by Jennifer-Oksana

When they come back from Angel's first act as overlord of Wolfram and Hart Los Angeles -- which is, predictably, attacking the worst of their putative clients with bloody force -- she's gone.

And Wesley does not understand. Lilah had said, certainly, that she was just the messenger, but his bloody Lilah (and given her recent displays of territorial behavior, Wesley has no difficulty in asserting even to himself that she is, in fact, his) wouldn't give up so easily. Not even in the face of Hell and an unbreakable contract.

"Do you know how expensive it is to keep a dead person animated on this plane?" Eve asked rhetorically, the damned harridan who wished she had half the class and beauty of that dead person. Yet Wes could see Angel accepting that line of reasoning. Despite the profession of forgiveness, Lilah is still Angel's archnemesis and he has no problem letting her rot in Hell for all eternity.

Wesley wonders idly as the week progresses how long it will be before Angel has them calling him Godfather. Al Pacino couldn't have done a better job than Angel at pretending he'd go legitimate, not let this power overcome his always-capricious judgment. Then again, Angel has had a century to perfect his act of wounded righteousness, the coat he draws around him to justify his monstrosities.

He has grown tired of trying to justify Angel's mistakes by saying that at heart, Angel is a good and righteous man. Angel is no better than he should be, and for a champion of humanity, that is hardly a statement of confidence.

On the one week anniversary of that moment in Angel's new office, the moment when Wesley's heart broke all over again and he was well and truly widowed, he goes home to his empty apartment with a bottle of gin (no more scotch for him, not ever), more movies than even the weekend he spent with Gunn having the action marathon of a lifetime, and every photograph he could dig up from the files and records room.

There has been record heat and his air conditioner's broken. Undaunted, Wesley opens the door to his apartment...

...and there is Eve. Wearing HER gray dress, the dress from the night they'd had the fight over Lorne. The beginning of the end.

Wes can suddenly no longer see straight. He launches himself at her with no other objective than to tear her apart.

"You...you..." he growls and Wesley doesn't care if she's the Goddess herself, he won't be taunted like this. Not like this.

"Lover, while I appreciate the gallantry, maybe you should stop a moment and look closer," a familiar voice drawls, stopping Wes cold, but not before he crashes into the body he's quite certain should be Eve's but is not, currently, Eve's.

"You're not her," he says frantically. "And before you try, everyone knows about that damned dollar bill."

"Does everyone know about last July Fourth with the bowl of cherries?" Lilah asks. She sounds so very much like Lilah, though he will not meet her eyes, will not be enchanted by a woman-thing bearing the name of the very first temptress. "Do you remember that? My God, it was possibly the hottest night ever. Me knotting cherry stem after cherry stem. One for every time you got me off. And if I couldn't do it, I had to return the favor."

"We finished an entire bowl that way," he remembers, the image of the spectacle suddenly raw and fresh in his mind, the way their fingers had ended up stained crimson and the entire apartment had smelled of sex and cherries and her perfume layered over stale pizza cheese and wine and expensive melted chocolate laying ignored on the counter until the second day. "And ruined your favorite blouse."

"It was Donna Karan, too. Bastard," she says fondly. "Come on, Wes. Eve told you she's hardly a young woman. And is it that hard to believe that someone out there might have a little sympathy for a pair of the most screwed-over lovers in history?"

"Yes, actually," he replies, pulling back. "At least, not without a price. What did you promise her, Lilah? Will she be watching the reunion?"

Lilah sighs. "You're so cynical, babe," she says with resignation, falling into the couch cushions. "Is it so hard to guess, really, what the truth is? How I got a favor from Miss Hot-to-Trot Eve? All those Slayer dreams about little sisters, the loaded names. The aggressively stolen mannerisms alone should give it away..."

Eve and Lilah. Not really so hard to guess, though the precise nature of their sisterhood makes Wes want to ask a thousand questions, makes him want to take little sister aside at work and argue for big sister's freedom until his face turned blue or Consigliere Gunn made him stop.

He sits down next to her and puts his head in her lap, unable to prevent the heaving sobs that wrack his body and still don't produce tears. The sound would be heartbreaking in a woman's mouth. From Wes, it sounds pathetic. But he's always been a little weak, and her hands on his forehead are dry and soothing.

"If you could forget me," Lilah says, a little sadly, combing her fingers through his hair. "It would be better. I think."

