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House of Leaves

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It is not until Wesley sees her for the first time in his file room, leaning indolently against a file cabinet while he has a physical fit of déjà vu, that he realizes the wrong he’s done Dawn.

“You came back,” Wesley says to his beloved, trying to wet dry lips and staring at his memory-ghost, someone who belonged to him in another lifetime, and wondering why his heart won’t stop pounding. “Are you here to explain yourself?”

The laugh rattles in his ears and when the ghost reaches out, Wesley pulls back from the mottled skin on her hand. She’s dead, then, and yet here she is, smiling at him with infinite regret and care.

“No, lover,” murmurs Wesley’s mystery woman, her voice whiskey-velvet and slightly raspy. “I’m here to explain you.”

In her other hand is a manila file folder with his name on it. It’s a very fat file. Wesley takes it gingerly, not sure if it or she will bite and he can’t help but mourn that in his memories, she’s so much more beautiful. She doesn’t rot in his mind and there’s no blood-stained scarf around her neck in the fragments that might be memories.

The white scarf pulls at his memory, dredging lost thoughts to the surface with painful resonance. An axe. He can feel the handle in his hands and suddenly Wesley is staring at a body wrapped in plastic and his stomach feels like it’s been attacked with battery acid. It’s a heavy axe. As he pulls back the plastic, the dead woman lies there, her eyes closed and a strand of hair on her face.

“It’s just a dream,” Wesley protests, looking at the file and at this strange and lovely remnant of something far more important. “Wasn’t it?”

She opens her eyes, dark against the white of her deathly cold skin. And damn him, he wants her still, wants to kiss those lips and wake them both from her silent nightmares.

“Why so glum?” she asks him kindly. “It is kinda what you wanted.”

Wesley drops the axe and back away from the ghost. He trips over the file. “No,” he gasps. “No, this isn’t what I want, it’s never what I wanted — Lilah!”

The last word burns his lips and he sits up in the large and comfortable bed he shares with his lover, the dark somehow oppressive around them. Lilah. Every time he has this dream it gets worse and harder to ignore.

“Wesley,” his bedmate murmurs, looking up from the pillow with eyes as blue as his own. Lilah, the mystery ghost, her eyes are green. Or hazel. Or brown. Not blue. Wesley’s real and actual lover, her eyes are blue and free of deceit and regret. “Did you have the dream again?”

He shakes his head and settles back into the sheets, comforted as Dawn’s arm sneaks around his waist.

“It was nothing,” Wesley replies, wishing he could simply place her. At some point, he must have known a Lilah. Someone who must have looked like a movie star. The rest he could piece together from aborted affairs and desires, but the template for Lilah was what Wesley desperately needed.

“You were shouting,” Dawn says, her voice sleep-muzzy and her warmth against his back is pulling Wesley back toward dreamland and less inappropriate outbursts. “So it musta been…something.”

“Psychic debris,” says Wesley, his eyelids falling shut. If he had his glasses on, he could see the ungodly hour of night it was. “Forget about it.”

Every time he falls asleep, Wesley is confronted by one truth: staying with Dawn is wrong for reasons that have nothing to do with her age or his chaotic mental state or the disapproval of both Angel and Buffy concerning the affair. Those are trivial problems in a world such as theirs, where Gehenna could come tomorrow or tomorrow or never again.

It’s wrong because he loves something in her that reminds him of his memory-ghost, the lost and fragmented delusion lurking in the misfiring neurons and chemical synapses of his addled brain. There isn’t more than a whisper of this…this…Lilah in his Dawn, but he pursues it and loves her more (enough to overcome the not-truly-trivial anger Buffy Summers has about her nearly-jailbait sister in Wesley’s bed) because he can almost find his lost self and his lost woman in her arms.


 

Dawn loves him for so many reasons she can’t quite explain it properly to Buffy or Willow or Xander. Buffy, who’s chalked it up to hormones and Wesley being a bad, bad man who can’t be trusted with eighteen-year-old brunettes, says she’s just been suckered in by the mystique of the bad boy.

