The meadows of Solara were beautiful, but Dane hated them. Their vibrant pastures, swelling with light and joy, were what he had turned against, long ago. And now, it seemed, perhaps as punishment for his actions, that he was to be trapped there for the rest of his existence.
"You look upset, for someone who's been saved from death."
"Press," he growled, not even bothering to look at the man. "I would rather die than be saved by you."
Press smiled mockingly. "Is that so? Back on Earth you were begging us to rescue you. There were even tears."
Dane didn't argue. After all, the statement was true; the moment when he realized death was inevitable, he had begged the Travelers for mercy, pleaded that he might be spared his life. And the Lead Traveler, Bobby Pendragon, had looked down on him with cold eyes and refused.
He had felt his life source, his Solara, ebbing away, and felt the cold embrace of death. But then, instead of fading into nothing, he had appeared here, in the Traveler's Solara.
"I suppose you're wondering," Press continued, "Why I decided to allow you back into Solara. It's because I, unlike you, am capable of compassion. I saw what defeat had reduced you to, and showed pity."
"I don't want your pity," Dane spat.
"Then maybe I should kill you right now. You deserve it, after all."
"No!" He was unable to conceal the panic in his voice, the fear of losing his one chance at survival.
Press smirked. "That pride of yours could be a problem, Dane. I was going to offer you a chance at redeeming yourself."
The offer peaked his interest, but the demon was still skeptical. "What do you want?"
Press continued to smirk mockingly, seemingly amused by Dane's predicament. "I knew you'd see reason eventually."
Bobby Pendragon wasn't sure why, but when he walked into the halls of Gregory Davis High School on the first day of his senior year, he felt an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. It was as if he hadn't been there, or anywhere else in Stony Brook, for years. He knew this wasn't the case—he hadn't gone anywhere all summer—but the feeling was there all the same.
He was greeted by all of his friends that he hadn't managed to keep in touch with over the past few months, and walked into his classroom feeling glad just to be there.
Bobby knew everyone in Stony Brook; new arrivals were something almost unheard of. But there was definitely a new face among the old, and she stood out like a blotch of color on a black background.
Her name, he learned from his classmates, was Dana. Dana Saint. She was small, with short black hair held back with a bright red headband. Her bright blue eyes shone against her pale skin like beads of ice, nearly light enough to be considered white.
Dana was a nice girl. Within a few weeks, she and Bobby had become good friends, although Bobby still managed to spend time with his other two best friends, Mark Dimond and Courtney Chetwynde.
The latter of the two, Courtney, had been dating Bobby up until the end of their junior year. Her lack of intellect outside of the world of sports, or other subjects immediately related to herself, was the main reason for the breakup. That, and the fact that Bobby just simply wasn't as interested in her as he had been before.
The two had remained friends, however, and had continued on as if nothing had ever happened. His uncle Press had once inquired to the cause of this disinterest, but Bobby had simply replied that he honestly didn't know.
Dana lived in the house where, if Bobby had bothered to remember, he would have recalled being the address of Andy Mitchell. At least, it was where he claimed to live; there had been rumors that Mitchell used the address for only two reasons: ordering things on the internet which he could not order from home, and as a hideout for him and his gangs.
But in Bobby's memory there was no Andy Mitchell. He had been simply an illusion.
The house now belonged to Dana Saint, and she lived there alone. She entered the home, throwing her bag onto the floor and yelling out a string of profanity which would make a sailor blush.
"Now is that any way for a lady to talk?"
She picked up her bag and flung it at Press's face, swearing again as he dodged the projectile.
"If I had known this was my second chance, I'd have refused!" she fumed, gesturing to herself. "What is this farce supposed to accomplish?"
Press laughed. "It's supposed to do something about your attitude, Dane. You're too proud, too self-righteous for your own good."
"And this is supposed to change that?"
"Humiliation is the best way of altering someone's idea of himself. This shows you that you aren't as magnificent as you seem to think."
"Yeah?" she said sarcastically. "Well, your brilliant plan is backfiring, Press. I have that whole school wrapped around my finger. I'm 'magnificent' enough for them!"
"So I've heard," Press muttered. "Tell me, was dating Bobby part of your plan, or did that happen by accident?"
"I'm not dating him!" she snapped. "I merely befriended him to gain his confidence, and he's asked me out to a few movies with him."
"Right. Most people would call that dating."
Dana scowled at him. "If you have a problem with it, then send me back to Solara. Hell, you could just kill me now! I assure you, Press, I feel nothing for your little prodigy."
Press was silent for a moment, then he nodded and headed for the door.
