Another Girl's Paradise
by Jennifer-Oksana

"Does it all come down to the thing
One girl fears in the night
Is another girl's paradise?" --Tori Amos

When I come home, fighting my way through fire and rain and screaming and horrible things, children screaming in the streets for daddy and mamma, grown men clutching their cats and dogs and girlfriends to their chests and crying, "Dear God, what was that? What was that? Oh, God, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," and finally, when I reach the place that's been my home, I find it empty.

Nobody. Tomb-empty. No noise except my footsteps on the scuffed marble flooring. No light except the tap light Charles put in for me because I didn't like going into a quiet lobby alone in the middle of the night. All alone in the dead world, and all my friends gone to other places. Why not go mad?

I sit down on the couch, wrapping my arms around the top of it, and I dream of being able to fall asleep. There are too many thoughts in my head. The world is ending. The world is going to end, maybe today. And I don't know what I'm thinking anymore. I love Charles. I don't love Charles. I do, I don't, I do. It makes my heart ache, thinking that he might still be out there, maybe alone. Maybe not. Maybe he's with everyone else, Angel and Lorne and Wesley and Connor and Cordelia and they all think I'm dead or lost.

Too many thinkings to be a thought. Not even images now, just worries, whatifs shouting big noisy whats and ifs into my skull. I wonder if this is what one of Cordy's visions feel like. Too much and too much and none of it small enough to fit into a human head.

My muscles are so stiff and sore, I feel like I'm made of concrete. Like someone enchanted me and I'm becoming a statue, reaching out for something that's not there. Nothing to see but color patches and shadows. Nothing to hear but silence and the faraway sounds of screaming and crying and sirens that signify the end of everything.

I only want to go to sleep, to drift out of this nightmare and into more familiar hells, where I know the general storyline and recognize some of the details as messages from my subconscious. I'm cold and I'm hot and I'm singed and I can't bear to be awake anymore, alone and awake and cold in the hotel lobby. I could go to bed, but then I'd only be cold and alone in bed.

The door creaks. I look up, sure it's someone come to rescue me. Who else would it be, on this night of all nights?

"Wes?" someone asks, someone with a voice that's rough and full of tears and fears and I see and I see and I see. "Wesley?"

Oh. God.

And I know her now, I know her by her high heels, still firmly on (do they ever come off? The Achilles tendon starts to shrink after a while), because Lilah could walk through hell in heels with her head still held high and oh, god. I wished to be found, not to be more lost.

"He's not here," I say.

"Oh," she says lamely, sitting down on the steps. "I'll wait, then."

She wraps her arms around her knees, and buries her face into the tops of her thighs.

"For him?"

"For whoever," she says, her voice muffled and not hard and crystalline and heartless as it should be. "I had to come somewhere."

She is not a hallucination, not a dream, not even a nightmare. The queen of all the evil things is sitting twenty feet from me, still wearing her high heels and trying to disappear in on herself, her face pressed against a suit that could pay for Charles and me to live for three months, ruining the fabric, revealing grit and bruises and cuts. And she is waiting for Wesley to save her.

"How long?" I ask, my body no longer made of stone as I creep toward the dangerous monster on the floor, carefully climbing off the couch and feeling the cold floor on my knees and shins.

"How long what? Before we're all dead?"

"How long you and him," I say, finding myself practically crawling. I don't want to stand. I don't think I could stand, even if I tried. My skin is made of millions of tiny bumps, trying to crawl away. I've never been so cold, not even in the middle of a freak snowstorm at my grandma's in Amarillo or naked in the Pacific Ocean in January.

"Since June," she says, refusing to look up to see me inching toward her. "So it's November now, almost December. Five months? It seems like a day. Going to be six months at Christmas. Five months. I thought he'd kill me if he ever saw me again, after the first time. You know he came to my place the night afterwards? Didn't say a word. I opened the door and he shoved me into a wall and tore off all my clothes."

The idea of five months is as alien to me as it is to her. I try to imagine that. Dinners. Dates. Anything other than what I know it is, the way she must look at Wesley, the way he must take off her clothes and murmur that she'd do. I never thought she was so pretty that I'd want to spend five minutes in her company. Then again, I've never seen her naked, or weak, or anything other than marshalling evil with a smirk. Today, she is more fascinating than if she were proclaiming world peace while doing ballet.

"He told me I was as good a way as any to forget after he finally got off," she says, and I think that maybe she's crying, and it's so hard to listen to her, the bad and evil and pathetic woman on my steps. But I am closer now, six feet away, almost close enough to touch her and see what she'll do. The air is dirty with all the secrets and the pain. If I could look at her, my eyes would burn.

"He doesn't realize," I say, the words throbbing like a strange, off-key response to the small and hopeless song her voice is singing to me.

