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Mercy Street

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Dreaming of Mercy Street
Swear they moved that sign
Looking for Mercy
--Peter Gabriel, Mercy Street

The wind like the rush off an engine, warm air lifting her hair to trail out behind her. She closed her eyes against it, against the sun, and felt them slither into the pores of her skin. Home now, though the daylight was never her home before, always the night and the dark, cold wet and moldy or industrial gray and white padded walls. Down black hallways that were other people's minds.

The city sounds, bleating of panicked animals as people passed her on the street with phones held to their ears, and the din made her jaw twitch; something could be stalking her, pacing behind and she wouldn't hear it in all the crying. (Everyone cries for something but Daddy's gone, he can't hear you anymore.)

No.

She squinched her eyes closed harder and let the words they'd taught her wash her through with calm. It wasn't that place she was going to anymore, she'd met her ghosts and slayed them (a slayer, wasn't she?). But you can't really kill them all till you face them all, that's what they said and it made sense. Now she was strong enough to face them. Him.

He killed them both. But I killed them all.

The high glass building gleamed in the bright (too bright) light and she looked at the note in her hand, shielded her eyes as she gazed up to the top. Wolfram & Hart, yes, that's it. In England, they said they weren't on our side anymore, but she wasn't sure whose side she was on anyway, so what did it matter? She walked tentatively in through the front doors, along with a small group of men and women who smelled too clean and wore crisp clothing and hair. She looked down at the ground, reminding herself over and over that she was chosen. (Chosen by who? but no one ever answered that question, just looked away like they were embarrassed.) She asked directions to the main office with a halting voice, still so uncomfortable in this new skin. With words that come out of your mouth if you think them hard enough. These things that tell of being human.

At the top of the stairs there was a desk like a wall and a blonde girl behind it. Vampire, her nose told her, and the hand twitched inside the pocket. But she had to be careful now; they're not all evil, was what they insisted. Evil isn't always so obvious. Still, they'd told the vampire no when he asked for their help.

She tried to find the words in the jumble of her mind, but the girl looked up then and said, "Whoa." Command or surprise? (Questions first, stake later was the big lesson she'd learned.) The girl shot up behind the desk and scurried toward the doors before she had time to think what to do. Instinct is dangerous. It's the little brain. You need to use the big brain in the real world, Andrew said.

He also said he wouldn't see her.

The big wood doors opened fast and she felt the air whoosh over her again. Closed her eyes. Everything solid now that once was a dream. She opened her eyes. The big one who'd come to her that night, behind him the ones who shot her. They looked... different. The girl had blue hair and eyes. Another demon among them, already Satan, green with horns. The muscles in her arms pulled fingers tight into fist. Breathe and relax. Remember the words.

"You've got a lot of nerve, coming here like this. After disremembering Spike like that, when all he did was try to help you!" She turned to see the blonde girl off to the side, arms crossed over her chest, foot tapping on the floor.

She took a step forward and the blonde jumped back, but the big one, Angel, took a step forward. Him she had never dreamt of.

"Dana," he said. "It's all right. No one wants to hurt you here." The blonde sputtered, and Angel cut her off with a quick, "Harmony." His voice was like the saw blade. "You must have known that, or you wouldn't have come here."

She smiled. She'd been practicing that so they wouldn't act scared when she did it, the way they did in England. Teeth are dangerous, teeth can kill. (The mouth is in the head. Get the head and it all turns to dust.)

"I'm better now." She'd thought it would be an explanation, but the words just hung there like dust motes in the air, floating and lifeless and brown. Brown is the color of dirt and the brown makes you sleepy.

No, no.

Angel twitched his head sideways and said, "Come into my office, won't you?" He was polite like the English, she thought, and then remembered, he was English too. (Different English but he had that accent and she could hear it in her head with the Chinese and the sassy talk.)

"I won't hurt anyone," she said to the others, because she could see their panic. Knew panic like a favorite dress or lines from a song. "I'm better," she said again, hoping they would believe her. There was necessity now, it welled up inside her, a foreign body within but she didn't want to lose it.

He made another motion with his hands and they all fell behind as he took her into the office. She'd learned that a closed door wasn't always prison. (Still not totally buying that.) Angel didn't touch her, but his hand hovered behind her shoulder as he motioned to the chair.

"Why did you come here?" he asked, and she looked around the big office but didn't see him. There were weapons on the walls and masks and other things that felt like they had life of their own. All of them belonged to blood. "They didn't want you to be here, you know. They didn't think we could help you. I was hoping you'd find that... find some help, with them."

She tried not to look at the weapons and listen to the bloody stories they told. "They did." She opened her palms toward him and stretched the fingers. The gesture of behaving, of giving up. "They said I can face demons now, that I'm ready. But... maybe I can't face that one. Not ready yet."

Angel stared back at her, confused, or angry. Hard to tell which.

"Dana. I'm sorry. He's not here. Even if he was, I don't know that it'd be a good idea to see him."

"I have words to say."

"Some things are better left unsaid. He understood why you did it. He's inflicted enough damage in his time, he understood yours."

"But they're my words." It had taken her all these long months to find them, she couldn't just let them sit in there, tied up and forgotten.

"If I call him and ask, will that be enough? If he says no... will you go back to Giles and the Council and let them help you?"

"Or he could make up his own mind," the voice said from behind her, and she turned to see him there now. The yellow-white hair that glows like a basement light. He wasn't wearing his demon face.

Angel stood and stuck his hands into his pockets. "Spike. You remember Dana."

She'd practiced but the words had left now. The only things left were the pictures -- the girl in his arms with a broken neck, the girl on the floor as the lights flash by. She stood, head down, trying to darken the pictures. Fade to black.

"Come to finish the job?" he asked. That was sarcasm, if she remembered right. It was not like the movie she had in her head. (In the movie, there was kindness.) She should have known better.

 

 

Loping along through the storm drains, Spike turned the corner near one of the spurs on the rail line. The back of his neck started to itch, eerie familiar feeling of being tailed, and he stopped, sighed deeply, and said, "Come on out. You're too clumsy at this to hide."

She peered around the corner, her dark hair in tangled skeins that hid most of her face except those burning eyes. It would be half an eternity before he'd ever forget those eyes.

He'd listened to Dana's halting apology in Angel's office and then pushed her out of the office, sending her on her merry way. Said he accepted it, he was sorry too, and closed the door behind her. They'd all come in then from the other room, and everyone had held their collective breath, waiting for her to knock the door down.

Spike had expected Angel to regale him with a list of all the many things that made him a moron, but instead the poof had just looked sadly at the door. They were all out of their league with that girl, and they all knew it. Even Mr. Save-A-Soul couldn't save that one. But Wes had tried, of course.

"She came a long to way to apologize. Perhaps we could--"

"What?" Spike had snapped. "Coddle her and tell her the psychosis will get better with a spoonful of sugar and some bed rest? It's not curable, you git. Keep her around and something dangerous is bound to happen. They've made progress, that's clear, so she should just leg it home for the help she needs. It won't happen here. Think what she'll do when she begins to understand who's really inside Angel, or what this thing is--" he waved a hand at Illyria-Not-Fred, who seemed lately to go wherever Wes went, day or night "--or what you two have done in the name of fighting the good fight." He glared at Wes and Gunn.

