All About Spike
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Spiegel Im Spiegel
By Fallowdoe

Part Twenty: Cries Softly of the Time Before

The snow was falling against Buffy's hair like a crown of soft flowers.

The sounds were muffled, as she walked down this darkened path, flung far into the distant reaches of the city. It wound in among the pine trees, where they took root and grew tall like those of the Dane's wood in a fairy tale.

She followed the footsteps, the marks deeply ingrained in the snow of worn footfalls. The crisp lines of the soles, the defined ridges of the treads-- all of these were being softly eradicated by the new snow, forever filling the spaces inbetween.

Forever blanketing the earth in a strange serenity-- resolving it all to pure white.

She followed the footsteps, and they all seemed to lead this way. There was excitement here tonight. She could feel it in the air, as she stepped down the path, looking out into the snow.

And the light from the distant building suddenly broke through the trees. It was brilliant-- golden-- like the glow of her mother's oven when she had been baking.

---

When Sophia entered the room, he didn't look up.

"Don't be troubled..." she murmured, softly, as she approached the silent vampire. And she wondered, a moment, that she was inclined to treat him tenderly, when he was so dangerous.

He sat on the wide window ledge, strangely quiet, staring out into the snowy forest trees. They had taken the boards down, and replaced them with all kinds of lamps and torches. Her rooms-- once the headmaster's offices-- now glowed with the warm, flickering lights they defiantly lit against the night air.

The light flickered on his face, tinting his features warm orange and deeply shadowing his jawline against the candlelight. And in his eyes-- in his liquid, azure eyes, she could see he was afraid.

And of course he was frightened. The green light rested in him still.

It danced in his veins, moved on his skin. She could see it everywhere he touched. Everywhere he walked. Something in him had died on the mountain tops, and something new was growing here. It was miraculous and dangerous. And he knew this, and he feared.

She squinted at him, looking at the quiet trembling of his fingers on the glass panes, where he brushed them lightly in worried, restless patterns. Moisture clouded where he touched, condensing and welling against the blue- black world of snow without.

And over it all, the green light danced and trailed like little silver bells dancing in their minds. It hovered on him brightly...

"Like tongues of fire..." Sophie whispered, finishing her thought aloud.

He heard her, and recoiled visibly from the thought.

"Stop looking at me like that..." he said softly-- brokenly.

"Like what?" she asked.

He spat the words, looking constantly out into the snowfall.

"Like I'm Saint Bloody George."

In a silent pause, she smiled.

"You're really quite a bit more like Beowulf..."

But then she receded, pulled away from him and let him sit there in thought. Because she couldn't desire to add to his burdens, she stepped away. And though she found compassion for him in her heart, she was still disturbed by him. Here was a creature who slays dragons, who knows the Key by human names. And she could sense an exacting restraint in him over something volatile and tense.

She retreated to her desk, sat down there and trailed her hands against the rich, cherry wood grain.

"Rachel..." she said, her voice soft and fluid and full of years, "Rachel- the one you brought here. She bore her child."

He shifted on his perch, but did not look up.

"A boy child. And he will live."

He shook his head at that, a soft sort of chuckle rolling from deep in his throat.

"Poor bastard..."

She looked up from her hands then, burning with her questions.

"Is it so dark outside that you can say these things...?"

And he had no response, but to look out into the falling snow. Flying out like blossoms from the trees when spring went too ripe and too warm.

So she pulled the old, brass key from her pocket, and turned the old lock on the drawer. She pulled it open with a familiar scraping of wood against wood, the smell of old furniture oils floating close against the grain.

She removed the cloth-wrapped bundle. She stood once more, carefully, and came close to him again.

She pushed it out towards him, her worn hands resting comfortably against the twisting wrinkles of the linen.

"We don't have much we could do for you, after... after what you did for us," she said, "But Rachel asked me to find these for you..."

He turned from the window, looked up at her finally. His eyes were heavy with tired, uncertain thoughts.

---

Buffy couldn't read the sign, didn't know the name of the building. The carving that bore its name was covered by an enormous, sinuous arm.

It was nailed above the door-- its black-clawed hand hanging uselessly against the bricks, staining them with black blood as snow collected against the scales.

Her nose wrinkled at the sight, and she turned away.

The flicker of countless candles and lamps outlined her face, where she stood. There were people all around, coming and going, and speaking together.

And she looked back up at that arm, in the snowfall, and wondered.

---

The new flask was resting comfortably in his pocket as he lit the cigarette with the new lighter. Rachel's gifts. It had been a long time since he'd gotten his hands on one, though he'd always carried that lighter. The thing had had memories about it.

