Acknowledgments: My beta, Jenny, for doing her job and doing it so well. 🙂 Also to Medie, Deb, and Christina, for their steadfast encouragement.
He watches her sometimes.
At first, it frightened her. He has such a scary mind–memories of dark and terrible things, and of places and times people today aren’t supposed to know so intimately. But at the same time, he’s so gentle, and full of regret for those awful things.
She supposes that he has a name. People have names, like Simon, or Kaylee, or herself–River. But he’s never said what his name is. He doesn’t even think it. It’s as though he doesn’t even think of himself as a name. Just that regret. Or many regrets. And he tries to guard her from them, tries to protect her from the black things by not thinking about them, but sometimes he can’t help it.
The others don’t really understand what it’s like inside her head, but he seems to. When he looks at her, he remembers another woman, dark and beautiful and crazy like her…and he misses that woman. Even though she is evil and bloodthirsty and disappointed in him, he misses her sometimes. Just like he misses the blonde woman who went away many, many years ago.
Sometimes he looks at River and sees himself. Cold and frightened, hiding in dark places from feelings he thought he’d forgotten. Words from his memories run through her mind, words that she likes because she understands them: “No more mind games…no more mind.”
She feels like that sometimes. That she has no more mind. For other people’s minds have crowded into hers until there is no room left for her self.
So she starts watching him too, when he isn’t watching her. Watching, and listening to his silences.
Simon doesn’t like it. He doesn’t trust the stranger and often worries about his interest in her. She wants to tell him that the odd man with the yellow-white hair and the black eyebrows doesn’t want to hurt her, but she knows her brother wouldn’t understand. He can’t see the memories. He can’t see the dark-haired woman or the dark basement with its taunting shadows and visions.
She is slowly coming to realize that most people can’t see the things she sees.
But this man has. Or at least he’s seen things something like what she sees. Which means he understands. She doesn’t even understand herself sometimes, but he understands her.
So, she watches him.
The days on Serenity are long when there’s a job to be done. Simon has gone outside with the others in case anyone gets hurt, and the one they call Inara has taken her shuttle and gone out too. River is alone, except for the Shepherd with the scary hair, and the pilot, and the man with no name in his mind. He only helps out when it’s nighttime on the planet where they’ve landed. Mal doesn’t always like it, but the man pays his fare, so he won’t complain.
He doesn’t like daytime, this man with the hair like sunlight. It hurts him, like the awful men with blue hands hurt her. He stays away from the windows when it’s daytime and they’re on a planet, or in orbit close enough for the light to come through the glass. She understands–no one wants to hurt like that.
She wants to talk to him; she wants to ask him to help her understand herself like he understands her. She wants to ask about the woman with hair like night, and the girl with hair like day who was so mean to him until he…got his soul back. She wants to ask about that too. How does a person get a soul back, and is it really possible to lose one in the first place? Is it even scientifically plausible to assume that there is such a thing as a soul? Or is there just the mind, and if so, does losing your mind mean losing your soul? Has she lost her soul? And could he tell her how to get it back if she has?
“What’s your name?”
The man looks up, startled. He wasn’t expecting her to speak. She usually doesn’t when he’s around. She’s too busy listening.
“Do you have a name? I can’t find one.”
He smiles, and his smile is gentle and sad–like Simon’s–but empathetic at the same time, which Simon can’t be no matter how hard he tries.
“I’ve had a few. Depends on which one you want.”
“Which one are you now?”
The stranger hesitates, wavering. He runs a hand over his slick hair and blows out a long breath, his mouth opening and closing in indecision before he finally reaches out and grasps hold of a word in his mind. “Spike. Call me Spike.”
She frowns as the name connects itself to the other words in his mind, and she tries to follow. “No–that’s the dark name. The name with all the black memories, all the death and the sadness.”
Spike–no, she can’t call him that. The yellow-haired man laughs ruefully. “Every name I’ve ever answered to has sadness, Pet.”