They'd both stared down at the floor, knowing that for once, Spike was right. Still, Illyria-Not-Fred, with her constant confusion over the secrets and hidden meanings of the human heart and mind, said, "She is a warrior. A true warrior."

"Yeah, right," Spike sneered. "Whatever you say."

Wes had looked at her and said quietly, "She is a warrior, but... her mind is damaged."

"You are too fragile."

Helpful as it had turned out having a super-demon in the remnant of Fred, listening to her had long since begun to send all of them round the bend. Only Wes was able to keep a lid on the thing.

Angel just sat behind his desk and stared balefully up at Spike. "I understand why you don't want to deal with Dana. But... I don't think you can get rid of her that easily. She wants something from you."

"She apologized, I accepted and apologized too. Everybody's sorry, boo-hoo, group hug, time to move on. Don't see what else Calamity Jane could want unless it's to kneecap me this time."

"She wants forgiveness." Wesley's face was as dark and hard as a stone. "And you're the only one who can give it to her."

There was nothing Spike could say to that except the obvious -- that she'd cut off his fucking hands and had been well on her way to cutting off his head. But that didn't seem to matter.

Angel said, quietly, "Once upon a time, Spike."

He'd simply turned and left, and hadn't even been remotely surprised when the lass had followed him. She was better than he was giving her credit for; she had a demon radar second to none. She just didn't know the finer points of hunting yet, was all.

She stopped just outside a shaft of light coming in through a street grating and held her arms out to him. For a moment he didn't understand what she was getting at, but when he did, it left him nauseated and angry.

"Are you really that daft still? You think it's better if we play eye for an eye till everyone's blind, or limb for a limb till we're all hobbling round on stumps?"

Dropping her hands to her sides, she stared up at him with such hopelessness that he felt his heart going out to her, despite his best defenses.

"That's not forgiveness or apology, Luv, that's retribution. Won't be having any of that, all right?"

"I wanted to make it better." Her voice was a worn-out thing, weak and quiet from disuse. She'd been locked in that room for fifteen years, they said. Only a child when she'd been tortured. He thought of all the families he'd killed, or what he could remember, at least. Of the children whose lives he'd stolen. They were all come back to haunt him in the form of this girl with the crumbled soul.

"It is. The important thing is they're helping you."

And still she didn't move.

"You can't stay here."

"Why?"

"Well, because."

"Because why?"

He felt as if he were trapped back in the Summers house with all the wannabes and Andrew. "Because...because it's not healthy for you here. It's... LA's a bad place for you emotionally, you're... fragile, and you should be back with the watchers and the slayers. I'm a demon, remember?"

With lightning speed, her left hand came up and he leapt backwards, ready for the stake. But she just reached behind her and pulled up on a tiny blue leather backpack that seemed incongruous with her flannel shirt, jeans, and electrician's boots.

"Look, Dana." At the sound of her name she seemed to close in on herself, as if she wasn't certain it belonged to her. "I forgive you. If that's what you needed, to set things right and be forgiven, then you have that. But you have to go back to the council. You need them far more than you need anything from me." He turned and strode away. Behind him came the plash-plash-plash sound of her big boots in the little puddles of water. When he got to his crap flat, he left the door open for her.

 

 

After a few days he'd got used to her being around. She didn't talk much at all, only stared at him with those enormous, tortured eyes. She sat at the other end of the sofa and watched while he played video games, or silently watched whatever stupid movie he watched, and he thought how like Illyria-Not-Fred she was, head cocked to the side most of the time, trying to parse this strange world being thrown at her. Ordered pizza in for her, which she picked at and ate in tiny pieces, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He really had no idea how to have a houseguest, let alone one who had cut off his mitts.

Spike allowed her to sleep in the terrible bed while he kipped, fully clothed, on the sofa. It was hard to get her to close her eyes; she insisted she'd slept for too long. But a few harsh words, and she did. Dana slept a scared animal's sleep, twitching and mumbling, only to wake screaming and sweating. But she kept it together, he had to give the girl credit for that. The only time Dana flinched was when he took some blood; he'd hoped it might send her away at last, but she just stared hard at him, mouth drawn into a trembling line. How hard it must have been for her to put it all together: everything they'd taught her in England, everything that had been roiling around for years in that abattoir she called a mind, everything she saw in Spike.

The third day he brought her back to Wolfram & Hart, and told Angel to set up the gym for a practice room fit for a super-slayer and a vampire. If she was going to insist on hanging about, he wasn't going to let her go slack.

Spike taught her basic fight moves, not much more than they'd taught her in England, but with a little extra spin. The strength and raw skill he glimpsed surprised him; with practice and discipline, she could become as powerful as Buffy or Faith, maybe even moreso. He'd never seen the qualities of a true slayer in all those girls trying so hard -- hips and lips stuck out in tough-girl poses that never worked and usually only made him want to laugh. But this one had it. If only it hadn't been so hard for her to focus. More than once she lapsed into languages that told him she still saw the visions in her head and connected him to those memories. The girl actually frightened him at times: so strong, so out of control.

Angel came that afternoon and watched her behind a one-way mirror. Spike stood next to him, not certain which was worse -- asking Angel for advice about how to get rid of her, or letting her stay, like some kind of burr attached to a trouser leg. He was about to say something when Angel remarked, "She's good."

"Scary good."

"If we train her... she could be a powerful weapon if she can get past her problems."

"Don't know that I want her to be a weapon. Poor thing's been used enough by people, hasn't she?"

Angel turned to him. "You're soft on her."

"I am not! Just can't get rid of her, is all. She's like a sodding puppy, all big brown eyes and never takes go home for an answer."

The ponce turned back to watching her. "You're soft on her. You always get soft on the broken ones."

"I... " Spike fucking hated it when Angel said things like that. As if he had any actual insight into Spike's mind and soul. "Fred was never broken." Like that disproved the theory.

"She was, once. Underneath it's still there. You don't know that much about my people."

Spike snorted in derision.

"Maybe you're just the person Dana needed."

"What?" he barked. "What a load of self-help-book shit. Spare me."

"You told her things she needed to hear, even though she didn't want to hear them. You got through to her, even though she was terrified of you and what was happening in her head. Face it, you left an impression."

Spike lifted his arms, and said, "Yeah, and she left quite an impression on me, mate." Then he twisted two fingers in Angel's direction, and went back into the gym. As he left he heard Angel mutter, "You need to get over your thing for slayers." While they'd watched her, Spike realized that she'd been in the same clothes for days now. Once it appeared she wasn't going to leave, he'd coerced her into taking showers, and she would stay in there for a half hour at a time. He'd got her a toothbrush from the druggist on the corner, a brush for that rat's nest hair. But it hadn't dawned on him that she didn't have any other clothes.

"What did you bring with you on the trip over?" he asked while she rested. "Just that silly thing you call a pack?"

"This." She gave him the pack and he pulled out a Slayer's Handbook, which made him laugh out loud, and a book of yoga postures, which made him laugh even harder.