"Are you mad?" Wes asked, twisting up to look at her and the pain around her mouth. "What would be better is if I'd done something different. If we'd gone off together, if I'd dragged you back to the hotel with me and dared..."

"No, it wouldn't have been better," Lilah disagrees. "You're so damned stubborn, Wes."

"And you're what exactly? A doormat? It wouldn't be better, damn it," Wesley says passionately, believing it with every part of his soul. "It wouldn't be anything. It would be this empty place, this itch that always scratched without me knowing why. If I forgot you, I wouldn't be who I am. I'd be someone else. And I don't want to be someone who doesn't have you."

A vague smile crosses Lilah's face. "Hah," she says, not to him. "Told him so."

He doesn't understand. It doesn't matter. Wesley reaches up and cups her face, something he never would have done in the old days, not with this much affection. Lilah's eyes half-close.

"I had a dream once," she murmurs, letting him pull them down, her atop him into his arms again. He kisses the top of her head, wills her to keep talking. "Of what it would have been like, you and me. If we'd run off together."

Lilah laughs and it vibrates against his chest. Wesley pulls her closer, damn the angles and the discomfort. "Tell me."

"I was bleeding pretty hard," she says. "In the sewers. I hallucinated for hours. Should have died, but you know, it was a pretty dream. One to keep living for. You found me and we ran. Took the car, left town before the sun could go dark. We went...and this is going to sound sappy...up north. Vancouver. I always wanted to live somewhere like Vancouver."

"The weather's more reasonable," Wes replies, trailing his fingers up and down her back. He's aware that he should probably be tearing off her clothes, but Wes has had his fill of fast and dirty seduction with Lilah. It's better to listen, to take in the whole experience, sound and smell and feel of what he lost.

"More British, I guess," she says dubiously. "It wasn't a narrative fantasy. I don't know details. I just saw me, and I was waiting for you in the doorway of our house. We had a house, but I don't remember how it looked. The door was painted blue and outside, it was night-time. You were trying to get to the door but the plants were all overgrown."

She pauses, and he can practically hear her thinking. Without a pause, he kisses the top of her head again, strokes her back. Strokes her arm.

"You think the strangest things when you're dying," Lilah says. "I was pregnant in a doorway waiting for you to come home to me. How fucking stupid is that? I never waited for anyone, ever. I would have been doing something else, but the stars were out and our bush had purple flowers that I wanted to look at and you were I don't know, fumbling with books or your guns or groceries. You were right there and I didn't run out to meet you."

"Too pathetic?" The words are out before he can stop himself, but this is Wesley and Lilah, not some bloody pair of children playing house. They would have never wanted her dreams, not the pair of them, brittle and metropolitan and modern even in love.

"No, though that's true," Lilah agrees, looking up and kissing him on the chin. "You want to know something really scary? I was waiting because I knew you were coming. Didn't even have to question it. You were going to be there and I was going to be waiting."

This part makes the fantasy hurt, hurt more than a bullet to the gut, though not as much as unwrapping the plastic around her body. Everything about loving Lilah is acid-edged. Not even their fantasies of quotidian suburban bliss can be without a healthy side of pain.

It doesn't bother him anymore. It's the way things are.

"I would have liked very much for that to be true," Wes says simply.

"Yeah," she says sadly, pressed against him as tightly as she possibly can be. "I don't know if I can go away and leave you alone, Wesley. And I should. I really should."

He knows she's right. Every time she reappears, all of the scar tissue he's built up crumbles and Wesley's a raw and bleeding mess afterwards, trying to move forward, trying to convince himself that one does not come back from a perpetual contract one claims to deserve. That some people do, in fact, deserve Hell. It's a slow and unconvincing process and they're making it worse with these hauntings; the psychological equivalent of picking a scab.

More than anything, he wants to be able to wish her gone. Wesley wants to want to make her leave his apartment and never return. But the truth remains that no matter how gone Lilah is, he'll never believe she's not lurking around, triumphant against death and hell and infernal contract lawyers. That if he hopes long enough, fights hard enough, she will be waiting for him in the doorway, ready to be taken away.

Wesley can't stop wanting her, and if that damns him to a half-life, at least it's one with hope and in his world, insane and impossible hopes have been fulfilled before.

Though not usually for him.

"Stay with me," Wesley tells Lilah, pulling her up for a messier kiss. "Don't go yet."

And she should.

And she doesn't.


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