Her eyes opened in the darkened room, and she lay silently without moving for almost a minute. Finally she said, "Who are we kidding? I know you're there, and you know I'm awake. Let's get on with this."
A dim figure crossed to the window and opened the blinds, washing the room with light from the poled lamps in the parking lot. She turned back to face the bed, and Sandy said, "Oh."
"Yeah." Leila perched on the arm of the bedside chair. "I had a feeling you were hoping for somebody else. You can forget it, she won't come."
"No, I suppose not." Sandy found the controls at the side and slowly tilted the bed up into semi-reclining position. "So why are you here, Leila?"
"Sheila," the girl corrected her. "Sorry, it was the best I could manage on the spur of the moment; I can lie as smooth as your gal-pal, but I can't make 'em up as quick. Next time I need an alias, I think I'll go with Megan."
"That works as well as anything else. But it doesn't answer my question."
"Why am I here, you mean? Part of it was, I just wanted to see for myself." Leila — Sheila — indicated the hospital room with a sweep of her hand. "You're not just big in local news, y'know. You made one of the L.A. affiliates, and somebody said CNN was taking a look."
Sandy sighed. "Yes, I know. 'Gang attack victim wakes after months in coma.' Everybody loves a happy ending."
Sheila grinned. "So are you happy?"
"Look at me." Sandy made a weak gesture. "My muscles are like spaghetti, there's a buildup of skin oils in my hair that won't come out no matter how many times they shampoo, I have a bladder infection from the catheter and a bedsore on my hip — and there's the pneumonia, that's why they moved me here from long-term care in the first place, but they caught it fast enough that I just feel like hell along with looking like hell — I'm going to need all kinds of physical therapy to get me back on my feet, and my insurance is trying to set limits on what they'll cover …" Sandy stopped, and smiled. "Yes, I'm happy. I didn't know it was possible to be so happy."
"Looks like your girlfriend came through for you after all," Sheila said cheerfully.
Sandy turned her face to the window, her own cheer vanishing. "All right, you've seen for yourself. Now, why else did you come?"
"Yeah." Sheila let out a long breath. "This whole business has been really weird, I'm still trying to make some sense of it, and you're about the only source I've got. You were playing it straight when you said I have a demon and a soul?"
"I could feel them both," Sandy confirmed. "I'm surprised you didn't already know."
"I never thought about it that much. I knew I didn't really like other vampires — the ones that aren't idiots are pretty much psychotic — and I've never gotten along with people, so what was there to notice? But all this other stuff makes me wonder … Okay, you said you could feel the demon. So, what's he like?"
Sandy looked back to her visitor. In truth, there hadn't really been time to gather much more than general impressions; she had been busy, simultaneously fighting to steer the gun away from Nika and resisting the pressure that ultimately expelled her. Now she reached out without moving, letting her awareness settle delicately into the outer fringes of Sheila's consciousness, close enough to catch the currents of thought and emotion without making her presence known. "It was different from the demon I felt in the first vampire," she said, careful to keep her report in the past tense. "That one was all hate and violence, yours … it's hard to explain, but there was a flavor of amusement about him. It was like he was enjoying himself, like he saw the world as a big theme park and he was content to take the rides as they came."
"Huh," Sheila said, sounding not entirely pleased. "So as far as demons go, I got a pretty wimpy one."
"I wouldn't put it quite that way," Sandy said. "I think if you were a terrorist or a serial rapist instead of a disco diva, your demon would enjoy that just as much. Right and wrong are meaningless to him, all that matter are sensation and experience. He's just willing to … sip and savor, instead of gulping. About the way you describe yourself, when you come right down to it."
"It does sound familiar," Sheila admitted. "I guess that's all. Thanks." She moved back to the window and reached for the blinds.
"Leave them open," Sandy said. "I like to watch the sun come up."
Sheila shook her head. "Yeah, that must be nice." At the door she stopped and looked back. "You know, the reason your friend won't come is because she's ashamed. She hates herself for what she is and she hates herself for what she did to you. Didn't bother her a bit when I found her out, but when it was you that caught her, she just went to pieces. She cares what you think of her, which I guess means she cares about you."
Sandy tried to conceal her surprise. "You'll lose your bad-ass image if you're not careful."
The girl laughed. "Hey, I'd light her up and toast marshmallows over the fire. But I still owe you something, so I'm just saying: if you want to work things out with her, you'll have to hunt her up yourself, because she won't come to you. Take care, okay?"
When she was gone, Sandy looked back to the window, reflecting on the implications of Sheila's visit. The matter of Nika she deliberately set aside; she wasn't ready to go there, not yet. As for the rest …
In the first hours after her 'miraculous' reawakening, she had found that her mind and body were no longer as firmly joined as they had been before the coma. Careful experimentation had shown that she could project her awareness without actually leaving her body (as if sight and hearing were simply rerouted, leaving other senses still bound to her physical self); wondering if she still had the ability to take control of another person, she had surreptitiously probed the hospital staff, and discovered that the light intrusion allowed her access to their thoughts. She still had yet to attempt an actual possession, but during her discreet assessment of Sheila's psyche, she had satisfied herself that she was mentally as strong as ever; stronger, now that she was no longer disembodied. In fact, having learned the contours of the girl's consciousness, she was confident that even Sheila's double-occupancy wouldn't stop her from seizing control if she so desired.
The next vampire that came at her was in for an ugly surprise. Vampire, mugger, amorous drunk, none of them could threaten her now. Some decisions were called for: should she stay in Sunnydale and lend her new abilities to the war from which Sheila had so contemptuously exempted herself? or go out and try to make a difference in the larger world? or simply build for herself a comfortable, secure future, far from the darkness that had held her for so long?
Decisions would have to be made, eventually. For now she settled back in the bed, basking in the discomfort and vulgarity and glory of being alive, and waited with quiet pleasure for the sun to rise.