Sequel to Spiegel Im Spiegel
Spike burst through the door of the Magic Box, the heat of the sun smoking all around the leather of the duster he held haphazardly above his head. The bell rang out its familiar, cheerful jingle as the door swung back into place behind him.
The room was filled with filtered light, flowing in shafts across the hardwood of the table, at which he could see Dawn sitting. It glowed gently across the counters with their jars of arcane, musty dusts and potions. A pair of Giles' glasses sat on the countertop, where he must have laid them sometime earlier while working on the accounts, that were open in neat ledgers beside them.
"Hi Spike!" Dawn said cheerfully, not looking up, her bookbag strewn across the floor by her chair. She must have gotten out of school and come straight here. She had her bright pink plastic pen case out, and was working intently on something in a notebook in front of her.
"Nibblet," he said, nodding to her casually, walking past, looking into the weapons room. It was empty. Just the weapons on the walls and the punching bag. Buffy was out elsewhere.
"Anya'll let you in here by yourself?" he called out to Dawn, wandering back into the main room, "Surprised she hasn't thrown a price tag on you with the rest of the merchandise."
And as he passed, it occurred to him that despite everything, she still smelled the same. Girlish, floral perfume and the human smells beneath it.
And this confused him, because he couldn't remember that she'd gone anywhere at all or why the thought should present itself.
"She's gone," Dawn said softly, turning back to her notebook, in which she was furiously scribbling, "You were there-you remember that."
But he wasn't sure what she was talking about. Something was nagging at his mind, something that begged attention and wasn't right. And the diffusion of light was falling indirectly over her, and an unnatural quiet hung in the air.
There was no sound of passing cars, no sound at all. He couldn't even hear her heart beating. There was just the girl with her pen, bent over her notebook, and open texts scattered all over the table.
He approached her, picking up one of the school textbooks, covered with purple paper to which she had attached sparkling stickers of smiling suns and daisies.
"What's this then, homework?" he asked, flipping through the pages. They were covered in abstract equations, that seemed almost to whirl together a moment on the pages as he moved through them.
And he put down the book and stepped closer. He could have put his hand on her shoulder, clad in its pale blue hoodie sweatshirt, her soft hair falling smoothly down the chairback, waving slightly as she worked.
The notebook pages, on which her small hands rested, were covered in beautiful, swirling patterns and symbols he had never seen before. They tied together in intricate knotwork, that was almost Celtic, almost Moorish, but really neither. It flowed into itself and seemed to bend around the pages. The green ink fell smoothly from her pen as she added a swirling loop to the end of a Cyrillic character. It flowed on into a vine of morning glories that danced around the red printed margin.
"This is important," she said, gently.
She closed the notebook, and he started. The green, cardboard cover was dog-eared, dirty, and tattered. The surface was stained with old, brown blood spatters.
And the pit of his stomach sank with that recollection that something was wrong.
"Where's Buffy?" he asked.
And for the first time, she turned to look at him. Here eyes were welling and large, gently green and shining. Had they been green before? When she spoke, she spoke with a sort of wistful regret.
"I'm not really sure where she is..."
She stood then, the sound of her sneakers on the floorboards soft and indistinct, as if he were hearing it through water. Their was a dull buzzing in his skull and he wanted to move, suddenly overcome with an intense yearning to reach out to her-- as if they were newly reunited-- that he hadn't seen her in years and every moment here was precious. Confused alarm filled his mind and he tried to move, but felt rooted to the spot.
"But I do know that she'll fall three times before the end of this," she continued, her breath a faint whisper in the still, morning air. She walked up to the slatted blinds of the window, laying a small hand across their pale, whitewashed surface. When she brushed her fingers against the slats, they stained a trailing rust red with the blood that was suddenly running down her wrists.
"Dawn-" he called out, the paralysis broken, and he bolted towards her.
And in that moment, as he lunged for her, she pulled the blinds open and sunlight flooded in-- dazzling them both.
He tried to jump out of the way in time, but it was useless. He simply lost his balance, trying to throw it away from his forward momentum, and collapsed to a floor that was covered in the rays.
And he became dimly aware that he remained whole, and that Dawn was laughing. It was a sound like silver bells and snowflakes. The delicate laughter and the lightness of her eyes were dancing through the sunlight. He looked up to where she was standing over him, offering him a bloody hand to help him up.
"Come on, Spike. Don't be silly-- you don't have to worry about anything like that."
He reached out, looking at her face, halloed by the sunlight behind her in a gold shimmer that rimmed her frame, and took the hand. Despite the bloody film flowing across it, it was cool and dry to the touch. She smiled at him with such kind humor that it filled his heart with an unfamiliar, sweet warmth.
"Why-why not?" he asked, confused, looking at the glimmers of sunlight that were playing across her hand, small and pale and fully enfolded in his own.
She laughed louder this time, rapping his forearm playfully with her knuckles. Her tone was suddenly that of a teenager with a particularly slow parent.
"Because you're dreaming, dumbass."