And he turned the new lighter in his fingers, feeling the smooth metal beneath them. He twirled it about idly, as he walked through the hallway, filled to the brim with travelers.

All had come to see what had happened here. To stare at what they'd nailed to their ridiculous door.

The smoke whirled up into the ceiling as he walked. A group of children tore through the crowd, bumping against his legs as they rushed past.

Candles burned in the open trophy cases, surrounded by the icons. He paused a moment, lost in the silence of his own thoughts, and looked down at the statue there.

One of those Marian figurine, the kind that dotted suburban streets. One of those ones that made the kiddies think the virgin lived in an upright bathtub.

But it had been painted green. These people worshipped her-- The Green Saint. And as he moved by, bumping into someone's shoulder, brushing through the crowd that pressed on all sides, the image filled him with a strange unease.

---

Buffy walked among the crowd, looking out into the sea of people. She felt cast adrift, floating through the hall aimlessly. She'd been aimless too long. It really had gone on for far too long.

And she wondered, idly, how she'd come to be this way. How she'd lost touch.

And she knew it was when she'd run away, really. It all came back to that. When she'd bolted upright from beside Anya's cold form, when she'd leapt away into the promise of dawn that would never be again.

And that was sad, to her. Because she missed them still-- missed them all and their warmth.

And even after everything, she realized she felt a pang for Maggie. Walking through the crowd of people, every one of which could have been Maggie's victim, she found herself wishing childishly to have her friend by her side.

But even if it hadn't happened-- if the violin hadn't shattered, they would have to have parted their ways.

Because she knew it. She knew it and hadn't ever let herself really think about it. Maggie fed.

And Buffy had a purpose. She'd learned it again. She had to kill Maggie's kind. And, with a sudden conviction she hadn't held in years, she knew that it was right. Knew somewhere in her gut that it was the right thing-- the real thing that she had to do. She knew it, when she hadn't known anything right or wrong for so many years.

And as she reached the icon cases, her steady, even breath suddenly caught with the billow of smoke. Tobacco. It irritated her throat and she turned to the wall, coughing hard. People brushed by her on all sides, and someone bumped into her shoulder blade on the way by, jostling her slightly.

And the smoke began to fade.

As she regained control of her rebelling lungs, she looked up again. The air was tinted still with the familiar scent, that she hadn't smelled in so long. Strange how the musky, rich flow of it brought back memories.

Perhaps it was strange, but above all else, it really reminded her of Spike.

---

Things were different, now. Everything about the hall teemed with life. There were mice under the floorboards, and he could *feel* them there, moving about.

And the people-- the people seemed real in a way they hadn't before. They had a solidity about them, in their eyes. They were alive.

And he realized, suddenly, how amazing it was. Not that this world harbored life, but that it harbored life so abundantly. Everywhere it clustered in the cracks and corners, teeming against the nighttime. And now, it seemed to him like that might be a good thing-- that it persisted, like the weeds that tenaciously grew in the cracks of the pavement outside, buried now by the gentle snow.

So it was allright then. Dawn had done it, chosen in those last moments to let it be this way. And he knew her in the ways that these crowds could not. He knew, knew surely in his gut that she didn't entirely belong in an icon case, painted full over in green robes. She was too real for that.

And he smiled, to himself, uncertain, brushing by the groups of travelers in the close press of the hall. As he pushed through the crowd, he finally reached the door, and opened it wide into the night air.

And he stepped out into the cold, and moved on once more from this place, the smoke of his cigarettes trailing behind him.

---

The children were playing in the snow, in the courtyard, beneath the open sky.

Buffy watched them through the door. Heard the excited shouts, watched the small forms throw powdery flakes into the air like seafoam and laugh like nothing had ever gone wrong.

She pressed her hand against the panes of glass, set into the metal surface of the doorway. They were cold to the touch. She ran her fingertips against the diamond pattern of wires threaded through the smooth surface.

And she opened the door, in a sudden whim, throwing her weight against the bar handle. Ice flakes prickled against her face, and the cold welled around her once more as if she had plunged into chill water.

They ran about, the children, in frenzied circles. She couldn't tell what their game was. But she didn't mind that-was content to watch, a sense of peace falling around her-- surrounding her shoulders like the gathering snow. All the sounds were muted, muffled by its blanket, that covered the whole of the courtyard's ground in lazy drifts, riddled through with small footprints.

Buffy receded under the ledge of the building, out of the snow. She sat down on the stone bench there, to watch them. The doors on the opposite wall were facing her, their glass windows welling with the golden light of their wicks and lamps.