"Fair enough, Dane," he said. "But if you hurt him in any way, rest assured your second chance ends there. Oh, and if something should happen to arise between you two-"
"Which it won't," she interjected.
"But if it should, I want you to tell him who you are. No matter the consequences. Understood?"
She glowered at him, her eyes flashing momentarily like lightning. "Understood. But I doubt that will ever happen."
The next weekend, Bobby once again asked Dana to accompany him to a movie. She considered declining, since Press had voiced a disapproval of their relationship, but decided that not going would be even more detrimental, since he had also warned that if she hurt the boy in any way, their deal was over, and she was as good as dead.
So she used the stillness of the theater to think. As much as she loathed to admit it, it did seem that she had ended up dating Bobby Pendragon. And it was obvious he had no earthly idea who she could be. Bobby's memory of the Travelers was buried deep in his mind, and he had no way of connecting Dana Saint to Saint Dane.
She became vaguely aware that he was holding her hand. Dane wanted to pull away, to discard all of this as ridiculous. But he had been too long Dana already; she had begun to genuinely like Bobby, and found the touch of his hand comforting. Dana wanted to stay, and Dane had no choice but to remain.
Dana remained immersed in her conflicted thoughts for the remainder of the film, but once it was over she once again resumed smiling and laughing, talking as if nothing at all was the matter. The night proceeded much the same as the others: after the movie they went out to eat, then Bobby walked her home. Only one thing made this night different from every other.
When they reached the door to her house, he lingered, as if there were something he wanted to tell her.
"Is something wrong?" she asked. She had begun to worry, just slightly, if she had said or done something to reveal her unease.
"No," he replied. "Nothing's wrong. Everything's great, actually. Um..." Then, very cautiously, he leaned forward and kissed her.
The kiss was quick, barely more than a moment, then he hurried away, almost ran, before she could recover and respond. She walked inside and stood there for a moment, thinking. She unconsciously began to giggle, and immediately stopped herself.
After another moment's thought, she swore.
How could this happen? As much as Dane pondered this, no answer presented itself. The kiss wasn't surprising; it was obvious that Bobby had become infatuated with Dana. The surprising part was the feelings. When he kissed her, her breath had caught in her throat, and she had been left speechless. She had wanted that moment to last forever. She was falling in love with him.
But that couldn't be true. After all, Dana was a disguise, behind which Saint Dane played a part. She couldn't feel anything which he didn't, and he definitely was not in love with Bobby Pendragon. The concept was inconceivable!
Even as he thought the words, they rang false in his head. The truth of the matter, as horrid as it seemed to him, was that he had fallen for the boy. The only problem remaining, it seemed, was the predicament of Dana's identity.
Press had informed Dane that, should this happen, he would have to reveal his identity. He owed Bobby that much, surely. But then how would the Lead Traveler react to discovering that his girlfriend was actually his arch enemy? Most likely, their relationship would end then and there. Bobby would be appalled at the thought. Which was worse: the end of his days with Bobby Pendragon, or the end of his existence entirely?
Dane fought with his emotions, unable to discover a desirable end to this confrontation. Should he go against Press's instructions, remain disguised as Dana, and risk being wiped from existence? Or should he tell Bobby the truth, and risk never seeing him again? Either way, the end result was bad.
Dana skipped school the next day, calling in to say that she had woken up with a migraine and could barely get out of bed. It was, of course, a lie; she needed time to consider her options.
She paced the house all day, worrying over whether or not to tell Bobby the truth. It wasn't as if they had just met a few months ago; they had known each other for years, if only he would remember. She hadn't loved him then—Dane had never loved Bobby. It wasn't until Dana had appeared that he felt anything but hatred for the teen who had destroyed all the plans of glory and domination.
He no longer hated Bobby for defeating the order of Ravinia. The plan which had begun in order to create a perfect society had been twisted into his own quest for power, with its initial goal all but forgotten. He had been selfish, and pride had been his downfall.
Dane realized now what Press had meant. Pride was a problematic emotion, and a selfish one at that. He wasn't helping anyone but himself by lying to Bobby; he was worried that the truth would bring him farther from what he wanted, with no concern for anyone else involved.
He would have to tell the truth. It was the only thing he could do.
At about 4 in the afternoon, Bobby arrived at Dana's home. He was noticeably glad to see her 'feeling better,' and had brought a small bouquet of flowers as a get well present.
"I'm glad you came by," she told him, feigning cheerfulness. She was glad to see him, but at the same time knowledge of what she had to do made her nervous. "I was wanting to see you."
She placed the flowers in a vase of water, then led him into the living room, sitting next to him on the couch.
"Is something the matter?" he asked, noticing her hesitation. "Are you still sick? You look pale."
