Winter Night Phantom
by Jennifer-Oksana

It was only when Angel assured him that what Lilah said was true, that she was there and she was very dead, that Wesley realized there would be problems far worse than the chaos engulfing Los Angeles for him to deal with. Gunn apologized to him for making light of Lilah's condition, and Wesley admitted its awkwardness, certain that Gunn would not understand his discomfort did not come from seeing Lilah again -- after all, Wesley was a Watcher at heart, and he was fully aware of the impermanence of death for the unusual.

What was awkward was the fact that Lilah had followed Wesley around the whole time, since the moment he took up the axe to rend head from body and hopefully render her to nothing more than a pile of dust (and had Wesley not taken the slightest bit of grim pride in knowing that he could do what Angel could not, and Darla had not been so dear to Angel as Lilah to Wesley?) to the moment she stood there, lilting and mocking, in the gardens of the Hyperion, all in white. Seeing Lilah was not a shock, because Wesley hasn't ever stopped seeing her.

"Faith, huh?" she'd asked on the car ride to Stockton. "Not a bad plan. Faith really is the only person mad enough to take on Angelus and even have a shot at winning, and it wouldn't be cricket to make Buffy come down and solve your problems, would it?"

He hadn't even asked her to shut up; the horror of what he had done to her was still clinging to his fingers, under his fingernails, imprinted into the skin. If Lilah could still manage to taunt him after death and beheading, he reasoned, then she wouldn't shut up no matter what Wes said and it wasn't worth the effort to reprimand her.

"I think it's a fascinating strategy," Lilah mused, clearly as bored by the endless flat of the Central Valley and the California Aqueduct. "Get someone who's compelled to go after what she wants most in a destructive way. Guess that means she wanted you pretty bad, cowboy. Then again, I can't say I blame her...though back then, weren't you one hell of a candy-ass?"

"Are you going to go on like this the entire trip?" asked Wesley, finding himself unable to resist the compulsion to respond to her jibes. "Yes. Faith and I have numerous issues to work out, which I don't need you to catalogue for me as I already know them."

Lilah had seemed to accept this, only to ask as they passed through Fresno, "So have you ever told anyone about how hot it made you when she made with the bad touch? Angel, maybe? Or would they be too scandalized?"

"In light of recent revelations, I suppose no one would be surprised," Wesley said lightly and bitterly. "After all, I have a taste for the curvy brunettes with deep and abiding evil inside."

She had laughed at that, a raspier laugh than Wes was used to; the damage from the axe, it would seem.

"And we respond so well to something in you," Lilah confessed in his ear, her non-breath failing to be hot against the skin. "Ever wonder why the bad girls want to fuck you until you scream, Wes?"

The tires screamed as he jerked them over to the side of the road, intending to do something drastic -- anything -- to make her stop, but as the SUV came to a stop and Wesley looked around, Lilah was gone.

He got used to her erratic comings and goings, though he assiduously avoided any consideration of why his extremely dead ex-girlfriend who by all measures deserved to be somewhere deep and cozy in Hell, possibly with a Kennedy, was following him around.

"You know it's a wrong thing to do, right?" she'd asked when they both stared at the little kit of Orpheus. "Even if it's Faith's choice, it's a bad one."

Faith had been busy pummeling his shower stall into a rocky pulp; she hadn't heard Wesley's urgent, quiet conversation with Lilah, whom Faith wouldn't have approved of anyway.

"It's the best plan we've got," Wesley replied. "You know Angelus."

"In that way you can only know a vamp when he's sunk his fangs into you," Lilah agreed wryly. "And what about you? When you let Angel bite you?"

"That was different," Wesley said brusquely, ignoring her humorously raised eyebrow. Damn incorporeal nonsense. He could use a bit of physical comfort, rules of nature or no. "It was necessary. Angelus--"

"Was hungry," Lilah replied. "I think Faith could use a little comfort. She got worked over pretty bad, and you're going to need her to trust you to pull this off, Wes."

He smiled at her with a certain gallows humor. "Because I'm precisely the one she shouldn't trust," he replied, reaching over to caress Lilah's face. "Forgive me?"

"I'm here, aren't I?"

They had grown closer over her death. Every so often, it was acceptable to admit there had been something like love, and trust, and need between them, that the sins Wesley had committed against Lilah and vice versa had been more than two adversaries trying to get an advantage in an eternal holy war that had destroyed their chance for happiness with each other. He needed Lilah to forgive him.

Most of all, he needed to imagine she understood why he hadn't saved her.

Willow had been a fascinating challenge; Lilah had spent most of that little conversation having herself a lot of fun at Willow's expense.

"Come ON, Wesley," Lilah kept teasing. "Tell her what touching real darkness really means. You know you want to. How you touched real darkness two, three, four times a night and she kept wanting you to touch her again, like that, OHHHH, like that. It's more entertaining than hearing about the boy she flayed before trying to end the world, which is so very Angel of her."

He suspected Willow would have been thrown off her speech if he'd dared to admit he was engaged in an overelaborate sex metaphor about a murdered girlfriend. Though later, he'd berated himself as an idiot -- Willow not understand the pain of losing someone? Of seeing her again? If only he'd broken the only rule left between himself and Lilah and snapped at her.

