Last Dance
by Dennis

"Jane," came Quinn's voice from the phone, shocking her to her core. "I know we haven't spoken in a long time, but I need your help. It's about Daria...."

Jane swore softly, but reassured Quinn that she would be in Lawndale within the hour.

* * *

Daria woke as if in a dream. Standing over her bed was a shortish, but handsome young man in a light green jacket with dark green slacks and a white shirt. The logical part of her mind said she should scream, but that part didn't seem to be in control. Besides, the impish expression on his face made him easily recognizable. "Paddy," she whispered, as she sat up in bed.

"Hello, my sweet Daria," said the spirit of St. Patrick's Day, his brogue soft and lilting.

His presence seemed right, but also unnerving. "What are you doing here?"

"I've left Holiday Island," he said and extended his hands to draw her from the bed. As he did, the blankets slid away, revealing the subtle curves she'd only realized she had as she approached her eighteenth birthday. "I'm tired of schools and rules and fools. I want to live again, to sing and dance and love."

"And you came to me." Something nagged at her, letting her disbelief surface. "I'm not your singing, dancing, and loving type."

"Oh, but you are, pretty Daria," he said, green eyes meeting brown and calming her confusion. "You just need to let yourself be. Just this once, even if never again."

Something in those green eyes seemed to pierce the layers she'd build around herself, past contempt and fear and even intellect. His gaze touched her on a primal level, whispering to her of freedom and possibilities, reminding her that deep down, she craved experiences, sensations, desire. "Yes," she whispered.

"Come then," he said, and his smile was so inviting. "Put on your prettiest dress, lassie, and we'll paint the town green."

She turned to her closet and found a green gown of satin and silk. Briefly, she wondered how it could have gotten there, since she never would have bought such a thing, but her mind supplied a ready explanation in the form of Quinn helping her shop for senior prom. It was a believable explanation... well, believable enough.

She groomed herself, and then slipped the dress over her. The silk on her skin set up a tingle like nothing she'd felt before. Suddenly afire with sensation, she whirled, letting the skirt flare out. "I feel good," she said, and Paddy laughed at the wonder in her voice.

"Shall we go?" he said, offering an arm. She took it, ready for whatever the night brought.

* * *

"She's been this way for a long time, Quinn." Jane's eyes never left the road, and her hands were steady on the steering wheel. Her voice, however, was heavy with regret.

"I know," Quinn said, sadness covering her like a shroud. "We've got to try though. She deserves this last chance."

"We'll get here there, Quinn," Jane sighed. "You've gotta to understand, though, they're not miracle workers."

Quinn didn't respond and Jane didn't need to look over to know she was crying.

* * *

For Daria, there was no memory of travel. One minute, they were in her bedroom, and the next, they were dancing, drinks forgotten at a nearby table. The pounding beat of the dance music under the constant flicker of the lights for once did not bother her; instead, it filled her body with a wildness. She wanted to to move, to shake in time to the beat, to match Paddy's abandon. When he drew her away from the music, an almost physical sense of loss struck her.

Back at the table, Paddy pulled out her chair and put her drink in her hand. It was something fruity, which she know often covered up the taste of hard liquor. It didn't bother her, though, though something in her mind suggested that straight liquor was more worthwhile. "Are you trying to get me drunk, sir?" She hoped her tone was flirtatious.

"I'm trying to get me drunk," he said, still smiling. "And as long as you're enjoying yourself, sweet lady, a wee dram of the drink will not hurt." Raising a hand, he signaled one of the ubiquitous waitresses, who returned shortly with two more glasses. Finding she'd finished the drink she was holding, Daria took the new one gratefully, but she barely had time to take a sip before the music changed.

This beat was softer and slower, but no less insistent. Before she know it, she found herself back on the dance floor in Paddy's arms, feeling his body again her through the thin dress as they swayed together with the music. His breath was warm and fragrant on her face, and his hands on her waist seemed to tickle her sensitive skin.

Daria couldn't tell how long the slow song lasted, whether it was mere moments or hours, but when it was over, she met Paddy's eyes again. Without saying a word, they both agreed it was time to go, their drinks abandoned behind them as they headed into the night.

* * *

"You did the right thing bringing her, ladies," the doctor said. He was a tall, long-faced man whose ragged lab coat said he was too tired to care about how he looked and whose deep-set, shadowed eyes spoke of someone fighting a losing battle using all that was left to him.

"Can you help her?" Quinn asked, voice cracked with desperation.

"I don't know," the doctor said. "She's got a lot of work ahead of her, and that's leaving aside the physical concerns, which can be dangerous in themselves."

Jane put a calming hand on Quinn's shoulder. "Daria's in a good place, Quinn. They'll help her if anyone can."