"Oh, yeah, the really useful stuff for demon-fighter travel." A passport and ID, information on scraps of paper. The last thing was a little chapbook of meditations.

"The words. They help."

He put the stuff back in her pack and sighed. "Of course." Shame warmed his skin. "You stay here and do your yoga thingies. I'll get some dosh, and then we'll find you some new clothes and girly unmentionables. All right?" He was never entirely sure what Dana understood; so much of average life had passed her by, only horror stopping for a visit. Spike had no idea where along the line he'd become the caretaker for the shattered, but apparently this was his job.

 

 

He didn't ask her about the words. What words, she wanted to him to ask, so she could try to explain to him why it was better. Why she would try her hardest not to hurt him again. Even though pictures kept flashing in her mind's eye (pop, he's carrying her across the floor, pop, he's sticking a needle into her neck).

When he came back, he nodded in the direction of the door and she followed.

"Got one of the luxury sedans from the car park this time." Sometimes she didn't really understand what he was talking about, but it was nice to have someone just talk to her, anyway. She hadn't understood Andrew, either. "Best not to go hot-rodding about town with you, I thought."

He opened the door for her, waiting while she slid tentatively into the seat. No one had ever done that. While they drove, she looked at his face in the flickering street lights. It was hard to put all the fragments of pictures together to make them match the face she saw now, the face that had stared up at her when she cut off the hands that belonged to a demon. (Men who mistreat little girls.)

She fiddled with the radio dial. This was her favorite thing about cars, about living outside now. Music. The minute someone spoke in the radio, she turned the channel to find music, any kind of music. They never gave her music in the room.

"You like that, don't you? The radio."

She nodded.

"That's good. More things you enjoy, the more you get grounded in reality."

After a while he said to her, "Did they teach you to drive? Over there."

She shook her head.

"Well, you'll need to learn, if you're going to stay here. Not that I'm advocating your continued residence in Hell Lay, mind. Just saying."

"In England, I went everywhere on the subway."

"Underground, yeah. Have that here now, though it doesn't get you many places, if you ask me." He paused for a while, and asked, "So who was your watcher over there, anyway? Did Giles take you under his wing?"

"Andrew."

Spike laughed. It made her uncomfortable, a creepy-crawly feeling on her skin.

"That ponce couldn't watch a trained dog, let alone a barmy slayer. No offense."

Over there everyone was afraid to call her insane. She knew they thought she was, but no one wanted to say it except Andrew, and even he mouthed the words from behind, like she wouldn't see. They thought she wouldn't get better if they "dwelled on her condition." Maybe they had a point. She was better now.

"Mr. Giles taught me things, and the slayers. They took me out. Showed me how to live here, now."

He looked at her. His eyes were dark in the small light. Not demon dark, though. "How'd they do that?"

Tick-tock, listen to the clock, watch the light. "Hypnotize." (When you hear the words, you will feel relaxed, you will forget.)

"Surprised they could get you to focus long enough. Well done them, though."

The metronome with its slowly arcing arm, the light of the crystal they passed back and forth across her face. Mr. Giles's pleasant voice, not like the voice in the basement, not like the doctor. Always asking how she felt. Always calm. Calming. She kept the words inside her like gold.

He wanted to ask her something, she could tell. Was it about the girl, or about her? Eventually he said, "Did they try to make you forget? All of it?"

"No."

"Then what? They expect you to just walk around like it didn't mean anything?" His voice was cracky and wavery. Like it meant something to him.

"Talk about it. Draw pictures, say the words. Do the postures and meditate. Fight, train, focus. Heart, head."

"Don't let's talk about hearts and heads again, eh?"

She'd gone too far. Scared him, like she was afraid of doing. You can't get them if you make them run away. Try to catch up to them, you fall behind. (Happens every time, Andrew said.)

He was quiet for a long while, drumming fingers on the steering wheel. She tried to listen to the music and think, but it didn't help. It was hard to know what to do.

Finally he turned and asked, "So, did you ever meet her? Buffy. The one who gave you all that power?" All this time he was probably waiting to ask. Andrew warned her. (Spike has a Buffy-track mind.)

"No. Willow was there. Other slayers that knew her. Mr. Giles." She thought for a bit, and then said, "I feel like I know her. What she gave us. And you."

That seemed to satisfy him, but she wasn't sure. Would it bother him if she knew how he felt about the Slayer? All the personal things Andrew had told her? He was hard to understand, maybe because he was a vampire and they weren't really people anymore. Sometimes she felt that was why she was drawn to him. (A monster just like me. Killer.)

Yet he kept trying to be nice to her. That was a people thing to do, wasn't it? So much that was hard to understand, even though she'd made the movies in her head. Things would have been better if they'd followed the script.

When they got to the store her heart beat faster, and there was sweat between her shoulder blades. It was easier to be with other people, to do the things they'd taught her and make the right words and the right faces. But. (Easy was relative.) To go to the airport, be on the plane, talk to the people safe behind desks at Wolfram & Hart... Only now, after all these days, she didn't have much left in her. Now there was this big store and these big signs and bright lights (too bright) inside. So many people, all expecting her to be normal. A not-monster.

He tuned off the car and looked at her for a while. "Everything you think you know about me from your visions... it might not be what you believe. There are a lot more stories than just those. Do you understand that? I think you do, because you came here."

"Yes." She wanted to tell him that she knew, about his history with the Slayer, about who he killed and why (he killed them both), about the one his lover killed. But they hadn't taught her enough words yet. She couldn't wait for the words to come, she'd learned, when there were things to do. You just had to do stuff, and hope it would be right.

The store he'd parked in front of was called Target. There was a big round bull's-eye on the top. Heart, head. Hit them in the heart, you've hit your target.

He opened her door and offered a hand. The first time he touched her outside of the training. She looked at his hand, so white in the light above the car. The angle of the wrist, the sharp bone that poked out above it. Inches beyond that where she'd put the saw. Cut and cut, as if she could have cut it all out of her head along with his hands.

 

 

Silly bint didn't even know her own size. No surprise, really, considering. They'd taken her shopping a few times over there, but she had only dutifully tried on the things they gave her. Or at least, that's how the story sounded. Could never be certain he understood everything she told him, what with the missing articles, evaporating pronouns, and stammered tangents as she tried to pull words out of thin air.

But he knew her type. Spine of steel under all that wreckage. Even without Buffy's legacy and Will's beaucoup de magie, this girl would survive, despite all the growing pains and confusion. Something in their eyes -- he'd learnt to spot it long ago. Now she had all the guiding lights in England looking after her, and it didn't get better than that.

