Spiegel Im Spiegel
Part Ten: Duet for One
"The pain of war cannot exceed the woe of aftermath."
The trees stood in columns around her, and she couldn't see their end.
They stretched out immense and infinite, and above her the sky soared out
through their branches. A bird cried sharply overhead, and burst from the
trees out into the wide, open air.
She felt like she was locked in a closet. Or buried alive. Like walls
were closing in on her, like she couldn't ever escape the forceful weight
of the world around her. The fog pressed against her like a damp shroud.
The air was cold and burned her lungs as she breathed, made her throat raw.
Her hands still tingled numb and unfeeling from the freezing water with
which she had cleaned the pale doe's blood away.
Buffy was drained. She was a zombie-- an undead creature, wrenched from
its rest and left to wander the bone yards and dark corners with an
uncaring aimlessness. She was exhausted from the hunt, from the rage of
emotions that danced through her chest and in her throat. The silence of
the woods was deafening, profound. The dead earth beneath her feet, the
blue tint to the light were dull and felt ugly to her in the moment-- the
world was nothing but tired, strangled plants and dormant trees..
She felt as if she had been through great confrontation and battle, and had
been consumed by fire.
Her eyes were dry, but they were irritated with fatigue. She felt like she
had been weeping, screaming out at the top of her lungs to the dead forest
until the leaves shook and fell at her command. But she was silent. She
was overcome with her own silence, and wanted only to curl up beside the
fire, watch the flames move against the predawn gloom that was now the
recurring backdrop to her life.
She walked through the underbrush, and it moved against her ankles. She
pushed the branches of a sapling out of the way as she moved up an
embankment. It clung close to old boulders, that scattered numerous over
the side of the steep hill. A brown mouse froze as it saw her, and then
ran from her across the lichen on a nearby stone, disappearing with nervous
speed into the crevice beside it..
And as she reached the top of the hill, she could hear the echo of music--
a single violin ringing soft and low through the forest.
It bounced off the trees, reverberated into the empty space, and seemed to
mingle with the fog. It seemed to belong to the forest, to things not
human. Things to which she and all of human history were utterly alien and
Maggie played the tune. It reminded Buffy that while they walked in human
forms, the creatures she had once hunted were far from human in ways she
could never understand. Ways that had nothing to do with blood and murder--
for those were things common to them both. And she paused a moment before
she crested the hill, turned to look out over the forest stretching out
below her, just to listen.
She lingered there, letting time pass by unheeded, simply standing, and
listening. She closed her eyes.
There was something sad about it, to her, as she stood on the winter
hillside. Something tragic about taking pause, about standing out over the
highway spaces that death and mystery had formed into trees. Because those
trees were so strong and somber, so finely carved from their heavy trunks
to the fanning canopy of their skeletal arms. Because the music was lovely
and painful and twined around her and echoed through her as she stood.
Because it was so beautiful.
The music was haunting and sad, and seem to lament something Buffy would
never feel in a time Buffy would never know. But it reminded her, somehow,
of standing in front of a door, years ago, and trying to decide whether or
not to go in.
When she finally decided to try the handle, she didn't expect it to move.
Willow had locked her out for days, hiding in their makeshift home,
unwilling to let her through.
But today, the door swung open, and the stale air choked Buffy as she
Willow was sitting on the oriental carpets they had stolen to cover the
concrete-- stolen to make this look like a home. Her legs were folded.
Her body was still. She never moved, now.
Buffy was sweating from the stagnant heat that hung over the brief hours of
the nighttime summer. It was deep August, and the night flared with an
oppressive humidity that cleaved to her skin. Inside the warehouse office,
it was worse.
Yet Willow was blue with cold. Her lips had lost their color.
Buffy stopped in the doorway, paralyzed by the sight. She held two rabbits
on a string over her shoulder, and had even found fresh apples. The best
part of the brief, fitful outbursts of summer weather was the fruit.
Some of the best times had been like that. Sitting, once, before Willow
had retired only to this place, they had been happy in a small way. They
had perched on the roof of the warehouse, eating fresh plums they had come
across, and Buffy had almost felt like things were allright. Like they
were on the roof of her mother's house, and that they could talk freely
like they used to.
But they had simply eaten the plums, and sat in the warm breeze. There was
nothing they could say. And Willow's eyes had been growing more distant,
even at that time. And as summer grew to its fitful climax, Willow receded
more and more into what remained of her mind.