And something moved behind the glass, in the hallway beyond it. Something disrupted the light, threw a long shadow across it so that it caught Buffy's eye.

It was a little girl, staring out from behind that glass, clutching a worn, homespun rabbit in her hands. She watched the other children run, a moment, and turned away like a tiny ghost. She didn't seem to want to join them.

And the cold was settling once more into Buffy's toes and fingers, and she stood to leave-- to find somewhere to sleep. And when she woke, she hoped she wouldn't be aimless anymore.

Something brushed against her feet. She looked down, the pale corner of it poking through the snow cover.

It was paper.

She reached down, idly, and picked it up with cold, reddened fingertips. She shook the snow free, and the flakes tumbled to the ground in a curtain.

And the shouts of the children faded to nothing as she looked at it-- as the pieces fell together for her at last. And she was struck through in a violent rush with memories of the time before.

---

"Wait up!" she had called, laughing. Buffy had heard her padding barefoot through the wet sand behind her.

Buffy only clutched the Frisbee tighter. Throwing a sidelong glance back at her sister, she called out.

"Just try and catch me!"

And the sunlight dazzled her, breaking bright and brilliant on the white sand. Dancing off the waves of the blue sea, that lapped at her ankles and filled the air with the rushing, rolling sound of the tide pushing forever against the shore.

She could feel it on her skin, bronzed and warmed with the glow of it. And the sunlight poured over them all. Everyone on the beach was flooded by the rays. The laughing children. The beer-bellied men. The quiet student sitting by herself, writing furiously in a journal while crouched over her teal-patterned blanket.

And she rushed by them all, running along the shoreline. Just on the border of the land and the sea, feeling the sand cake firmly across her wet feet until the water would lap up once more to wash it all away.

And Dawn ran behind, trying to catch her.

"I'll get you!" she cried out, shrill with laughing and exertion.

And Buffy had to slow down, so that Dawn would be able catch her.

Run-- she had thought-- just run. But not so fast that she can't catch you. And when she comes, don't fall so hard that you could hurt her.

And the hurt of the falling was the last thing in their thoughts-- the tower stairs and her bruised, bitter collapse-- the collapse that had caused all of this-- these things were in the impossible future. So it was ok to run.

It was allright to turn and leap forward, make that one courageous jump out into the bright sunlit beach to seize her sister.

And remembering this, it occurred to her that maybe-just maybe if she'd made it up-if she hadn't tripped-maybe it could have been her to jump. She might have saved her sister.

Her sister-- her sister. God, how she loved her.

They had tumbled down together, on that day, and Buffy carefully made sure to land on the bottom. And she had her sister in her arms, her long, red- brown hair trailing like the Waterhouse mermaid's. And the waves rushed over them, and Dawn was trying to grab that Frisbee, that was as red as the apples their mother had left on the counter for them, when they'd gotten home, on that bright, long ago afternoon.

---

And that was it. She'd forgotten to keep track of it all. And before she knew it, years had flown by, and she had run too fast, and for too long.

She'd missed him by seconds, this night. She knew that, now.

And she stared at the image. It was a good likeness. And in it, he looked much the same, really, despite the wild ringlets of his hair.

But of course, she knew that he would.

And the memory of Dawn at the oceanside persisted in her mind, running circles around her as fast as they'd both run that day. He'd chased her too, once, as she bolted through the newly decimated ruins of their old world. She could remember it, a foggy, feverish remnant of a memory from a time she couldn't forget and yet couldn't bear to really remember.

He'd chased her like Maggie had chased her, just days before. With desperation and suffering. And he was chasing her still, in his way.

Slayer. It would make her chuckle, if she weren't already in tears.

And those tears just barely stung against her eyelids as she finally knew-- finally understood. The burnt out campsite. The stories. They ahd made her walk with a purpose. She had envied his place in them, that was really her own. It had really been him all along.

It was just like him to his promises, finally, when no one was around who really cared or knew what they meant.

And it made sense-- a perfect sort of ridiculous, vibrant, ringing sense. It almost made her feel she would have guessed it if she'd tried- if she'd really thought of him much at all in the long years that had gone by. Or even nearly as much as he seemed to have thought of her.

And she sank down, again, on the bench, the sketch of Spike in her hands. A thousand other memories crowded in on her mind, as she looked on this face. Some of him, and some of Dawn. And the others. All of the others.

So she simply looked on it, and let remembrances trail over her senses like gentle fingertips.

And the snow fell.

--


Continued in Epilogue: Mirror in Mirror

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