"He knows," she says, her fingers laced together and pulling so hard against her knees that I could see the skin getting mottled, red and white, where she pressed. "It's a funny way to fall in love, don't you think?"

"Does he love you?"

Her head jerks up, and a flushed, mooshed sort of face confronts mine, with eyes glistening like soap scum on water and the makeup all smeared. I think maybe she's pretty. And definitely she's scared.

"Are you entirely clueless?" she says, and my heart sinks. "You know. You know he loves you--they all love you, but I just want him--and I don't compare."

I was twenty-four before I made peace with my body. Every girl I saw walking down the streets and quads was prettier than me, with breasts and hips and blonde hair that curled and shone like Lilah's does, with manicures that never cracked and sweaters that never failed to flatter. I was always the kind of girl who didn't get dates, or dates with ugly guys who thought they deserved a little more for making me less lonely. My hair always hung down in front of my face, and I could outeat any guy at the Denny's and there was never anything more to me but skin and bones and maybe pretty eyes. She looks the way every guy wants his woman to look. And I don't compare?

I grab her ankle and take off her shoe. It's leather. Very nice, very soft, though the bottoms are all scratched up and ruined. She doesn't move, just looks at me like she wishes I'd disappear, but not. It's too cold to be alone.

"You shouldn't wear those," I say, still holding her ankle. "They ruin your feet."

"What else would I wear?" she says, looking at me with a strange, thoughtful look in her eyes. "I don't think I'd be me if I didn't wear expensive clothes that always get dirty along with high heels. I'd be someone else entirely."

One of my crazy ideas flitters into my head. "What if we made you into someone else? You could be me and I could be you. We have the same sort of face. I don't want to be this girl anymore."

Perhaps this is a dream, because she visibly gives into my dream-logic. Or--and this is impossible, a joke, an infinite jest--she understands how I feel. There is such an inexpressible look on her face, something familiar but without description.

"Your shirts don't fit me," she says. "If I give them back, they'll be stretched out. Because I've already tried to be you, and I didn't exactly like it."

Oh. Oh oh oh, I don't want to know. Because I can already see it, like it's my memory instead of hers. Pigtails and glasses and I don't know what else, some outfit I've worn, but with her curves instead of me, laughing her evil bitch laugh and never stumbling in her high heels. He would have--he would have, hating that he loved her like that. I know he did. And it breaks her heart.

"It's the end of the world," I say, looking at her shoe, touching it longingly. I want to be the woman who can pretend she can crush the world under one foot and laugh. "I want to see what it's like to be you, because being me? Hasn't been so much fun today."

Her eyes look away, like she's not quite sure what to do, but I know. I tug off her other shoe, taking them into my hands like they're the ruby slippers. I want to see.

"Do you really want to know?" she asks suddenly, looking at me, and her eyes are brown. We could be related, I realize vaguely. Dark hair, dark eyes, but she's a thousand times prettier than me. Better hair, better shoes, more fun. Like the big sister I could never live up to. "I can show you what it feels like."

"Show me," I say, getting to my feet and offering a hand up. She hesitates momentarily and then she takes it and her face is very dirty and smudged. Without her heels, she is just my height. A piece of hair is covering half of her eye. I reach up to brush it away.

She grabs my wrists, both of them (the shoes go a-tumbling down to the floor), and her eyes are suddenly hard and hot and lusting. But I'm not afraid. She won't hurt me, even though she wants to.

"This is what it's like," she growls, pushing me against the wall, putting rough hands on my shoulders, holding me there. "Watch and learn."

Her lips crush against mine, and it's as though she's put a spell on me so I'm suddenly her, because I know what she means. If I were her. If the only thing I had was a body against mine, a body that didn't love me, but that wanted me desperately.

I moan, overcome with wanting. Oh! she tastes like dust and ashes and Wesley. And lipstick and perfume. And warm. Her skin is warm. She pulls away, and her eyes are wild, the remnants of her makeup melting away and leaving me with an entirely different face to contemplate.

"Tell me to stop," she snarls, and I don't know if she's giving me the opportunity to get out of the game, or if she's just showing me what comes next. "Because if you don't tell me now, I'll show you. Right here. Where all your little friends could come in and see you, getting fucked by your worst enemy and liking it."

"You don't think they're coming back, either," I say desperately, feeling tears creep into my eyes. "Don't stop. It's the end of the world. I don't care."

My head hits the wall hard and her hand is on my breast, pushing it up while she kisses me again and again. My arms are around her neck, trying to pull her closer. I don't know what I'm doing. I was trying to make sense of something, not get pulled into some sordid sex thing. But I don't want her to stop. And I'm not helpless, either. I'm not a victim. Someone has to understand that.

I walk us backward, until we fall against the staircase and she's staring up at me, wide-eyed and licking her lips. Oh, she underestimated me, if she thinks I'll blink. I have strength she doesn't understand, because she's too busy pretending to be what she is supposed to be.