And Buffy came back from her carefully laid snares, with meat and fruit in
hand. But she knew it was hopeless, and the foreboding that had been
growing in her swelled. Willow wouldn't eat. She drew her strength from
the earth now. She said she could see it-- the magical force. She had
said it, before she had gotten to this point-- before she had stopped
But the problem was a simple one-- and Buffy knew it as she looked at her
friend, whose hollow, wasted face stared blankly forward at her. The earth
was sick, and its strength was corrupted. The world around them showed it
plainly, with trees and plants that grew still-- but grew twisted and thin
and hungry. And when Willow opened her veins and her soul to it, it clung
within, changed her, and fed on her like a cancer left to spread. It
wasn't the force that kept this world alive that brought Willow her
strength. It was the force of the old ways, the shadow, the remnant of
things long past and gone. It was nothing that could ever create any more
Willow seemed hardly aware that-- and also seemed hardly of her friend and
companion. As she sat on the office floor, there was a single, snowy white
moth on her fingertips, weaving between them and around her hand in its
flight. Swirling over her too-white skin over and over again in a strange
and unnatural cycle.
"Willow..." Buffy whispered, not expecting a response. So when Willow's
head snapped up, she jumped at the motion.
"It's telling me things..." she said hoarsely. It came out rough, her
throat tight and strained from disuse. And the moth danced still around
her fingers, pale and white in the thick and humid darkness.
"What does it tell you?" her friend replied quietly, patiently waiting for
her to speak again. Trying to draw her out without frightening her. Her
words were hopeful to Buffy. Perhaps she could break from this stupor and
"It travels... it flies around all its life, just moving and moving. And
it burns out. But it's seen things, heard things. It knows the whispers
and rumors," Willow responded. And then she paused conversationally and
"Did you know that Giles died today?" she said softly and without emotion.
The moth fluttered softly over her skin and she smiled at it slightly. And
it rushed away, out a crack in the window. Buffy followed the movement
with her eyes, and that is when she saw them.
Thousands of insects, clinging still and silent to the windowpane. Monarch
butterflies and moths, dragonflies and hornets. She looked up and saw them
clinging in the shadows of the ceiling, against the corners of the walls.
Their wings silent, waiting.
And one by one, they began to move, until the air threw her hair back with
the breeze they made. They beat past her arms, past her cheeks. She
started back, eyes stinging with unshed and bewildered tears.
They settled on Willow, clinging close to her hair and arms. She was a
mass of moving wings and crawling legs. And she looked up, her face
cloaked and obscured with the churning forms.
"Moths to the flame... it's always that way really. They're trying to
escape something, I think. They always try that..."
And, for the first time, it occurred to Buffy that Willow might be
dangerous to more than just herself. And a question that had been forming
in her mind for the year they had been together now found the words of its
"Willow," she asked steadily, "What happened to Tara...?"
It seemed like hours before she passed over the forest hill, and Maggie
still continued to play. The light of the fire warmed the cold blue light
around them, that was already fading away into the blackness of the night.
It made Maggie's light hair glow around her like a crown of gold, where it
fell in loose curls down her shoulders and spilled over her arms.
She smiled at Buffy, nodded slightly, and resumed her music.
Buffy sat down on the other side of the fire, pulling her pack close from
where it lay and leaning against it like a cushion. She saw the open
violin case, the resin resting in it with the spare strings left over from
the unfortunate raid that had gotten their companions killed. And the end
of a linen cloth fell out over the lip of the case. It was embroidered in
She'd never gotten a very good look at it, and thought better of pulling it
out to examine it. But she saw the edge. A sampler. A very, very old
sampler. She could see part of the last two lines of text, where they
rested over a pattern of thorny vines, primitive birds, and flowers:
-Mary Magdelene Neville - Year of Our Lord 1732 - Aged Thirteen Years - Be
Testament When I Have Gone of Greater Works my Lord Hath Done -
Its scrolling, simplistic patterns looked strange against the modern,
molded plastic of the violin case. But as new as the case was, she was
certain the violin was as old as that scrap of worn fabric. Buffy wondered
why Maggie would have wanted to keep it, over these years.
She didn't feel it would be wise to ask.