Spike found a plump little girl to help them, heavy Mexican accent, who seemed to melt when he turned on his own accent high as it would go. He explained and she eyeballed him like the perv he no doubt sounded. She took Dana aside and found her some underthings, a few pairs of jeans, some shirts. While he waited for her to try them on, Spike wandered over to the cosmetics section and picked up clips, hair stuff, cleansers. Everything he figured a girl would want. He examined all the beauty things sitting provocatively on the counter, makeups and eye shadows and lip colors. Items she would never need, this girl with such beauty hiding under all the ruins. Still, he grabbed up a lotion with the word aromatherapy (soothing and calming apparently the best choice; rejuvenating and exciting seemed rather the wrong direction for a psychotic), a candle with the same scent, hoping that every little thing would make her feel better. A pretty lip gloss with mango flavor, just for the hell of it. Later, he wandered back to the fitting room, and still Dana was in there, the shop assistant nowhere to be found. He knocked and asked if she was all right. When there was no answer, Spike opened the door to the empty room and spied clothing in a heap all over the floor. At least if Calamity Jane had scarpered, he hoped she hadn't killed everyone in her path while doing it. He dropped the items and sprinted back to the entrance, following her scent.

No dead bodies, definitely an improvement.

He found her sitting under a street lamp on a little knoll of grass, sheltered by hibiscus and a couple of palm trees. Phony landscaping designed to make you feel less like you were lost in a sea of tarmac surrounded by the ubiquitous Marie Callenders, Walgreen's, octoplex theatres, mailbox stores, and teriyaki joints that made up the cookie-cutter neighborhood malls of California. Interesting that she'd beelined for the only thing that resembled real nature when she'd spent so much of her life imprisoned.

He sat down beside her and watched as she dug her fingers into the dirt, over and over, as if she'd find something important there.

"Didn't really think it would be that much for you. Took you at your word you were all better now."

She didn't look up at him. "Don't belong here."

"Who does?" He paused. "They don't know, do they? That you're here. You left without telling them."

Dana nodded and stopped digging; brushed her hands on her jeans.

"Probably giving Angel an earful right now. Wonder why they didn't have the witch just do a locator spell the minute they rumbled you'd gone."

"She's gone."

"Ah. So... you figured it was time for you to go, too? Make a break for it while you could?"

But of course she wouldn't answer. He was getting more than a bit tired of playing this game with her, soft as he was feeling these days. Though the not killing was a hopeful sign.

"She did some magic on you, didn't she? To help? And it helped, and you wanted to talk about things. Fix it?"

"A little magic. But... not what made me come here."

"Then what, love? It doesn't make sense, you chasing round after me. Being here at the scene of the crime -- everything that happened to you, everything you did... why come back if you weren't really ready?"

The look on her face, frustration and bewilderment, told him that maybe she wasn't so certain herself.

"You killed them. Both of them. And her." He wasn't certain who her was until he realized that she'd seen that other slayer as well, the one Dru had picked off. Imagine trying to make sense of all that. Jesus, as if the girl weren't mad enough, to have visions of barmy, scary Dru in your head, not to mention experiencing the last moments of an unformed life. "But I killed them all." She held her hands out to him, palms open, as if offering something. "Blood on all our hands."

He still didn't understand what coming to him like this would do for her. The only way she could come to grips with this would have been to stay in England to get the help of those who understood what it meant to be a slayer.

"Yes, but why me?" He tried not let the peevish frustration color his voice.

"Rescued me."

He laughed, and she cringed. She'd done the same thing in the car. Spike wondered if it was just the loudness, or the fact that it was him -- figure in her nightmares, her fear come to life -- that made it so difficult. "Who told you that?" Spike asked, crossing his legs under him and searching for a cigarette. He hardly smoked anymore, but this seemed like one of those times.

"Andrew."

Ah. Of course. "Dana, Luv. Andrew tells stories. Ridiculous stories with no basis in fact. And I'll be snapping his neck the moment he sets foot on California soil again." He stared into Dana's hurt and bewildered eyes, could feel the crumbling of his will in the face of her disappointment. "He means well, but he has an overactive imagination, and he's just a silly boy nancing about a world he doesn't belong in."

She did that hand thing again. He'd noticed that she did it a lot, as if they betrayed her, and she didn't know how to control them. "You came for me. But I hurt you. Like I hurt them."

"Well, yeah, but it was the only thing you knew to do. Thought I was the man who hurt you. Any other place and time, I could well have been. Not saying I was happy about it, but... no harm, no foul."

"He said you rescued people. Saved the world. Saved me. Hero."

Spike was starting to long for whole sentences again. "No, not me, darlin'. The other vampire, the big one with the Neanderthal forehead? He's your hero type. Tried it on once, but it didn't fit."

Her face was imploring, as if she needed to hear that it was all true. Oh, when he got his hands on Andrew...

"Hermano," she blurted unexpectedly.

"What?"

"Bro."

Oh, for fuck's sake. What the hell kind of stories was he making up? Spike pinched the bridge of his nose, then stared up at the stars sparkling between the palm fronds above their heads.

"He told you I was trying to rescue you, so now you think you need to make friends with me for what happened? Andrew thinks he's my mate, and I'll be yours. That's why you left?"

"To the light. The words and the light, if I want to get better. Face the music. The force."

He rubbed a hand over his forehead. "Yeah, okaaay." Christ, how did you ever talk to someone this damaged? Andrew had only made it worse by filling her head with these tales of heroism and goodness, offering her stupid slogans as if that would make it better. Idiot couldn't even seem to get that those kinds of stories battling in her head with the dreams and images of torture she'd endured would only make it worse. Spike could thump the little twat into a coma right now.

"I've no idea what's going on in your head right now. All I can tell you is that what Andrew's put in it wasn't worth you coming out here. But you're here, so we might as well make a slayer of you. Help you get on with getting better. Right?" It might end up being the only way he could shed her -- give the child the tools to live a life teetering on the edge of normal, get one of the big guns from Merrie Olde to come and look after her... but she was still so very dangerous. He didn't know if he could trust in her ability to heal.

She didn't answer for a long while. Then she looked up at him and brushed the hair away from her face. "Spike?"

It was so strange to hear her call him by name. "What is it?"

"How does it stop? You killed them both, but I killed... all of them. All only trying to help."

He thought for a minute, pictured her there in the basement with the saw in her hands. "You mean guilt? How do you stop guilt?"

She nodded.

"You don't. You just find a way to make up for it. Those people, they're gone. And you've paid a price that's worse than any justice the normal world can hand out. Go round feeling guilty, all you'll do is end up like Angel, walking round with your head hanging down, brooding."

She curled her fingers into fists. "So much blood on so many hands."

Well, the lass may have been subliterate, but she had a flair for the profound. "So, then. Now you find a way to wash it off, and make up the difference."

Spike stood and offered a hand, which she took, allowing him to pull her up close to his face. Somehow Andrew had drawn a picture of him as her hero, her champion, a sunny picture that filled her vulnerable mind, and now she was willing to allow that picture to come to life. Maybe he was the only person who could really reach her, if that was the case. She kept her hand in his for just a bit longer, then her fingers slipped away.

"Let's go pick up those clothes, shall we? Then we'll start on that training."

 

 

While Spike read the Slayer's Handbook, Dana played with her new things, opening bottles and smelling them over and over, spreading out her clothing and then folding it precisely, placing each piece neatly on top of the other. There was something charmingly childlike about it. Each time he'd look up from the book, he'd find her there, a kid on Christmas.