"Do you think I'm impressed?" she asks, pulling my blouse open and caressing my breasts through the bra, making me cry out with desire. "Do you think that you're doing anything new under the sun?"

I growl, pressing one knee between her thighs and she opens up like a flower, letting my hips press against hers, and I want her, want her badly, despite not understanding why. She is mad and bad and dangerous; she is sad and alone and only wants to be loved. I can't figure out which.

"You like it anyway," I say, kissing her forehead, her eyelids, before forcing my tongue into her mouth. She has her arms around my neck now, and I'm uncovering more of her skin, exposing her, before she manages to knock us back the other way, onto the floor, with her on top again.

"What's not to like?" she asks, unbuttoning my jeans and tugging them down, leaving me almost naked for her to see. She is exposed from throat to navel, and oh, she's so angry, and I don't know why, but it makes me want it more. All that heat just under her skin, and if she breaks just a little more, it'll wash me away. "You're such a willing participant in your own destruction, Lilah."

Be still my ever-pounding heart.

We both freeze for a moment, staring at each other. He said that to her, and I can almost see his face, the ugly face he had when he was following me with the axe. All of the things she's said, he said to her first. And had I answered with her own answers, her own reactions to Wesley? I'm suddenly very, very afraid. There is something wrong with this.

But I won't stop. I can't stop. I want her.

"Tell me to stop," she begs in a small voice, and it's just Lilah, the wretched creature, not the thing in her that's possessing her, the thing that has us panting and hot and scared and wet at the end of the world. "Please, I don't think I can--"

I reach up for her face. Or does she reach up to his face? Because I have the distinct feeling of stubble beneath my palm for a split second before I can see her looking at me, her hair falling in a curtain around our faces. Oh, what am I seeing? And how much worse must it be for her, shifting between being herself and seeing herself as he does?

"You're not afraid, are you?" I ask, sneering at her fear, hearing her voice on my tongue. "You think that I'm so easy to break? You have no idea who I am, but you think that you can destroy me. I think that's a bit arrogant, don't you?"

"Shut up," she hisses against my ear, her weight pressed into mine and I want it. I want her, him, whichever one she is. We're not ourselves, that's for sure. Fred cannot want Lilah, as Lilah cannot want Fred. Wesley can want Fred and Lilah can want Wesley and Wesley can want Lilah and Fred can want Wesley, but there is no way that we're only ourselves on a cold marble floor, scrambling toward nakedness and sex.

"Make me," I reply, my eyes meeting hers and seeing different colors, different souls shifting back and forth.

And she smiles a cruel smile, because she's lived this memory before and I can only guess at it.

Her lips and tongue burn a trail down my skin, forehead to neck to collarbone to breasts (she sucks hard on a nipple with just a hint of teeth and I wail, trying to find more warmed skin to touch) to stomach to where I am naked and spread for her. Him. Us.

It's the end of the world and I am living her nightmare, which is better than my own, because I cannot be myself anymore when the sky is falling and I was going to die alone.

And she erases me with her hands and tongue, or maybe she creates a different me, one who has no shame, twining my hands into her hair, begging her to keep going, hurting the bad evil thing that has done so many criminal things. But am I so much better? Almost as soon as I wail my assent to her ministrations--yes, yes, oh God, yes, please please please yes--I have her on her back, looking up at me and perhaps seeing her own face.

And yes, she will do.

She is beautiful when she comes, possessed by lust and terror, arching her back and screaming my name. I can't remember who she's supposed to be anymore, or who I'm supposed to want. I don't think it much matters.

Eventually we both collapse against each other, sweaty and sore and maybe even a bit less afraid. Her hands find my hair, smoothing it down mindlessly as I try to integrate what just happened to everything I already know.

I still want to try on her clothes. I want to feel the other parts of being her, silky-smooth and vicious, because I got a tingle of that, and it's intoxicating. Like a good margarita, the ability to snarl and kiss and be so good at being nasty tastes sweet on the tongue and makes everything sparkle at the edges and in the blood.

"We'll have to clean up," she murmurs, staring up at the ceiling. I can't hear her thoughts anymore. "I don't know about you, but getting caught having an end of the world fuck isn't in my plan."

"I want to wear you," I say, stumbling over the words. I want to wear her clothes. Not her. She's not what I want to be.

"They're just clothes," she says matter-of-factly. "It doesn't change anything."

Everything's cooling off, and I sit up and reach for her blouse, blue with the unusual neckline, imagining myself with glossy hair, highlights, curls, heels. She might not be wrong, but I just want to see. Who could it hurt, a little bit more dressing up before we all cease to be?

"I know," I say. "But what else can we do?"

She sees my point. "Let's go then," she murmurs, naked as day and unashamed as I collect her clothes and mine and we go upstairs to wait a little longer for help to come.


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