And the woman before her nodded her head as she moved her bow, her hair
shaking with each motion. It was strange.
And Buffy shook off thought, tried to free herself of the weight that
oppressed her, and snuggled close into her knees, staring out into the
fire. The light was quickly fading into a black void, back into the
darkness. It somehow made her more comfortable when she could no longer
see out into the depths of the trees. She almost settled into sleep, the
haze of it clouding her mind and bringing her to the edge of dreaming.
Something batted against her cheek, fluttered past it. She moved up a hand
to brush it away. A moth, drawn to the light. Its touch was like a blow
to her gut, broke her reserve and filled her with emotion once more.
It played on her fingertips a moment, and Buffy smiled at it, sadly, and
"It was strange," Willow said softly, "When you love someone, you're
supposed to stay with them, right?"
Buffy was silent. Her hand tightened around her satchel of apples as if
they grounded her and kept her stable.
"But she wouldn't stay... I mean, she was there with me, but the power that
was unleashed on Glory's tower-- it made her stronger. She had twice the
power she'd had before. And it got hard after a while-- and when I crept
in her mind, tried to fix it, she started blocking me out. I wanted it to
be like it was before. But she'd sense it, and she'd stop me..."
Buffy felt her stomach clench and twist. Her thoughts moved unbidden to
the hunting knife secured on her belt. The sense of unreality that filled
the air around her reached a fever pitch.
"And so I fought back. I fought back hard. And she seemed to come around--
she seemed like she really understood and things were fine for months.
She didn't try to do things on her own. She stayed with me like I wanted
her... like she should have wanted me..."
Buffy was more sickened, saddened than frightened. Willow was fading fast.
Speaking seemed to be tiring her, and whatever she was doing with the
swarm of insects was making her shake spasmodically. She cast them about
on her skin, and some would fly off a small space as she moved and rush
back again in a flurry. It made her difficult to see. She was a blur of
This wasn't Willow in Power, like she had been that night in Glory's house.
This was Willow fading, Willow sad and Willow failing. She was a worn
shell of herself, painted in blackened hair and moving wings.
"And then one day, I was sleeping with her-- against her shoulder, and it
seemed just right. We were passing through the hunting grounds around an
Abbey by that time-- it was a coven of power that had settled in that
place. And when I woke up, I was on the ground alone. She had run to
them, and they wouldn't let me in..."
Her voice was ragged and hoarse, but the emotion communicated itself beyond
its inexpressive tone. She was truly bewildered and couldn't understand
why Tara had run away.
"If she ever leaves their walls," she said bitterly, "I'll be there... I'll
take her back and love her like she deserves. She'll understand it then."
When she laughed, it came out a tragic little croak.
"I know I could have taken them on, if I could have just gotten my hands on
the power. If I had all the resources we'd had before-- even the things in
the Magic Box, I could have done it. But they were so strong, Buffy, and
they didn't want me. They wanted her, but they didn't want me."
She sounded like she would cry if she had the energy. But it was all too
much for her.
But her dry and rough voice turned colder, and Buffy began to see the shape
of what was to come.
"But you won't leave me... you always wanted me with you. From the very
first day in high school you let me in. It's why I came... and you won't
Willow's legs moved, shaking, and she managed to pull herself up to stand.
The insects still moved over her, rolling in cycles around her body. Her
arm rose out from her body, and her hand clenched into a tight fist,
closing over the insects that rested there.
Buffy tried to step back, to put some distance between them, but came to
realize she couldn't move. A prickling, numb sensation moved through her
ankles and spread up her legs.
"Willow-- Willow stop!"
She called out as her lungs froze in her chest, and her jaw locked tightly
shut. She heard the apples fall in scattering thuds to the carpeted
"Don't leave, Buffy," Willow said softly, approaching her friend with a sad
sort of vulnerability, "Don't leave, just don't move at all..."
Buffy's brain was screaming behind her temples, her muscles burning with
the need for air. And Willow stood before her, hand outstretched, fist
clenched. There was nothing she could do.
And Willow faltered, swayed forward and lost her balance. Her legs
couldn't hold her up any longer.
Buffy fell with her, her muscles released from their paralysis. Her breath
came out in deep, choking gasps. She was lightheaded and a thrill of sheer
alarm filled her veins. Willow tried to rise once more, and Buffy kicked
her away. She flew across the room and fell, her shoulders slumped.
