Special thanks to Anon for her beta abilities, and to keswindhover, from whom I stole the idea that the Buffybot has a peculiar form of identification …
Dana picked up the phone in Giles’ office. She puzzled for a moment over the strange noise coming from it – this must be the dial tone she’d heard people talk about – then she double checked the number in the Head Watcher’s address book.
It had taken her days to find a moment when the office was unoccupied at the same time that she was alone. Her roommate, Kara, was a light sleeper, and Giles tended to work in the office late into the night. But Kara was off on a mission to Vermont, and Giles had retired early, and it turned out he didn’t lock his office.
Dana slowly dialed the number, speaking out loud to make sure she got it right. As she did, she wondered again if she should have just asked for permission to make the call, but her gut told her Giles wouldn’t approve.
“We’ve sorry. You must first dial one when calling this number.”
“Oh.” She scanned the open pages again. There was no mention of dialing one. “That’s not fair,” she murmured, punching in the number again.
“Wolfram and Hart, how may I direct your call?”
Despite knowing someone else would answer, Dana almost dropped the phone. Her age had been in the single digits when she last used a telephone, and she remembered little of the experience. To her, it was miraculous to hear a voice from across a continent.
“Um … are you Harmony?”
“Yes …” The voice, which had sounded reasonably friendly before, turned instantly suspicious. “Do I know you?”
“No. I’m a slayer.”
A little “Eek!” emerged from the phone, followed by a fumbling sound. “I’m reformed, I swear! I only drink animal blood! They test me and everything!”
Tilting her head, Dana considered that. Then she gasped. “You’re a vampire?”
After an instant of silence, Harmony said, “No. Of course not. I was kidding. We kid a lot here.”
“At an evil law firm?”
“We’re not always evil. We donated to the Red Cross. We do pro bono work.”
“I’m not pro Bono,” Dana mused. “I don’t get his music.”
“Okay, are you kidding?”
“I need you to connect me with someone,” Dana said, deciding they were getting into a topic she didn’t understand.
“Oh, okay.” Harmony sounded greatly relieved. “Well, this isn’t the general switchboard line, but I’m sure I can track someone down if they haven’t left for the day.”
Dana had forgotten about that time zone thing. How could it be one time in Chicago, and another time in Los Angeles? Real life was very confusing. “I don’t know his last name. Most people call him Spike.”
“If it helps, he used to be called William. Have you heard of him?”
“Uh … yes, he … works here. Who may I say is calling?”
“I’m –“ Dana’s forehead wrinkled, and her grip on the receiver tightened. What was her last name? When had she forgotten? “Just tell him a slayer’s on the phone.”
“One moment, please.”
As she waited, Dana thought hard. She could remember little about her time in the asylum. She could remember all too much about the time before that. She could remember the names of several dozen slayers, alive and dead. Robin’s last name was Wood. Dawn’s last name was Summers. Richard’s last name was Philips. Buffybot didn’t have one, but everybody said robots don’t have last names, unless the serial number on her butt counted. What if they made a lot of robots, and ran out of first names for them? Would they have to give them –
From the moment she’d decided to do this, Dana had been reminding herself that she wasn’t the slayer in China, or the one in New York. She remembered what happened all too well, and she knew Spike was different now – he’d been trying to help her. But for a moment none of that mental preparation mattered, and she was battered by a wave of blind rage. “William the Bloody,” she muttered, her body shaking.
“Hullo? Who is this?”
“I’m Dana. I’m not Nikki. I’m Dana.” She forced her breathing to slow.
“I cut your hands off once. Do you remember?” She remembered. Sometimes, late at night, that nightmare crowded its way through the others.
“A person doesn’t forget something like that, luv. What do you want? Going after the legs next?” His voice had turned harsh, and even though she’d expected a reaction like this, Dana winced.
“I called to apologize.”
“Tara told me that it’s important to try to make things better. To make up for what you’ve done wrong.”
“Tara?” Spike’s voice changed, becoming gentle and strangely sad. “Tara’s gone, Dana. She died, like the rest of the voices you hear.”
“Yes, I know,” Dana told him, trying not to let the impatience creep into her voice. “But she’s also right. I did bad things. I don’t have any money, and I don’t really know anything I can do for anyone, but at least I can tell them I know it was a mistake, and I’m sorry.”
“Ah.” Spike was silent for a moment. People often paused when they talked to Dana, as though deciding on the right thing to say. “So, you’re in Chicago with the other slayers?”
“Good.” Like Harmony, he sounded relieved. “And you called all the way to L.A. to apologize.”
“Yes. I know that doesn’t make it all right, but it’s really important. I won’t kill anyone who doesn’t deserve it again, I promise. Or cut their arms off.”
Another pause. “And you want me to –“
“Forgive me.” She waited, using her free hand to nervously tug on the leg of her pajamas.
“Right, then. I’ll forgive you, conditionally.”
“Conditionally?” Although she’d joined the younger slayers in taking lessons from Robin and Richard – which she enjoyed more than the other girls did – she wasn’t sure of the meaning of that word.
“The conditions are that you listen to the others, don’t harm innocents, and most important, stay the hell away from me and mine. Got it?”
“Okay.” She thought she’d been doing a pretty good job of those three things, anyway. “Got it.”
“Fine. I forgive you. Go forth, and sin no more.”
“Thank you,” Dana whispered. “Spike?”
“Do you think … do you think people can really be forgiven? I mean, can someone who’s done as many bad things as we have ever do enough good things to make up for it?”
“Absolution.” Spike sounded far away, and not just in the flesh.
Not knowing what the word mean, Dana remained silent.
“I hope so, luv. But I can tell you this: Just doing good things doesn’t help. You can’t fight along with the good guys just because it’s fun, or to keep from getting into trouble, or to impress a girl. You’ve got to mean it.”
Dana wondered why she would ever want to impress a girl.
“Hell, I just started, myself – took me awhile to figure that out. I’ve got a long, long way to go. You’re better off than me, ‘cause you’re not entirely at fault for the things you did. But yeah – you’ve still got to make it up.”
“Thank you, Spike.”
“And try not to scare Harmony anymore.”
After hanging up, Dana slowly made her way through the dark hallways, feeling the cool floor on her bare feet. There was school tomorrow, and training, and time with her friends. She thought a lot about what Spike had said, and decided this was a good place to start making up for all the things she’d done wrong.
The nightmares didn’t come, that night.