But this rule, above all other rules, Wesley and Lilah did not break. She didn't talk to others, who would deem her a pestilent ghost and drive her away, and he didn't talk to her or about her in front of the others, lest they think him mad or cursed.

Yet -- it would have been better to discuss losing someone with Willow. She would have understood the particular guilt of seeing a lover's body at one's feet and knowing that it might as well have been you who pulled the trigger.

Waiting for Connor and Angel to come back with Cordelia or her body had been an ordeal beyond explanation. All of the doubt in his head surfaced with the knowledge that she had lied, and she wouldn't lie to him now. There had to be something wrong with Lilah if she lied to him about her own murder.

"I don't know why I didn't tell you," Lilah said. Not Lilah. His own broken psyche, dragging her form and approximation to dangle in front of his eyes like some sort of doll. "It was as if I couldn't. Wesley, are you listening to me?"

Once the matter of Cordelia and her certainly demonic spawn was handled, he would tell someone that he was unfit to help them, that he was a delusional psychotic. It would be very simple. They would put him on anti-psychotics, Lilah would stop talking to him, and everyone else would remember to visit on Sundays and try not to pity him as broken by grief and by a bad, bad woman he'd failed to save and who'd driven him mad.

"I can't stop you, you know," Lilah said. "If that's what you want to do, shut me up and ruin your life just because you've decided your break with reality has made you unfit to keep fighting, then that's your choice. But if I were you, I'd listen to Skip and keep an open mind."

When Skip had suggested there was something necessary, that even the Powers had been involved with getting Lilah and Wesley together, he looked up to where she'd been standing.

"Does this mean we were destined?" she asked. "Huh. You don't look like Angel. Less caveman slope to your brow."

Wesley couldn't help it; he smiled. Lilah took that as a sign to keep talking and she'd been voluble in her mockery of Skip and the entire enterprise until Wesley dropped the big sneaky bastard with a shot to the head.

"And that's why I love you," Lilah said cheerfully, clapping her hands together. "Nothing's hotter than a man who knows when and how to shoot his gun."

It shouldn't have changed things; a well-phrased comment shouldn't have made Wesley's resolve weaken. But he kept looking at her and thinking that in someone's head, this had all been meant to be, and if that were so, they had to know he'd find the chance for even partial redemption for both of them irresistible.

Jasmine arrived in the middle of this thought, and for a week or two, Wesley didn't do any thinking at all. There had been love to feel, and ugly, ugly shirts to buy, shirts that not even the dorkiest Wes would have been caught dead wearing.

Had Lilah been around, she might have said, as she had in the garden, "Oh, God. You should have known she was evil when she made grown men shop at Abercrombie. Though it brings new meaning to the phrase Abercrombie Zombie."

But Jasmine came and Lilah went away and didn't warn Wesley of the truth. At first, it was simply as it should be, but Wesley was always too curious for his own good, so he had finally gone privately to Jasmine to ask about the phenomenon.

"Aren't you glad to be through with her?" Jasmine asked, a smile perfectly poised on her lips. Wesley remembered very well how warm he'd felt in the presence of that smile. "Why does it trouble you? Why does she still trouble you?"

"It doesn't really trouble me," admitted Wesley, shifting a bit. "But I wonder where she's gone. I'd gotten accustomed to her being around, you see. None of the others could see her, but I knew she was there. Mostly because Lilah never shuts up."

Jasmine, all love and warmth, laid a hand on Wesley's shoulder, and he could feel that love, as real and palpable as the touch. "You don't need voices in your head to keep you company any more, Wesley," she'd told him. "You're part of me. We all are. And my love is enough to keep nasty little voices from destroying your sanity. I love you very much, Wesley. More than she ever could."

"I love you, too," he'd said. Of course he meant it. Jasmine was protecting him from luscious, doubting Lilah and her endless mocking commentary on every damn thing. Wesley didn't need her ghost or his delusional construct to keep him company, not with Jasmine to love him.

"Of course," said Jasmine, pulling away with a curious expression on her face, "if she speaks to you again, you will tell me, right? We'll work through it together."

That had been the last they'd spoken of it. Wesley suspects that not even his rich and twisted imagination in its deepest madness could create a Lilah enthralled by Jasmine, though the idea of Jasmine and Lilah in the same room is comedy. Perhaps Jasmine-as-Cordelia had killed her for the reason that the two of them couldn't have existed in the same universe at the same time. He also wonders if Lilah didn't pose a threat; Jasmine had been interested enough in Lilah to pay attention to Wesley's insane hallucinations.

It could have been a memorable meeting indeed.

Lilah hadn't made her reappearance until after Jasmine was defeated, and even that hadn't been the proper Lilah whom Wesley had gotten used to in the aftermath of her murder. She was awkward and swaying, too determined to be annoying to be Lilah as he's decided she truly was without the war, without his thoughtless looking to Fred.

And she was waiting in his apartment when he got home, without scarf and without brittleness.

"So which one are you?" Wesley asked, hands at his sides as he looked at her, the scar angry and red but not as shocking as it had been at the Hyperion when everyone could see her. "And do you keep none of the rules?"

Lilah's smile was sad but oddly optimistic. It reminded Wesley of the promises he had made himself, and her over the spring.

"It couldn't be helped," she said. "And I'm back now. Forgive me?"

There was only one answer for that.

"You're here, aren't you?"


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