Pet? He has given her a name–but she already had one. Why does she need another?
Well, if he can give her a name when she doesn’t need one, surely she can give him one when he does. “Then you need a new name.”
This smile is indulgent and not so sad. “And you’re the one to give it to me, are you?”
“All right, then. My turn to ask you–what’s my name?”
She studies him, a frown tucking her eyebrows together as she skims the lines of his face with her eyes. He’s all light and shadows–white-gold light in his hair, blue light and blue shadows in his eyes, the angles of his face casting some into light and some into shadow. But light and shadow isn’t a proper name, is it? She needs something else, something that speaks of light and shadows, but doesn’t say it directly.
“You stand in the balance between light and dark,” she sing-songs, still pondering the problem. “There was another one–another like you–what happened to him?”
His eyes flicker with envy. “Got his Shanshu, married the woman he loved, and shuffled off this mortal coil five hundred years ago.”
She nods. His words are mixed up, but his mind is clear. “You’re alone…that’s why you’re so sad.”
He snorts softly. “I can assure you, Pet, I’m not pining for Angel.”
“No. But you know him now. You know what it was like to be him, even better than you did then. You know what it’s like to be alone, and you wish you hadn’t been as alone back when you weren’t. You wish you’d been friends.”
Her words are making him uncomfortable and he shifts in place.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to–“
Unexpectedly, a finger lights on her lips and he smiles again. “Don’t be. Hard not to trigger bad memories when a bloke’s got so many of ’em. Like a minefield in there.”
“I was going to give you a new name,” she reminds them both.
“So you were–guess we both got a little distracted, eh?”
She smiles. She likes him. Somehow she thinks she knew she would, but it’s nice to be sure of something. So many things are unsure nowadays. So many people around her too. Even Simon isn’t even always sure what to do, especially with her. Even this understanding stranger is unsure of himself: if he is neither an angel of the light nor a devil of the dark, what is he?
And suddenly she is sure of something else. “Daemon–it was the name of a guardian spirit in Greek mythology. And someone who stands between light and dark is a kind of a guardian, isn’t he?”
He raises an eyebrow at her. “It also sounds an awful lot like demon, you realize, Pet?”
“I know. But it’s not. You’re not.”
She knows it is right, because the name is in her mind now. He is Daemon, not Spike, not the other name that she still can’t find in him. Daemon. Her guardian spirit, like a demon, but not one. And he knows it’s right because he’s nodding.
“I remind you of her, don’t I?” she asks next.
Daemon doesn’t question how she knew, just nods again. “Drusilla? Yeah.”
“What made her like me?”
The answer isn’t in his memories, but it is in his head. Death. Death and blood and grief. So many ways to hurt someone…even without sticking things into their heads.
Most people would look surprised that she plucked the answer right out of their minds. He just looks at her knowingly. For a minute, he wants to ask her the same question and she starts to pull away. Two by two, hands of blue–no, no, she doesn’t want to think of them. They’re far away. They won’t find her. Simon won’t let them find her–he promised.
Daemon shushes her softly, one hand reaching out gently to touch her hair. “I won’t hurt you,” he promises.
She shivers, pulling a whimper back into herself. “I know.”
They are interrupted before he can tell her more. The big outside doors begin to open and Daemon snatches his hand back, backing away from the sunlight that has begun to stream in. He’s also afraid of what Simon will say if he sees them sitting together, but Simon has already seen. He isn’t happy.
She flies to him. “Simon!”
Maybe he won’t be angry, maybe he won’t say mean things to her new friend, if she can show him no harm has come to her. Then later back in their cabin, she’ll explain to him. “He understands,” she will say. And she’ll tell him that she’s given him a new name, one with no bad memories. A name to make new memories for.
Simon will understand that. That’s what they are doing here, after all. Making a new life. Making new memories.
Maybe they should give themselves new names too.