton. I have better plans for Wesley. Let him have the last bit of peace he will ever have."
Gunn could barely believe his eyes. Illyria was dead—the nightmare was over. But here she was, seemingly unconscious on Wesley's bed, pale blue eyes open and staring at the ceiling, glassy and dead. Gunn felt anger begin to fire in his blood.
Wesley. He's killed Fred. He brought Illyria back.
Almost as if in response, Illyria began to sob softly, choking and sputtering, whimpering:
"No," she whispered in a voice that was too frightened and familiar to be that of an Old One. "No, please. Please don't take him. Please…"
Gunn neared the bed, cautious. "Fred?"
Illyria's eyes suddenly widened and came into focus; in a flash her arm shot out and grabbed Gunn's shirtfront.
"Wesley," she whispered. "It just took him."
Gunn froze with fear. "Who took him? Who?"
The Soul Stealer. Illyria's unspoken response hung in the air like a curse. "Kei-An…"
The Old One lay back and shuddered violently, shaking and trembling with such ferocity that Gunn closed his eyes, unable to look. Then, his shirt was released and he heard Fred's familiar voice. Screaming.
Gunn's eyes opened just in time to see Fred's body flying at him. She threw her arms around him, screaming, trembling like a leaf.
"Fred? Fred, what is it? What's wrong?"
Fred shook her head, refusing to look up, her screams changing to exhausted sobs. She panted with adrenaline and terror, crying out one word into Gunn's shirt: