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TITLE: Ashes ('Burning' Sequence, No. 1)
FEEDBACK: Constructive criticism received with real gratitude. Praise received with mindless dance of joy.
ARCHIVE/DISTRIBUTION:, List Archives, Wherever. Just ask.
SUMMARY: Darla Resurrected, end of Season 1.
SPOILERS: Only if you don't know what was in the box, so I trust that's pretty much a no.
DISCLAIMER: I am not now, nor have I ever been, Numfar. Not even a little bit. The characters are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui, Sandollar, and David Greenwalt Productions, 20th Century Fox, and whoever else may have a hold upon them. I do not mean to infringe upon any copyrights

In the beginning there was only confusion - an astonished //I am!// pulled out of limitless darkness into a world of boundaries. Awareness ending at the skin. Beyond her startled new flesh a bubble of air culminating in wooden walls - the skin of a box, punctuated by small barred windows. Through the window she caught glimpses of strange shapes. Heard unknown voices.

The disorientation was like being tugged out of sleep mid-dream, waking up in an unfamiliar room and not knowing which part of your life you were in. Not knowing what the "now" was - whether you were presently a small child, a ripe youth or a wrinkled pensioner. Floundering to remember the context of your consciousness.

When the wall came away she looked out upon a small room, simply furnished. Humans stood looking in at her, all smiles, and spoke to her gently, cajolingly. She pressed her body into the farthest corner of the box and snarled, cool ridges of woodgrain rough against her skin, baffled and at bay but ready to fight. They looked at her curiously and seemed uncertain. Murmured among themselves, then finally walked away. Left her alone. But she was sure she was still being watched.

After a little time she crept out of the box into the room - another bigger box, pale walls, pale floor, pale ceiling. Shapes she remembered - a bed, a chair -stark as a room in hospital. (She remembered hospitals - their delicious smell of fear and fresh blood; plump, tender babies lined up in little glass incubators.) Long curtains hiding a window - she automatically avoided it. No sense of whether it was day or night. Carpet prickly-soft against the soles of her bare feet. She padded warily round the room, remembering how the muscles in her legs should move. Ran puzzled fingers over the smooth surface of the wallpaper, stroked the wooden door with its cool metal handle. She wrapped her fingers around the handle thoughtfully, but was not yet ready to open it.

She felt oddly clumsy, unable to judge with any certainty the strength of her own grip, the force of her own stride. //Surely if I squeeze like this, just so, the metal should buckle in my hand?// Her flesh was an alien prison, her own yet not her own. Her instincts were inexplicably awry. There was something terribly wrong with her nose - layer upon layer of intricately nuanced information that she took for granted had simply vanished. She could not distinguish the smell of the wallpaper or the detergent used on the sheets, nor the lingering scents of the humans who had stared at her - not even her own sweet, familiar Darla-smell. Only the bluntest, the heaviest scents came to her now, and then only faintly - all the delicate interlacing of aromas she recalled so clearly had been torn away. Terrible. Terrible. Her hearing too had faded, but not so shockingly - sounds grown fainter and more distant. She was crippled, her senses withered to a tiny vestige of what she *knew* they should be. //Surely all the colours should be brighter than this?//

The mirror, when she noticed it, froze her in mid-stride. Shocked her rigid. //A trick? But how? How?// She had never seen her reflection like this -such sweet clarity of line and colour... dimly recalled seeing her face distorted by the imperfect surfaces of water and polished metal, but never in one of these modern mirrors. And that remembered face had belonged to another person, long centuries ago - *Darla* had never had a reflection. No image trapped in water, in window or mirror. No tiny portrait 'prisoned in the wet eyes of gullible men as she leaned smilingly in to kiss them, to kill them. But there she was in the glass - a slim, dishevelled blonde woman-shape whose movements precisely echoed her own, like a puppet attached to her body by countless invisible strings. She was fascinated and horrified at once; gazed wonderingly at the pale limbs and watched herself wriggle and stretch, watched her brows arch and dip, her mouth pucker to a pout and unfurl into a smile. Undeniably Darla. It was beyond understanding.

She felt suddenly sure that she was being observed by people on the other side of the mirror, even though her shrunken senses could not pick out their scent, could not hear their whispered breath. A flash of remembered fire in her gaze, contempt writ large upon her face, Darla straightened her shoulders and struck a mocking pose. Fingertips traced patterns down her collarbone and cupped her breasts, holding them squeezed together like an offering on a plate as her hips circled in a lazy burlesque. Then she turned her back on the hidden audience and prowled away with an exaggerated swing of her hips. Let them look.