"I know," Quinn said. "It's just–" Her voice faded to quiet sobs.

The doctor let Quinn cry for a moment before waving Jane over. "You know this will be difficult." At Jane's nod, he added. "You won't hear from us for at least a month if things go well, so if we call before then, you and your friend should get here as quickly as possible."

Jane nodded, wondering how it had come to this point.

* * *

Again there was a sense of time missing. They'd been dancing and she was pretty sure they'd had dinner too, but now they were back in her room in Lawndale. This time, though, there was a sense of wrongness as well. She could see the padded walls as they'd been through high school, but hadn't her mother redone the room when she left for college? Or had she left for college yet? Her body told her she was still eighteen, but her mind struggled to remember a longer life.

She looked over at Paddy, seated next to her on the bad, and for a moment, the confusion dissipated long enough for him to reach for him as he reached for her. Their kissing was restrained at first, but urgency filled her, reflecting his urgency, and soon they were making love in her bed, moving together toward climax and beyond, where there was no thought, no identity, nothing but sensation.

Slowly, oh so slowly, she came back to herself, falling away from him even as their breathing continued in rhythm. Her first thought was that she now understood why the French referred to the orgasm as le petit mort. the little death.

"I'm so very sorry, my Daria," Paddy said from beside her. "I know what you wanted, but this is all I can give you."

Shards of memory began to align themselves in her mind, but her situation was still frustratingly unclear. "What do you mean? Are you telling me you couldn't give me what I wanted?"

Suddenly, his eyes were ancient, wise and cold, but still somehow sad. "I didn't have to."

Awareness filled her. She wasn't a teen, but an accomplished novelist, acclaimed almost universally by by critics and even an occasional bestseller. The house on Glen Oaks Road was long since sold, her parents dead though she'd returned to Lawndale a few years ago to a mansion in Crewe Neck. She thought about her friends and lovers, but there her mind remained closed, as if afraid to yield this last bit of knowledge.

"So what is this? It's too intense to be a simple dream, Paddy. Why am I here with you, a teenager again?"

"You were still capable of love at this age, Daria," he said softly, and the last door opened. Success hadn't fulfilled her. It had turned her bitter, and the bitterness was a poison. Her companion wasn't family and friends, or even cats. Liquor was her solace and her doom. The pleasure drained from her, and she gave Paddy the cold stare that had convinced her editors that book tours were not a good idea. "Did you pull me into your world to gloat?"

"To apologize," he said. "I'm so very, very sorry that this happened. You took all the danger of alcohol and none of the joy. So I did what I could to give you the joy, just this once."

"You did this to me!"

"You did this to yourself," he said, voice weary and old as the world. "I couldn't have reached you if you weren't fully in my domain, unconscious from the drink."

The truth of his words tore through her. She'd chosen ego over love, ignored Quinn, alienated Jane, elevated emotional distance to the highest virtue. The price had been too high, she thought. Too high. The room around her began to fade, the walls disappearing into a measureless blackness. The last thing she saw was Paddy's eyes, filled with pity and sorrow, mourning for her.

* * *

Jane started from a sound sleep, knowing something was wrong. When her phone rang, she knew what it was. Daria had been in the rehab facility for three days, and she'd begun to allow herself to hope. Touching the talk button, she chided herself for a fool as Quinn gave her the message she knew she would hear, the only message it could be.

Later that morning, they stood side by side as the doctor explained. "There's a one in three chance of mortality from delirium tremens, but in Ms. Morgendorffer's case we had to take the risk. There was no way to wean her slowly from the alcohol." He looked down and took a deep breath. "We did everything we could."

Softly, Quinn sighed. "I know you did," she said, voice cracked and brittle. "It's just hard to believe your only sister loved the bottle more than she loved you, or anyone."

"I'm sorry, Quinn," Jane said. "I would have done anything for her, but she didn't want anything except to be left to drink."

Quinn nodded wordlessly, and the two left to make the arrangements for the funeral. It was only afterward that they looked at Daria's obituary and wondered why the first sentence red, "Daria Morgendorffer, 53, of Lawndale, author of more than a dozen novels died suddenly at her home of a seizure." And neither of them noticed the smell of clover that seemed to hang over her grave, even though none bloomed there.

Author's Note: Written for a PPMB Write-off. Lady T set the category as follows:

St. Patrick's Day has left Holiday Island again and is looking for a date to celebrate his holiday with. Who will be the lucky Lawndale lady, and what sorts of misadventures will occur?

It was supposed to be fun, but I decided to subvert everyone's expectations. Hope you like it.

Disclaimer: Daria and all characters are copyright MTV 1997–2002. I own nothing and am merely along for the ride.