"I'm fine," she answered quickly. "I've been thinking about yesterday, and... there are some things I need to tell you."
A look of worry crossed over his face. "Is it because of what I did? Sorry if I caught you off guard I..."
She placed a hand to his lips, gently silencing him. "It's alright. I'm not upset. What I wanted to say was I..." The words caught in her throat. When she finally spoke, it was in a whisper, barely audible in the silent room. "I love you, Bobby." Then she kissed him, holding onto him as if she would never let go. He kissed her back, wrapping his arms around her as if she were delicate glass.
When their lips parted, they sat silently in each other's arms, gazing at each other as if every moment was an eternity.
"I wanted you to know that first," she said eventually. "No matter what, I love you. And I always will. Do you believe me?"
He nodded. "Of course I believe you. I... I love you too, Dana."
She turned away from him, eyes on the verge of tears. "There's... there's something else that I need to tell you. I just want to be sure that you know, whatever I say next, that I love you with all my heart."
"Is something wrong?"
"I've been deceiving you, Bobby. I'm not who I say I am."
He stared at her, uncomprehending. "What do you mean?"
"She means," rang out a voice from the hall, "That's she's not Dana Saint."
Bobby turned to see his uncle Press, watching the couple with stern disapproval. Press sat down opposite them grimly.
"What are you talking about?" Bobby asked. "What do you mean she's not Dana?"
Dana looked up with tears in her eyes. "I've been meaning to tell you, Bobby. I didn't want you to hate me again."
"Again? What's going on? I never hated you!"
"Yes, you have," Press argued calmly. "But at that point that person you're looking at wasn't called 'Dana Saint'. She—or, rather, he—was known as Saint Dane."
The name alone was enough to awaken the Traveler memories lying dormant in his mind. Bobby jumped to his feet, quickly moving away from the girl he now saw in a completely different light.
"No," he whispered, shaking his head. "Prove it. I won't believe it without proof. Prove it!"
"Fine," Press agreed. "Dane, feel free to change back."
Dana looked up at Bobby with sad, tearful eyes. "I'm sorry, Bobby." The image of Dana faded away, replaced by Dane at his youngest, with long black hair and a red suit lined with gold trim. He seemed younger than at their last meeting, by at least five years. Dane glanced at a nearby mirror, and noticed the age discrepancy immediately.
"I took a few years off of your age," Press explained. "Age is fixed, but you're free to change appearance between those two forms."
Bobby continued to shake his head, anger seeping into his features. "Why did you do this? The battle for Halla is over! You lost! Why are you still here?"
Press turned to look at him. "Bobby, calm down. Dane didn't have a choice in the matter. Becoming Dana was his punishment for what he tried to do. I didn't know any of this would happen."
"Neither did I," Dane added. "I was told I had to prove that I could 'become a good person'. I didn't know that involved falling in love with a dimwit."
Bobby wasn't listening. "What are you planning to do? Trick everyone into doing what you want, so you can rebuild your empire? Well, it won't work! I'm not fooled, and neither is anyone else!"
Dane rose to his feet, and stood directly in front of Bobby, impervious to the boy's insults. "I'm not lying to you anymore. And I wasn't lying earlier. My plan was to befriend you, to show Press I could be a different person. Then the situation grew out of control, and... and I fell in love."
"You're lying!" Bobby insisted. "You can't be her. You can't!"
"Why not? I am her. We have the same eyes, the same hair, the same feelings, the same name, almost. Why can't you accept that it was me?"
Bobby stared up at Dane, denial clouded by tears in his eyes. "I love Dana. And I can't love you."
"Why? Because I'm a horrible person? Because I could never feel anything remotely human?"
"Stop it!" Bobby turned away, tears running freely down his face. "Just... stop.
Dane placed a hand lightly on his shoulder. He turned Bobby so that they were face to face, and brushed the tears from the younger boy's cheeks.
"Look at me," he said quietly. "Please, Bobby, look at me."
Bobby gazed up into his crystalline blue eyes, the eyes he had spent years hating. But those eyes, he noticed, weren't as sharp as before; the lightning had been replaced by blue skies, a softness which caused them to glow. And behind the softness, a loneliness that stretched on almost endlessly. He reached up slowly, grasping Dane's hand in his own.
"I love you," he whispered feebly. "I love you so much... Dane."
Dane smiled slightly, running a hand through Bobby's hair. "I love you too, Bobby."
They kissed, holding onto each other as if nothing else in the world mattered. The kiss began softly, tentatively, as if both feared the other might pull away; after a moment it turned eager, hungry, searching, as if nothing in the world could separate them.