She circled the box, her unnatural womb, running newly-minted fingertips over its surfaces. It told her nothing.

Memories came to her gradually, piecemeal. After her rebirth the world was a whirling chaos of familiar/unfamiliar sensations and disconnected recollections that made no sense, formed no pattern. She knew many things - so very, very many things - but could not remember how to join them all together, could not weave them into any stable fabric. She was sure that this was not right - that one should not have to concentrate so hard on everything, should not have to puzzle over cause and effect. Frowned, grasping at the disconnected certainties whirling round in her head, cautiously probing reality like a child testing a loose tooth.

Contradictions: my skin is warm/my skin is cold; I am strong/I am weak; my blood is silent/my pulse resounds through my veins, drums in my ears, pounds in my chest every moment.

I am not/I am.

//What am I?//

She sat on the edge of the bed and felt the covers gently yielding under her slight weight. Somebody had laid out clothes for her - a simple white dress, some underwear, a pair of sandals. She picked them up one by one and felt the textures curiously before putting them back down on the bed. Darla pulled her knees up beneath her chin and wrapped her arms around them, rocking gently back and forth. Stared about her wild-eyed, uncomprehending.

There was an unfamiliar gnawing pain in her belly that she simply did not recognise as hunger - her body yearning blindly for sustenance, like a beast. It was not like the hunger of vampires.

A sound at the door - a smiling man in a suit, framed by two larger, uniformed men. Darla jumped to her feet. The humans entered cautiously, treading gently towards her. This is hunger, she realised suddenly, pinning a label on the feeling with a rush of pleasure. This is *hunger*. Waited for the malleable planes of her face to blur and then harden, knew what came next. She was poised to spring at the largest of the men, smiling in feral anticipation of the hot, familiar gush of blood over her tongue. Knew already how the warm skin would feel against her lips, the tiniest resistance as teeth sliced into the vein...but somehow her body was betraying her again, because her brow was still smooth and her teeth still blunt even though hunger tore through her like a blade.

She threw herself at him anyway.

A startled yell, but he was too slow and Darla sprang onto him, legs wrapped round his unsuspecting waist, slim arms clinging to shoulders and ripping his head back to expose his throat. She was a column of voracious naked flesh coiled around him, her hips grinding into him as her blunt teeth drew blood raggedly and there was a blissfully pure moment of suction, a swift spurt of blood in her mouth before they dragged her off, wrestled her to the ground, pressed her face into the carpet. Frustration coloured everything. She lashed out furiously and then felt sheer astonishment at how ineffectual her rage was. Her skin was curiously sensitive and friable, scratches and bruises blossoming with terrible swiftness. Wholly unexpected pain. She did not understand what had become of her. Surely her body should not be so fragile, so easily bruised?

It was all wrong. The blood was not blood, it was just liquid - hot and salty and metallic in her mouth. It meant nothing. It was not *blood*, did nothing to satiate the hunger. Despair surged through her small frame.

"I'm sorry Darla," a distant voice said smoothly as they bound her wrists. Her chest heaved unnaturally, drawing breath into lungs of its own volition. This constant breathing terrified her - she was no longer in command of her own movements. "This must all seem very strange to you, but you are among friends. We only want to help you. I thought perhaps it was best to give you a few moments alone, let you...ah...*wake up* gradually. That may have been a poor choice." She did not know this man, she was sure of that, but there was no way Darla would make the mistake of trusting the owner of that voice. She knew his kind. Relaxed a little. She could deal with the owner of this voice. "I do apologise for the discomfort - we shall remove the restraints just as soon as you feel calmer."

They helped her to her feet. Half a dozen uniformed guards and a couple more suits - one man, one woman -milled around her. The pale carpet was spotted with blood. The man she had attacked was gone.

Wrists bound behind her back, ankles bound together -by no means a new sensation, but Darla was not enjoying this moment. She stared steadily at the middle-aged man in his suit and tie and licked the unsatisfying blood from her lips.

"Who are you? What has happened to me?" Her voice was hoarse, the muscles of her throat contracting strangely, as if unused to speech.

He smiled.

"Forgive me, I have quite forgotten myself. My name is Holland Manners. Oh behalf of Wolfram and Hart I'd like to welcome you back to the land of the living. Angel murdered you four years ago, Darla. Perhaps you have heard the phrase: 'ashes to ashes, dust to dust'? Well, we found a little loophole."

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