She turned back to the book-strewn table then, running her hand across that bloodstained notebook. When she looked over her shoulder, her eyes looked wizened and ancient beyond her girlish frame, and her tone wasn't a teenager's at all, anymore.
"And you'd better wake up-- if you want to keep your head."
Spike rolled sharp to the left even before the sound of the falling of the axe snapped him fully awake. It struck the side the embankment and cracked into the earth, throwing up dust as it sank into the sod.
He bolted upright, ready to block the blow striking fast to his chest, seizing the vampire's arm and throwing him down the sloping drop of the hill, away from the road. He rolled down hard and brutal, in among the waving heads of the Queen Anne's lace that grew in the tall, summer grass.
Ducking under the strike of a second, Spike dropped low and seized the axe from where it stood, embedded in the earth. Swinging out in a wide circle, he cleared space as several other vampires approached, and shook the fog that still clung to his mind from the startling, vivid images of his dreaming.
The deepest darkness fell over the night trees, over the sweeping drop of the hills by the river road, and the rush of the water, flowing fast, swollen with mountainside runoff, ran unseen on the other side. The delicate waves of the lace-edged wildflowers glowed white against the blackness.
Seven vampires. He knew them-- recognized the faces. They were all that remained, he remembered, of a large nest he had cleared out of the farming village ten miles eastward. They'd followed him out, to get their revenge for their sires. One was gaining his footing at the bottom of the hill, and six others that had surrounded him in his sleep.
He never slept so deeply that a movement wouldn't wake him, and yet the dream still pulled on him with gentle hands, and the smell of the incense and the candles, and the girl remained in him, tugging at his consciousness and slowing his reactions. Her laughter rippled in the air like a pebble thrown in a pool of water.
The waking world seemed a poor replacement, and it filled him with a longing that had no name, and which caused him, for its loss, to strike up with the small axe, planting it firmly home and wrenching the creature before him to dust. He spun it lightly in his hand, as the five circled, and he held them off, lightly dancing across the sharpness of the incline, giving no sign of difficulty keeping his feet planted in place.
The group took pause in its cycles, and burst out as one in the same instant, as if a dam had broken in their patience. He ducked, knocking one over his back into two of the others, twisting the axe backwards on its handle, driving it hard into the chest of a fourth. He swept the legs out from under the fifth and turned sharp on his heels to face them again.
The black of the night wrapped around him like his duster had, before it had fallen to tatters, years ago, less deeply mourned than he had expected. He had living companions, now. The green key-light that was in his blood warmed and cycled as he fought, and he felt its familiarity like a firm hand clasped in confidence in the battle.
Swiping through the neck of another, he saw a swinging out of the corner of his eye and twisted to the right. But it wasn't fast enough to pass completely, and he felt the stake stabbing hard into his left shoulder blade. He turned on his heel, striking to the gut, where the blade wrenched in the bone and slid from his hand. He pulled his stake from his ankle strap, striking fast. The axe fell to the ground with the disintegrating skeleton in a dull clatter.
And far below, a shadow swept down from a copse at the bottom of the hill, as he struggled above. The straggling vampire, climbing towards Spike from where he'd thrown it, collapsed to ash with the sudden, unexpected attack.
He could feel blood running down his back, dimly, but the rushing speed of the fight dulled it and the shooting pain along with it. Down to three, he quickly made it two. And as he dodged one blow and struck another, an arrow sailed over the swell of the hill, and found its mark. One vampire disintegrated, the arrow hanging in place a moment before it fell. The other darted its angry glance, trying to find the source of the attack, and, taking advantage of its distraction, Spike struck with familiar efficiency, and it fell apart, to be neither angry or distracted again.
Quiet filled the night again, the rushing water of the river the only sound. Spike smiled.
A motion caught Spike's eye from behind. The whip of dark hair-- the familiar scent.
His smile grew. The familiar twist in his senses at her arrival sparked and flared-- screamed out that she was here. She had come-- she had come, and she was early.
And she leapt onto the twisting, dusty trail from the dark. Dark waves of hair falling soft and wildly haphazard around her shoulders. Whipcord thin muscles tight and powerful, stretched and tensing as if ready for attack. Cheeks flushed pink from running and the heat of the fight. Magnificent-- a woman who had come into her own.
Fourteen years. Fourteen years since she was the girl who had almost saved the world, and fallen short. Fourteen years since he'd taken up her battle and found in it a meaning he'd never known or expected-- welling out forever in the green, glowing acceptance that had saved him and driven him on with every step and every strike of his blade.
Seven-- seven long years since her small feet, covered in the roadside grime, had approached him in a college courtyard. And now she approached again, a sly smile on her familiar face that was like a sudden rush of cool water in harsh sunlight. When had he last seen her? There had been no leaves on the trees, and now the night around them was perfumed with the humid heat of deep summer. She had come back-- she had come back to him again.
As, through these seven years, she always had.
And he greeted her as he always did, his eyes shining with a smoldering, dark kind of joy that reflected in the rush of the water, in the heat on the breezes in the night blackness.
"Slayer," he said, smiling a sly smile to her on the dark roadside.
Continued in Part Two: Voices