Things started to make sense the more he read the manual. It wasn't just about fighting, which explained her rudimentary skills. There were chapters about slayer history, demonology, the role of the council (he hoped they'd be updating that very soon), a chronology (even listing the death dates of the two slayers he'd killed, which sent a little chill of regret through him), and more chapters than anyone needed about mind/body techniques, meditation, martial arts, and all the rest. The yoga book and the little zen koans seemed logical now.

The book made Spike think back to Buffy, a day when he'd come upon her in the basement, training. She'd been balanced on one hand, her eyes focused solely on a glass in the corner, as if she were Luke Skywalker willing the glass to rise. Her outstretched arm was zigzagged in a ray of sunlight peeking through the ground-level window. Of course she'd learned all that from Giles, Spike understood now. The grace and beauty in holding such complete control of your mind. It wasn't only about power and strength and how to throw a punch. To win, a slayer needed everything to work in tandem -- mind, heart, body, soul. No wonder he'd never been able to kill her when he'd tried; she was all the things a slayer should have been, more than any of the rest had been allowed the chance to be.

Spike gazed over the top of the book at Dana, sitting on the floor in front of the sofa, pulling her hair back into one of the sparkly clips he'd bought. For a moment, in her unguarded face as she looked up at him, he saw Buffy, all her strength and power and brilliance. This one could have been a slayer unlike any other, even above Buffy or Faith, above Nikki. But there was a point past where you could fix someone, Spike knew that better than anyone. Still, he had to try to do something for her, and maybe this was it -- use what was in her blood. Her calling.

"So, this yoga thing. You been practicing this?" He flipped through some of the poses and they looked... well, silly, but he imagined it must have some kind of benefit considering how hooked everyone in LA was on the whole thing.

"Yes."

"You want to do some of that? D'you need me to walk you through it?"

"Okay."

It was nice to hear her actually say words, even if they were still mostly monosyllables. They'd stopped at a burger joint to get her some dinner, though she hadn't progressed much from eating like an animal. He'd had to remind her to slow down, had to order for her because the choices made no sense in her scattered comprehension. It was truly astonishing that she'd managed to get an airplane ticket and fly out here. Unless, perhaps, Andrew had done it for her, some romance novel plot that she was crossing continents and oceans to stand by her hero's side.

He flipped through the book and found the beginning, talked her through some of the poses, reminded her to breathe because the book said so. By the time they got to the last few poses, he wasn't so sure that this really was rubbish; it had almost always been control and focus that was his downfall when he fought slayers. He'd won a few, lost a few, but power was the root of his fighting life, never skill and control. Might have to take it up himself.

At the end of the exercises was something they called the relaxation pose, and Spike read it as he'd read the rest of them, while she lay down on the floor, hands out by her sides, eyes closed. But partway through, when she seemed the most relaxed and in the zone, he noticed tears trickling from her eyes, running down her temple into her hair. His throat felt tight, his chest warm.

Lying down on the floor facing her, he said softly, "Oh, Petal. Don't cry." He wiped the tears away. Miraculously, she didn't flinch.

"What is it? I say something wrong?"

Dana opened her eyes and looked at the ceiling. "It was never so quiet inside."

Not I -- it. Christ, what had they done to her all these years? What had Buffy done to her by giving her this power?

"That's good, though, isn't it? You should be proud of yourself." He moved his head closer to hers and stretched an arm above his head. Spike could feel the heat of her skin, smell the blood in her, so warm and rich. "Just take it in, all right? Relax and let yourself feel that." He had no idea if that was the right thing to say, but it sounded like something he'd hear on a chat show. All he had was his gut to go on here. Probably Mr. Sensitive would know how to handle this, but Spike was definitely in uncharted territory.

Yet it felt somehow so familiar: damaged slayer turning to him for help, so unattached from reality and so miserable in her skin. And him rising to the occasion, even without knowing how. Angel was right. Spike was soft on her, though he couldn't imagine anyone less appropriate to be soft on. Maybe, in some ways, even a bit fond of her.

He'd loved a lunatic vampire and a slayer who had kicked his arse. Now he was attached to a lunatic slayer who could not only kick his arse, but kill him dead if she was so inclined, and who knew what might make her inclined? Not one of your cleverer decisions, Spike.

He wiped away the tears as they crept from her closed eyes, and then chanced putting his hand on her shoulder. He pulled her near him and murmured, "Shhh, just go to sleep," until she did, and he fell asleep next to her on the floor.

 

 

When he woke, Dana was standing above him with a chain wrapped around her hand. His head was so thick and he felt... drugged. She'd shot him full of something again. Christ, where had she got it? Something dripped from the chain. It smelled like blood. But he still had his own hands at least. What was she doing now? Her hair was wild and her face was streaked with something that could only be described as ichor.

"What have you done?" he croaked out, but she just stared at him, finally raising the hand with the chain, bringing it down on his face. He could feel the bone crack underneath, cheek splintering. Then the stake came out, poised above his heart.

"What needed to be done. Monsters, all of them. He's a demon." Oh God. She'd gone to Wolfram & Hart and killed them all. He could feel the drugs coursing through his veins now, heat like strong whisky spreading out through the network of useless arteries. She raised the stake.

"Dana, Luv, you don't want to do this," he whispered.

"I ain't your love," she said, voice lost in a dark echo.

He howled, and woke to the sound of her fear.

She was sweating and panting. If he could have, Spike probably would have done the same as well. His hand lay on her lap, but she sat up straight, fingers over mouth, eyes wide with terror. And he thought he'd been the one having the bad dream. Spike was almost afraid to take his hand away because if he moved, she could very well decide to take a body part off just for the effort. Stupid to think he could have helped her so easily. A nightmare life doesn't go away when you wake up, because you never really do wake, do you?

"You okay?" was all he could think to ask, though Spike was certain a scream was buried in his lungs, waiting to get out.

"Bad dream." He remembered her saying that if you held still, it didn't hurt so much. She was holding so very still now.

"Demons? Or the man in the basement?" It seemed pointless to dance around that anymore.

"You. Him."

"Him who?"

"Angel."

"What about us?"

"Killed you both. Souls gone. Blue demon. All of them."

He leapt up. "Fucking hell." They were having the same dreams? What the fuck was this? "Jesus. We're having the same dream. Dana, we had the same dream." He wiped his hand over his mouth, the scream rising inside.

As if this meant nothing to her, she hung her head, staring at her hands. Her body was frozen, confused that there was no blood on them.

"They come true. Sometimes."

It always took him a few moments to understand the Morse code explanations. He breathed, trembling. "It was just a dream." He desperately needed to believe that. Wes better have an answer for this. It was too fucking creepy by half. "Remember what they told you? That you had other slayers' visions? You have a... what do they call it? Collective unconscious. It's almost like you share a mind with the rest of them, and that includes a lot of bad things. Angel and me... we caused of a lot of them. Your mind just wants you to fix it, like you tried to fix the memory of the bad man in the basement. All right?"

What a load of bollocks, he thought, but if she believed him, that would be enough. Spike tried to stop shaking before he pulled her up, then pushed her towards the bed. Possibly a suicidal move, but she went along with it. He slid the covers over her, and when she looked up at him, he understood why. Trust. A look he'd seen so very rarely, but he knew what it was.