Personally, Dawn thinks anyone who thinks Wesley is mysterious needs to spend a week in his apartment. He still makes tea and watches BBC gardening shows. Not that it makes her love him any less; it’s just that if Wesley’s a bad boy, then her name is Lilah. Which it is most emphatically not, though SOMEONE was clearly named Lilah and Dawn wanted to know who she was.

Wesley couldn’t tell her. She’d looked through his emails, his pictures, asked Angel and Gunn and Fred, but none of them could tell Dawn who Lilah was. Two quick searches on the Internet had revealed nothing illuminating either.

She doesn’t want to be obsessive stalker girl over this. He loves her. They understood each other’s obscure jokes about Turkish and translation and copyist’s errors. He cooked her Indian food; she made him Mexican. He’s the smart guy, the cool guy that Dawn had dreamed of during apocalypses and other minor disasters.

“I didn’t want this — I didn’t want–” he calls out in his sleep. Dawn’s been reading one of the Lombardic Codices and checking it against Wesley’s meticulous translation. He’s so good at Latin; her own work is graceless, if accurate. “You didn’t love me!”

Wesley always sounds so heartbroken when he calls out. Dawn’s gotten good at ignoring it. She turns up the headphones another notch and Justin Timberlake sings away the trouble in paradise. Wesley hates Justin, for no good reason as far as Dawn can see; he doesn’t particularly mind the rest of *nsync and has a downright affection for Christina, though he thinks Britney’s appalling and Avril Lavigne’s a fraud. She doesn’t mind, because while she quite likes Cat Stevens now, and David Bowie’s a fabulous thing, she’ll never understand prog rock.

It’s so easy to be a liar in Los Angeles. When Angel had asked Dawn just last week how Wesley’s nightmares were doing, she said they were doing better and that they were getting used to them. Angel had sounded pleased to hear it.

“Wesley’s prone to bad dreams that don’t come true,” he confessed to her, as though it were a secret burdening Angel’s conscience. Dawn was pretty sure it wasn’t much more than Angel trying to convince Dawn there’s no Lilah, that Wesley has shadows hidden in him that produce delusions.

Dawn gets that; her blood can open universes with the right words chanted over it. Who is she to be afraid of a man whose psyche does the same?

All the same, she wants to know who the ghost in Wesley’s machine is, so that Dawn can pay the piper and make her go away, leave her and Wesley in peace. Because no matter who this Lilah is or was, she’s gone. She left Wesley alone and telling her that she couldn’t love him, she didn’t love him.

Dawn loves Wesley. She’ll take care of him. After all, Dawn’s a ball of energy whose sister is a hella bitch and righteous warrior for the side of good. As far back as Dawn can remember, she’s loved difficult people, and Wesley’s easier than most of them. She’s learned to eat tea and tolerate prog rock and Eastenders for Wesley; if the ghosts would only go away, this could be the beginning of a lifelong affair.

“Go AWAY,” Dawn murmurs, tapping her pen against her cheek. “I love him, and you don’t get to have him.”

And that settles that. For tonight, anyway.


They’ve started to fight about it constantly, the bickering a new feature of their relationship. Wesley’s dreams lurk in every corner of the apartment, and the beautiful ghost doesn’t seem content to wait for dreamland to claim her Wesley. Dawn’s face can change ever-so-moderately and he is looking at HER, this shifting succubus.

When she lays her finger to her lips, Wesley knows that if he just keeps his mouth shut, he can have them both. Dawn and Dusk, the daytime sister and the nighttime sister becoming one, Wesley’s perfect lover.

“I think you should ask Angel again,” Dawn says, rattling the teapot with increasing irritation. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that your dream woman is named Lilah. Maybe you knew that lawyer, the dead one.”

“I rather doubt it, love,” Wesley replies. They’d finally found a Lilah whom Wesley could have known, one Lilah Morgan of Wolfram and Hart that was. Darla and Drusilla had ripped her apart in the wine-cellar massacre, or so the file said. Dawn, who increasingly distrusted Angel, is not so sure this is the case.

