He hasn't changed much in eight years. The plaid is gone, replaced by a trendy t-shirt and blazer, but there he stands, still shorter than her, still with that easy smile that she'd thought, once, that she'd like to see more of. She only sees it for a second before it freezes, melting into an expression of disbelief. He looks almost confused as he stares at her.
He's so close. She takes the few steps forward and holds out her hand.
"Hi, Enrico," she says, and smiles.
The studio was small but posh, with wide glass windows and plenty of champagne already flowing. Even now, dressed in black slacks and a new silk top, Lila felt out of place. It was crowded, she was pleased to see, mostly with people around her age but not entirely. They all seemed to know each other.
It was one of the older women who first spotted her by the door, nervously gripping the stem of the glass she'd picked up just for something to hold. The woman was small, with dark, silver streaked hair and half-moon glasses, and her handshake was reassuring. "Hello," she said warmly. "I'm Sarah Jane Smith. Are you an artist?"
Lila smiled in return. "Lila Lincoln," she introduced herself. "I'm - no, I'm just here for the opening." She felt herself blushing. She'd been off-kilter for three days now, since she first saw the poster in the park, and she pulled it from her jacket now. "I saw this the other day, and I think I might know the artist."
"Ellie," he says blankly, and blinks, like he's just coming out of a daydream. His voice is different; deeper than she remembers, and hoarse. Her smile turns tremulous.
"Lila," she manages to correct him, and then he's pulling her into a hug so tight she can barely breathe around the lump in her throat.
Sarah Jane's easy smile turned pensive. "You know, I thought you looked familiar," she said, and frowned more deeply. "Have we met?"
"Oh, no, I don't think so. I barely knew him, I'm not even -"
Lila cut herself off as Sarah Jane suddenly paled, reaching for the poster Lila still clutched and staring at it. It featured eight paintings, mostly brightly colored depictions of action heroes and comic book figures, but Sarah Jane's eye was immediately drawn to the simple portrait of a teenage girl with curly blonde hair.
"You're Ellie," she whispered, and the girl from the portrait nodded.
He holds her for a long time. When he finally lets go, he keeps his hands on her arms. "I didn't want to go," he says immediately, and the urgency is more noticeable now. "I didn't. I looked for you, I looked everywhere, but then I saw the poster and found out what the Night Dragon was -"
"I know," she tells him, taking an unsteady breath. "Your friend - Sarah Jane - told me." She raises an eyebrow. "She said you saved the world."
Without a word, Sarah Jane embraced her. "He is going to be so happy to see you," she said, voice shaking. "He looked for ages. It was my fault, you know, I'm the one who made him leave - I had to do it, we needed him, everyone did - but it hurt him so badly." She pulled back, and her eyes were shining. "Thank you for taking care of him."
"Things worked out okay for him, though, didn't they?" Lila glanced towards a knot of people towards a back corner. "I thought they would. He was so sure things would be okay." She laughed slightly. "He even convinced me. And he was right. In the end, he was right." When she looked back at Sarah Jane, her eyes were bright in the dim light. "It's just that for a minute, I thought I might've found someone to take care of me for awhile."
Sarah Jane smiled sadly, and took Lila's hand in hers. "Come sit with me for a minute," she said. "There are some things you should know."
Clyde laughs a little, moving one arm to rake through his hair. "Yeah, I did, at that," he admits. "You believe it?"
Lila shrugs. "I shouldn't. I don't know, though." She smiles again, suddenly. "It was a weird time, wasn't it? The fish, and you kept going on about a curse..."
"'No one will ever forget that day,'" Clyde quotes, and his own smile fades into seriousness. "I didn't, you know."
"Yeah," Lila says, and lets her eyes drift to the portrait on the wall. "I believe it."
They sat on a bench outside and watched as the crowd slowly filtered out. Lila wrapped her jacket around her as the stars grew bright.
Sarah Jane's voice was steady as she spoke, though she stumbled in places; it was clear that these were not stories she shared freely. It broke at one point, as she described tearing up her own attic; Lila found herself remembering similar scenes during those last few days at home.
The stories were mad, fantastic, and completely unbelievable. Part of her didn't want to hear them, these explanations. She'd had eight years to get over this particular betrayal but it had never quite left her, even as the anger had faded and eventually turned to a hazy sort of nostalgia.
But then, hadn't he been a bit mad, a bit unbelievable? Hadn't he been bizarrely, wonderfully, fantastic?
"You really did it," she says, looking around the room, the drawings and paintings lining the walls. "I wondered if you would. I'm in school," she adds, answering his silent question. "Turns out the Night Dragon wasn't such a bad thing after all. Spent a couple of years in France, saved up some money, then came back to London about three years ago. I'm studying history, might go into teaching."
"That's great," Clyde tells her, taking her hands. "I knew you'd be great."
She's wondered, over the years, what he'd think of her now and whether he'd be proud. Looking at him now, his eyes warm and sincere and so close to hers, she knows she guessed right.
"Come on," Sarah Jane said, and stood.
It was warm inside the studio. The racing pulse, the light head - she'd felt these things around him before, a long time ago. Some things hadn't changed.
Sarah Jane slipped an arm around Lila's shoulder, leading her to the group still chatting in the corner.
"Clyde Langer," she called as they approached; he turned, face alight with laughter and a little too much champagne as she continued. "There's someone I'd like you to meet."
"Clyde Langer," she replies, and smirks. "I suppose Enrico Box can be your superhero name. You know, for when you save the world."
He laughs, and when he hugs her again she thinks that maybe this time, he won't let go.