 

 

She could feel it, blood that spoke inside her head like a memory, an old voice that told her things she needed to know. It rushed through the veins, inside the brain, and then, whoomp, it was gone.

But Spike had taught her to listen to it. Listen to the blood, he said. Voix sanguine. It will tell you what to do in a fight.

The blood told her to thrust, parry, whirl, kick. It said where to jump, stand, bend to. She bent like a willow, stood straight like steel. The blood imprinted those things when she asked it.

He didn't really know that he has given her a gift, and she couldn't figure out how to say it. Every night he would drill her with questions from the handbook, do the poses with her, meditate. They came here all day and learned to fight. Angel came once in a while to fight, too, and Wes, who brought weapons. The weapons told her scary stories. Sometimes, though she couldn't tell Spike, she was afraid of the fighting. It scared her to listen to the blood; sometimes it told her that he was the one she should hurt. They had dreams together and she always hurt him.

Once Andrew told her of love. Something she remembered, but only faintly, like a name whispered in her ear. (Mom, Dad, brother. They were love, and love was taken away so easily.) But Andrew said some love was timeless, like Spike and Buffy. She knew who Buffy was, part of her mind and his. But if she talked about it, he went quiet.

She didn't want to hurt him again. Hard to remember why she had hurt him the first time. Sometimes the pictures blurred, and she saw him, and then him, and then the girls, but she would think of the words and then it would be all right. Even in the white rooms she had never felt so calm.

Once in a while she looked at herself in the mirror, even though it made her afraid. She never knew who would look back at her -- the slayer, the monster, the little girl? So many people lived inside her. But if the right face was there, she would pull her hair up into the clip he'd bought, clean herself up, and he would notice and smile.

His smile was nice, unlike hers. He had blue eyes that sparkled when he smiled. When they would practice, he would grin and grin. He loved the fight, so she wanted to love the fight too. But if she hit him hard, or moved the stake too close, he jumped away, fearful. Like he'd been in the basement, just when he woke up. Then he would laugh, and pretend it was not a scar.

She could see him pull back. Knew enough of the fight to know how carefully he pulled away. One day she heard Angel tell him not to, that he wasn't doing her favors by holding back. That the fighting made her better. Spike said to bugger off. He didn't know she could hear them and knew they talked about her all the time. Whether she would get better enough to live on her own. Angel didn't like her staying with Spike, as if he didn't know Spike always slept on the couch.

They all talked about her like they were still afraid. They were kind, the way they had been in the movies in her head. But they were afraid she would break. Crack. Shatter all over the place, like before, spilling all the darkness that was inside. Hurt him again, or hurt them. Except the demon, the blue one. That one was never afraid. The monsters understood her, and she understood them. They already had the devil there (green with horns).

It was hard to understand the slaying when there were vampires who were heroes. (Her heroes.) Tried to save her, cared enough to give her a second chance and how could she know when it was okay to kill them? They expected her to know.

Spike took her places -- the store, the mall, a bar, a restaurant. The people and the light and the noise that pounded in her head and leaked out her ears like blood. He taught her how to talk to them all, walk through places like she was chosen. Said he wasn't much for social graces, but the basics would usually get you far enough. It was all new, and old. A lifetime remembered long ago, still so new. Ten years, fifteen. Time passed differently in her head.

Then he said she was ready.

"Fancy going out on a night?" he asked. He handed her the stake. Just handed it to her, like he trusted her.

 

 

They prowled along the backstreets of the industrial district, Dana walking ahead of him because better though she was, sane was still a relative term with this girl, and it was always good to have the one with the stake ahead of you. Spike had learned to believe in her: the girl was trying so very hard. But he couldn't rely on her -- her connection to reality still looked so tenuous, even after all these weeks.

When he'd talked with Wes and Angel about the shared dreams, they'd both assumed it had something to do with The Powers That Be. They placed a lot of faith in the Powers, despite the betrayal of that faith over and over. Spike would have none of it; after Lindsey had convinced him the Powers were looking out for him and that he was their golden boy, Spike wasn't queuing up to buy into all this fate mumbo-jumbo. He preferred to make his own fate, even if he had no idea how the bloody hell to do it.

Not that he didn't want to believe there was some reason for all this. For her to have come here, for her need for atonement, for his own strange mixed-up feelings about this girl who'd tried to kill him. Wes had helpfully pointed out Spike's predilection for women who did him harm, and that maybe that was the reason he'd been the one she dismembered and later sought forgiveness from. Somehow the Powers had known it would be him she could connect to, who could reach past her illness and his own victimhood. Which only served to get him brassed off, the notion he was anyone's victim.

Over the weeks that passed, Spike began to believe it just a little. Could be that something had stage-managed all of this: brought him to her, then her to him, finally connected them through their subconsciouses. In her own inarticulate way, Dana seemed to believe it, too.

She tried so very hard for him, training nearly every moment of every day. Kept herself tidied up, worked on controlling mind and spirit. She'd begun to draw again, but her pictures weren't childish scribblings of brutality and demons; now they were pictures of a world she wanted to live in, with sun and blue sky and people who smiled. One picture featured a slayer, but not one bloodied and bowed; instead, triumphant and strong, standing in sunlight.

And though it startled him, Spike began to love her just a little. For believing in him when she had no reason to -- not because Andrew had told her to, but because she just did. Dana showed him something in her he'd not thought possible, and certainly never thought to be directed his way: faith. What he asked of her, she believed in doing; what he offered her, she took without question.

Angel got his digs in as often as possible, but Spike didn't care this time. One day he watched them spar, then caught Spike out in the hallway later, saying, "She's ready to try, you know. You can't protect her forever."

"I'm not sure of that," Spike responded.

"If you're with her, she can do it."

"You still want to use her as some kind of weapon, don't you? You all think of her as a thing you can use to fight your battles."

"No, I don't. I think she's a broken, brave girl who's endured something you and I can only imagine because we've always been on the inflicting end of the damage, not the suffering end. But I also think she wants to be here, and whatever this fight is that's coming -- that you and I both know is coming -- she wants to be part of it."

"Only because she thinks it's something she has to do out of loyalty to me." Angel was so wrapped up in his bloody fight-the-good fight apocalyptic rubbish that he could never see the motivations inside the individual.

"Not just out of loyalty. Because she believes in whatever you believe in. She trusts you, for some inexplicable, misguided reason. We need her, Spike, if she can do the job. And you know she needs us."

Spike had only stared at the great prat, uncertain whether a punch or just walking away was warranted. Finally he said, "I'm not sure she'll ever be ready. You don't understand her."

And that, maybe, was the whole problem. He really did understand that madness just a little too well, and he could see her dark, tortured soul as clearly as he could see Angel standing in front of him. No matter how exasperated he'd been with Dru, no matter how cruelly Buffy had twisted their relationship in the depths of her despair, he still got both of those women on a fundamental level. Spike didn't always know how to soothe the madness or make it go away, but he understood it and how to make it safe for them to live with their torment.