There are too many holes, Dawn says. Not just in Wesley. In Fred and Gunn and she wonders about Cordelia, sleeping away. How did that happen? Why does Angel seem so certain that the unfortunately dead Lilah Morgan — and the photograph of the corpse is gruesome enough to equal Mary Kelly’s desecration at the hands of Jack the Ripper — is the name he’s imposed over some psychological trauma?

“I think we could find her,” Dawn will say over dinner before she turns her head and becomes Lilah, a smirk on her lips.

Dawn doesn’t know that Lilah’s already found him, and Wesley’s quite sure if he tells Dawn, he’ll lose them both.

“Of course you do. You doubt EVERYTHING unless Angel tells you so,” Dawn replies, sitting down with two mugs of steaming hot water. “Willow says the next time she’s down, she’ll try to communicate with her. Find out why she won’t leave us alone. Because Willow can do these things.”

“I have no doubt,” Wesley says, much less pleased at this idea than he should be. They all want to make her go away, and she’s beautiful and wicked and all his. His rational, cut-and-dried side is certain this is a Good Thing, but the part of him that believes Dawn’s conspiracy theories is equally certain that if they make her leave, a part of Wesley’s soul and memories will be gone forever and this will be a subtle injury to his very being.

Dawn seems to be content with this, and impulsively, Wesley grabs her hand and revels in the touch. Mystery woman or not, he loves Dawn. Loves having someone who fights so hard and understand the need to belong in a world that doesn’t quite fit. Dawn and Wesley are two of a kind and he loves her passionately.

If only he wasn’t seeing so much of Lilah, the night sister, in her face.

“Maybe we shouldn’t, not tonight,” he tells her later as Dawn’s lips brush against his with irresistible sweetness.

“Wesley Wyndam-Pryce,” Dawn says with mock severity, removing her shirt and casting it aside. “I’m nineteen years old, and I know what I want.”

Wesley doesn’t have the words to explain. He doesn’t doubt her legitimate desire. His own need to take her, the way he’s moving his hands over her body, these are what trouble him. Every time he looks at Dawn these days, he can hear echoes in his head, the possible seeds of madness. Her face gets squarer, the breasts fuller, and when her mouth presses against his, he responds almost violently, kissing her hard.

The echo of Lilah never pauses at Wesley’s protests; she would lean forward and lick the scar, daring him to give in.

If he could remember who she was, Wesley could make it better. He must have met her once upon a time; he knows this. But had he slept with her? Wesley is quite certain he’d remember if a woman had really let him throw her against a wall, moaning, “I can’t…stay…” as he sucked on her ear and throat.

That woman caresses his face, pain flickering in her eyes. Wesley’s aware of the problem; Lilah, whoever she is (is she this dead lawyer? Is she even real?) can never stay.

“Wesley!” Dawn snaps, breaking the vision. She’s so lovely; dark and deep and ancient underneath her bright and deceptively fragile exterior. He does care for her; there’s nothing so fraught about their love affair. If he loved Lilah, it must have been something terrible. “God, Wesley, you’re always so far away from me now.”

Lilah, in her corner, laughs. “Get used to it,” she seems to say, and Wesley wants to hate her, make her leave, but she’s still holding his file in her hand and the axe, the matching scar on her neck that so strangely resembles his own…he can’t. Not even for Dawn.

“I’m sorry, love,” Wesley apologizes. The woman, who he can almost remember when he looks at her, stares back at him from Dawn’s hurt face and smirks. Until he finds her, this shadow, this voice he can only hear clearly in the dreams he can only remember trying to remember…he’ll never be able to enjoy what’s right before his face. “I’m trying to find my way.”

“I know,” Dawn says, laying her head on his chest. “You were in love. And you got lost. Like in the fairytales.”

He strokes her hair, not sure which woman he’s holding in his arms. “And when I find my way out of the dark forest, you’ll be waiting for me, is that it?”

“I will,” Dawn says. “I’m stubborn. Like all Summers women. And I love you.”

Wesley hopes that will be enough. The night sister is compelling, and he’s not sure how much longer he’ll be able to hold out against her charms.

“I love you,” he replies, a defense against the madness. “Always.”

Lilah, her head wobbling and aching, watches silently. Yeah. She knows how it goes.