Buffy thought once more of her hunting knife. But she couldn't-- couldn't
ever do it.
She ran out into the mass of conveyer belts and machinery in the warehouse
proper, and heard Willow moving and whispering a singsong chant close
She dropped to her hands and knees behind the still hulks, their purpose
long forgotten to the world and unknown to Buffy. She could hear Willow
approaching, leaning against the metal monstrosities, the hoards of insects
following her as she moved. Her breath was short, came in thin and ragged
whispers. Buffy's keen hearing told her she was near and coming nearer.
Buffy crawled silently under the gears of a large machine, covered in
cobwebs. Sweat rolled down her neck and she clung to the parts as she
pulled herself forward, trying to find a path from under the machine to a
window beyond Willow's direct line of sight.
Willow moved down the corridor between production lines, and came to rest
about three feet from where Buffy hid.
And she laid a white hand against the machine, and it sprung to life.
Buffy cried out as she rolled to miss the moving of a heavy pump, and a
gear glanced her shoulder blade and threw her forward with brutal force
towards the progress of another sharp, spoke like object she could not
name. The sounds around her were rusty and groaning, and moved together in
a terrible and swift rhythm.
She seized a bar above her before she struck the rusty points that jutted
towards her with mechanical and rigid speed. She spun around and to the
cold floor. It was a sharp and immediate contrast against her burning
She saw a heavy metal foot above her coming down towards her chest, and
moved in the only direction available to her. She rolled out into the
aisle with all of her speed.
Willow wasn't there.
The machines came to life all around her, one by one, and she realized
Willow was starting them each in turn. She moved once more, on hands and
knees, towards the far wall and its windows.
She turned left down a larger avenue between the production lines, and down
towards the far wall, that stood brick and strong in her vision. It was
the only thing that seemed real to her in that moment.
She moved across the stained floor, the cracked concrete steady and cool
under her. She leaned against the end of a conveyer belt and tried to hear
where Willow was moving. Through the heavy noise of the machinery, Buffy
couldn't hear her until she saw her feet on the other side of the moving,
She had one chance. She reached for her knife, trying to control her
frantic breaths so Willow wouldn't hear. As she drew it, her fingers grew
clumsy and awkward. Its metal gleamed, at last, in her hand.
But as she looked at it, it filled her with pale disgust. She threw it
away and it fell beneath the conveyor's feet. The sound made Willow spin
around, and, in the same motion, Buffy leapt up and threw a kick to her jaw
with a heavily booted foot.
It threw her down. There was blood running from the corner of her mouth
when she looked up again. It should have knocked her unconscious, but
Willow was now beyond all consciousness, gathering all her remaining
strength. She stared up at Buffy and Buffy could feel herself becoming
The sensation was slower this time, and very cold. Like how Buffy imagined
it would be to fall asleep in some Arctic tundra, and never to wake up
again. The haze of it filled her vision, and she heard Willow speak to her
tenderly and desperately through its heavy fog.
"Buffy, don't-- I love--"
And Willow shook once, and fell to the ground. She never moved again.
The moth moved off of Buffy's hand and flew towards the fire. Maggie
continued to play, complicated rhythms and notes running together in a
delicate chain, intertwining in thirds and shifting minor keys.
And Buffy wondered how she'd become this way. Become a woman who would let
her friend die before her eyes and yet do nothing. Who would see vampires
hunting in the streets and let them pass by her unimpeded. She wondered
how she could ever have chosen not to care, ever have given it all up for
When she saw vampires hunting, when she saw them looking for prey, she let
them pass. They had won already. The fight was over.
And yet it had moved on without her. Slayers still roamed the dark places
and rooted out the evil where it stood. When Buffy died, long ago, another
rose to replace her. When she had simply lost interest, another assumed
her role. And the mass of hopeful fools told stories of their salvation.
The world had moved on and left her at the wayside, looking into its ashen
and twisted remains.
She had seen a Slayer fall into evil. She had seen them fight in strength.
She had many stories of her own great battles, lost to that dead and
distant past. She had tried and failed, come so close to saving it all
A stair. One simple stair had succeeded where a goddess had failed.
She had seen it all, but she couldn't understand. She didn't understand
how a Slayer could become a passive bystander to the world around her.
Continued in Part Eleven: Dance of the Race