Now he walked behind her, hunting, waiting to see who would be proven right here. If Dana could do the job, then she could be a powerful ally and Angel would have one more warrior on his side. But if Spike was right, she couldn't handle the fight, and might make things worse. Other slayers could make the adjustment as needed -- this vampire is all right, that vampire must be dusted. But she had no such ability to distinguish. Life was a constant series of readjustments, of surreal inputs into her miswired brain. It would never be anything but, and it didn't matter if she fancied him or he fancied her, some things couldn't be set right by feelings.

Dana stopped abruptly, head cocked. Her fingers wrapped around the stake and let go as she listened, wrapped, let go. Definitely vamps. Demons weren't that light on their feet. Spike waited for her to decide what to do. Eventually she withdrew into the shadows of a building, beside a skip.

Good on you, my little lovely. Spike was proud of how far she'd come since the day she'd clumsily stalked him in the tunnels. He joined her, standing opposite in the alley. There were three of the vamps, all male, all big. He heard her growl low in the throat.

The slayer rushed out at them in a blur of motion and noise. Fists pinwheeling, body flying, howling her mad rage. She was beautiful, everything he'd taught her coming to life before his eyes. But the vampires fought back once they found their footing, and Spike came out from the shadows as well. He dusted one quickly, no match for Spike's love of the game or his strength. When he turned to her, she was losing. Fighting like she had before coming to them, without focus or control. Confused, angry. The child didn't know what to do.

He staked the vamp on her left, then shouted for her to get the one on her right. But Dana was slow, and her hesitation cost ground. The vamp flipped her back, slamming her head into the pavement. With a grunt she staggered to her feet, swinging blindly. Then Dana went at the vampire like a train, shoving head-first into his chest, and he flew backwards into piles of garbage. It wasn't enough to dent his speed. A quick pivot and the demon had the poor kid down again, kicking her legs out from under her. Dana had a chance to stake him but again she hesitated, just enough to let the vamp rabbit-punch her a couple times in the face. The terrifying thing for Spike was how she stood the blows, head bouncing back and forth as though on a spring. As if this was how she expected it to be. Head down, growling like a wild animal and almost pawing the ground, she breathed through a foam of blood on her nose and mouth, and then Spike couldn't stand it anymore. He rushed the vamp and finished him off, beating him to a pulp for his transgressions before the dusting.

Dana stood, trembling and sheened in sweat, staring down at the ground. Her chest heaved while gradually the snarling sound turned to a hiccupping sob, and then she dropped the stake.

Spike had been afraid of this, but he'd had no idea it would manifest this tragically. The damage was done, her scars too deep, and she may have been trainable, but she was not fixable. He put his hand out as if calming a dog and said, "Now, now, take a deep breath. Remember your words, all right?"

He had no idea if she could be touched, or even communicated with right now. Even in full game-face, Spike didn't get as close to acting like an animal as she did right now. And what were the bloody words she was always banging on about, anyway? He hadn't thought to ask her, and now seemed like the worst time to ask. Should have thought of that before she turned into a barking lunatic again.

"Dana? You there? You okay?" Christ, why hadn't he thought to bring along a bottle or two of Thorazine, just in case he'd turned out to be as right. When Dru had her hourly psychotic breaks, she'd calmed at a touch and loving words. But he had only touched Dana a few times, and mostly in training rather than tenderness.

"I'm sorry, Petal. This wasn't a good idea. Sorry I put you through it." And then a thought struck him. "This wasn't the first time you tried to fight for real, was it?"

A huge, keening sob made its way out from under her hair.

"Dana, look at me." He stood in front of her but didn't reach out to touch her. Finally she looked up from under her brows, a look he knew all too well from their first meeting. Spike almost expected the freaky foreign tongues to start pouring out from her blood-flecked lips.

"Luv, did they take you out before? You tried to fight a vamp?"

She nodded and sobbed again.

"Andrew didn't take you, though, did he? It was the other girls who didn't understand. And you were afraid of hurting one, in case he might be good?"

Another nod, and she clutched her arms tight around her.

"Well, balls. Why didn't he tell me? Could have saved us one bloody big lot of trouble if he'd just let us know." It wasn't like she could have explained it all for them. With a certain amount of brio, he put a hand on her shoulder and patted it. She made no move to pull away.

"So all this time he's been filling your head with comic book rubbish about what a hero I am, and you just wanted to do the right thing. Is that it?"

She shook her head. When Dana looked hard into his eyes she seemed suddenly to be filled with a courage he hadn't seen before. "Don't want to hurt anyone again. Said you'd help." Her voice was like an ancient record, scratched and hollow. Spike slipped his arms around her and she folded into him, so tiny and so broken. "Friend," she whispered against his neck, and he could feel the tears stinging at the back of his eyes.

 

 

Spike hadn't expected her to come on to him. He might have fancied her a bit himself, but the last thing he would expect was for her to try it on with him. Not that it wasn't an ego boost to have a beautiful young girl macking on him, but he knew it was not out of attraction. He was washing her wounds and taping her up, valiantly attempting to ignore the overpowering scent of her blood, when she began trying to undress and nuzzle his face.

He took Dana's hands from the shirt she was trying to unbutton, and put them down at her sides. "No, no, Petal. Not like that. You don't owe me anything because you couldn't fight. Do you understand? Nothing. Certainly not this." Where did she get these ideas? It didn't feel like that... what did they call it, acting out? The girl was almost too far gone for that. It had to be another romance novel idea Andrew had put inside her twisty little brain -- if you can't fight for him, put out for him. For the love of God... the idea that the girl could ever even have a sexual relationship was just too absurd, and Spike couldn't believe that even cretinous Andrew would think of such a thing.

Steering her to the sofa, he settled her down and then got himself a beer. He'd tried to introduce her to the joys of alcohol at one point, but the pained face she'd made prompted him to order a root beer after that. Angel and Wes disapproved of his taking her out on a night, but it had been part of his plan to introduce Dana to as much of life, seedy or otherwise, as he could.

With the suspicion that she couldn't make it in the world now fact, Spike wasn't totally sure where to go from here. Without some sort of goal, his little slayer seemed bereft. If she were anchorless with that kind of strength and that kind of psychosis, what amount of harm could she do? What if all their work only landed her back in that asylum?

The two of them sat on opposite ends of the sofa, not talking about it, glumly drinking their drinks. Spike flipped on the telly. After an annoying silence -- why did they always describe these things as companionable? It seemed nothing so much as excruciating -- he turned to her and asked, "Did you believe you could fight?"

"Why make me strong?" she asked, her voice so cracked she could hardly get the words out.

"Luck of the draw, Petal. Some genetic thing from long ago. No one ever thought of a situation like yours when they planned it out, I'd imagine."

Dana began to cry again, so he gathered her in his arms and took her to the bed. Not wanting her to get the wrong idea, Spike pulled the covers up and then lay down next to her. For a while he stroked her hair, not unlike how he used to do for Dru and for Buffy, and let her cry it out.

"What do you see in there? Of me, I mean." He touched the tip of his index finger to the center of her forehead. "You know the down and dirty details, or is it just the big hero with an S on his chest for SuperVamp?"

Finally. After all this time, he'd got a smile out of her. "I know. About you." Her face was transformed by the smile.

He pulled her into his arms and held her till she fell asleep. When he was confident she was under, he went to call Andrew. It was time to send her home.

 

 

"I hope you know what you're doing," Wes said disapprovingly, as if it went unspoken that Spike could never know what he was doing.

"She can't hack it. Whatever the 'it' is, whatever fight's coming, she can't do it, because she can't even handle the day-to-day mundane shit. She's a wreck."

"But she wants to try." Angel had such a flair for stating the obvious and pointless. "It might help her more if she could."

"And we gave her the chance to do that. Look. If whatever's coming is bad as we think it is? Then she needs to get the bloody hell out of Dodge. Too damn dangerous." He didn't want them to know that his main goal was seeing her protected. That he'd die a lot easier knowing she was safe.

"What's left for her, then? Sitting in a corner of the new council building, a corner not unlike her cell in a mental ward, playing a part in Andrew's little psychodrama? She's clever enough to know that's not a viable future."

"Whatever made Dana a killer before, it's not there now. She'll get mowed down before the coin toss. At least if trouble comes, this girl will live and she won't do anyone any more harm."

"Maybe," Angel said, but Spike could tell by the odd grimace that he finally understood the level of emotion driving Spike's decision. Christ, why did it take so long for Angel to get anything? "But the dreams... there's got to be some greater reason."

"There was. They were the way for me to find out."

Wes said, "Dana came back here because she couldn't focus on anything else except atoning to someone she'd hurt. Once she understood what she'd done... don't you see? She understands now, and she wants to help. The Powers probably made certain she'd feel that way so she would come here. To help the one person she believes befriended her. It doesn't matter whether it's true or not, that's what she believes now. If you don't let her help... it might destroy her."

"You both seem to think it's all about atonement and forgiveness. It's not." Spike had no idea how to explain this to either of them, two men who'd struggled for so long to pretend their darker selves didn't exist. "She wants to kill the monster inside her. Kid killed all those people, maimed me... We spent a bit of time together, her and me, before she chopped off my feelers. Girl knows the monster in me, and I know the one in her. She wants to get rid of the thing inside that made her do that. And the only way... the only thing that will do that is feeling loved and safe and understood."

"She can feel that here," Angel said sternly.

"Not here, not now she can't." Christ, what a lot of self-awareness-challenged prats he'd allied himself with. "Look, mate -- you can't make Buffy and those Judases over there trust you again by keeping her about. It's just not on."

Wes stared out the window, probably because he knew there was nothing he could say to challenge that. Angel just hung his head, and sighed heavily.

When he eventually looked up at Spike, he said, "Wes is right, though -- what can she do there if not fight? She's going to have this slayer thing inside her eating away, with those memories and that pain."

"Very clever girl, Miss Calamity. Once they work on those school things she missed out on, she'll do wonderfully at research, I've no doubt. And she'll make an arse-kicking sparring partner for the newbies. Might even whip some manliness into wee Andrew."

Wes hmphed.

"I'm done with this discussion. Have Harm get her a ticket for whatever's flying non-stop tonight. Say your goodbyes; she's out in the lobby." He turned at the door, and said softly to Angel, "She'll be back, if we survive. Share someone's dreams, you learn a few things about them."

He took her home and they packed a real suitcase full of the crap she'd collected. Stuffed it and the passport and identification the council had arranged, her books, into the little blue backpack. Spike didn't pack her drawings. Didn't tell her, though, just stuffed them into a drawer to save them for later.

At the airport he walked Dana through to security, and then asked if she could make it the rest of the way. She nodded as if she was saving up her talking for the trip. When he couldn't put it off anymore, Spike sighed and touched the side of her face. "You'll be all right, Petal. Don't worry."

But Dana didn't seem to believe him. Not scared, exactly, but there was a wariness in her soft brown eyes he didn't want to test. She'd tried twice on the drive over to convince him she should stay. "You are so strong, and so clever, and so beautiful. I know slayers, and you're an extraordinary one, fighting or not. The world will open at your feet when you're better." So much of Buffy in her, she could never really know.

Then she did something he never would have expected -- she laughed. "Not so crazy I don't know I'm insane."

Spike grinned so hard he thought his face would split. "Oh, you're a find, you are. I've loved some potty women in my time, but you're one for the record books." She raised her face to his, beaming. Spike knew he didn't have to explain it to her, that they understood each other and what the word love meant in these circumstances.

Sliding his palm along her cheek, Spike leaned down and kissed her softly, nothing really melodramatic enough for a true airport goodbye but the best they could get in these circumstances. Her lips were warm and moist, pressing hard against his, and her skin smelled of sandalwood and almonds. Dana kept her eyes closed long after he'd pulled away.

"Don't know what's going to happen, but I'm really not on board with the whole plan to die again. So expect me when it's over, yeah? You focus on getting better, and I'll look you up when it's done."

He pushed her into the security line and stayed back until she got through the screener. Just before she was out of sight, Dana turned. He didn't really expect an "I love you" or any other sort of dramatic declaration, but it surprised him when she mouthed "thank you" as she turned the corner. It was only then that Spike truly believed she would be fine.

 

 

She gazed out the window of the airplane, palm flat against the plastic. They'd given her a first class seat so that she could be alone, and now the rest of the plane was sleeping, their window shades pulled down, movies off. But the light was too fascinating.

The polar route, Andrew had said, and she remembered from school, from so very long ago that it was like one of those memories belonging to someone else. On the poles, it's always light in summer. The middle of the night and the sun arced across her arm, the seat back, her face, warming her skin in the cool, recycled airplane air.

In her dreams, she saw things that came true, sometimes. She didn't tell Spike before she left that she'd dreamt of him while she lay in his arms. That in her dream he was alive at the end of a great fight. He knew, anyway, that he would survive. For the first time, she wasn't afraid for him. He understood.

They both had their monsters inside, and he knew how to make the monster go away. She would do all the things he'd told her, live what he'd taught her. Because that would make the monster something she could live with. That's what he said.

It was like the words Andrew had taught her: The Force was always with her. She had to Use The Force, it was in every living thing, even noble undead vampires who wore their righteousness in a halo of peroxide-blond hair. Spike knew about The Force, she could tell. No matter what happened, she would say the words and the blue light they dangled in front of her, blue like his eyes, would come: May The Force be with you, Dana.

Her life before had been darkness. When the first light came, blood came with it. Killing, over and over, till she couldn't see through all the red and the memories that were so dark. You could unravel the dark like threads on cloth, it spilled through your fingers and out of your hands. Now she looked through a new kind of light, and sometimes she thought she might see him there at the end of it, glowing with The Force.

He said they would help her there, and that it was better, safer. She'd overheard them talking, Spike telling them that she needed love and understanding and safety. But now there was more. There was kindness, and mercy, and trust, and none of it unraveled when you pulled at the loose thread. Nothing she would ever have expected, more than The Force even.

The lady came by and leaned over the seat. "This is the quietest time on the flight. We'll have another meal service in a few hours. Why don't you take the chance to sleep?"

She thought for a moment about what he would say, the kinds of words he used. She looked at the light shining golden on her skin. "No, thank you. I was asleep for a long time. Now I want to wake up."