The Reflecting Pool
By: The Deadly Hook
Disclaimer: BtVS and AtS characters not mine. I play with them, whisper to them, move them around. They don’t seem to mind.
Rating: PG, I think.
Summary: Post-series, Buffy revisits the Slayer guide figure from “Intervention,” only in the Brave New World of multiple Slayers, the spiritual forces have… changed.
Thanks: To itmustbetuesday for the superb community.
Notes: Did I mention that this one’s kinda Angsty?
“Anya?” She says again. Her heart is in her throat. Summoning the dead. “Are you a–”
“Ghost?” The figure smiles. Its hair color and style refuse to solidify for a few seconds, but finally resolve into blonde curls. “No, although I can see why you’d have that reaction. Given the reading you’ve been doing.” Stepping primly, as if she were sashaying across a well-polished floor, she begins to pick her way down the grassy hill. Her dress only comes into focus when she reaches the bottom of the hill.
“You’re not a ghost?” The apparition is wearing the white wedding dress. Frothy lace spilling into the wildflowers and tall grass as if it grew there. “How do you know what I’ve been reading?”
“Oh, my image is probably drawn from you. I’m just a projection,” Anya says aimiably, and then before she has a chance to ask: “I always liked this dress.”
“But you’re… not a ghost.”
Anya frowns. “I thought you read the instructions.”
“Well, what were you expecting? Another mountain lion? Seriously, Buffy, you are a few years older. You can’t expect to still have the same self-image.”
“Self-image?” Buffy’s confusion found a way to catch up to her surprise. “What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Oh, everything. I fit your current needs. Unlike the last time you did this spell, you actually want answers for once. So you needed an Avatar that you knew would be honest with you. Not to mention verbal.”
Anya turns, begins to walk along the length of the grassy gully, a soft dip between hills. “Aren’t you going to follow me?”
“To the Guide.”
“But I thought–” Buffy shifts on her feet. “I thought you were the Guide.”
“No, I’m your Avatar. I’m the guide that leads you to the Guide.” Anya flaps a hand. “Redundant, I know, but… tradition.” She presents Buffy with another smile, then begins to climb back to the top of the hill.
“Wait!” This time, Buffy follows her. “What did you mean, that part about how I actually want answers for once?”
“Well, you didn’t need them before. All you wanted was reassurance. You wanted to know that your role as a Slayer had higher meaning.”
“Seriously, Buffy. The images the summoning produced for you prove it. A powerful animal? The primal source of your powers? And surely you noticed that the advice you received was vague and didn’t require you to change your behavior.”
“I–” Buffy swallows. She hadn’t thought of it that way before.
“Don’t worry.” Anya waves. “It’s not your fault. Vagueness is a major problem with oracles. They’re required to leave in ambiguity.” She shrugs. “Free will.”
Buffy tries to reconcile this with Anya’s behavior. “You’re not being very ambiguous.”
“Oh, I don’t have to be. I’m not an oracle. Like I said, I’m your Avatar.”
“Wait a minute.” Buffy climbs up beside Anya at the top of the hill and eyes her, warily. “What are you talking about?
“Are you sure you read through all the materials?”
“Yes! What is this, a spiritual quiz?”
“Oh, well… maybe they called it something else. A totem, or a guardian spirit–”
“You’re my guardian spirit?”
“Yes.” Anya preens. “I’m a projection of the qualities you most admire. You admire me.”
“Well, not me personally, maybe, but you admire my bluntless and ability to articulate my feelings. Those are your current goals.” She registers Buffy’s distress, and tries to soften it. “Look at it this way–if you’d tried this spell when you were twelve, you probably would’ve visualized yourself as a pony.”
She could swear that shock has turned her into a human parrot. “I–what?”
“Never mind.” Anya flaps her hands in another carefree gesture. La-di-dah. “Although I do find it terribly flattering. But the real point is, your desire, now, is for direct answers. You want the truth.”
“I want–” She stops. Swallows. “Yes.”
“So the spell produced me. Or at least your reflected image of me. Because you trust me to be honest with you.” The conversation has begun to seem dreamlike. The logic thick and sludgy. Yet somehow, inescapable. “Probably your image of the Guide will be something similar.”
“Something…” Her heart is beginning to race. “Someone I… trust.”
“Yes. I mean, for your first visit, all you really needed was reassurance that your powers weren’t totally malevolent and toxic, so the First Slayer made sense as a mouthpiece, but if you want real answers, then it follows that the Guide would be visualized someone you trust to tell you things you may not want to hear. More than even me–Hey!” Anya brightens, clearly having belatedly arrived on the same wavelength as Buffy. “You should be happy! Well, unless it turns out to be your mother, or some other person from your past that I can’t predict. Not that you wouldn’t be happy to see them–”
“Are you sure?” Buffy can barely speak. “Anya… are you sure? About… who the Guide will–?”
“No, of course not, I’m just guessing. Are you ready?”
“N-No. I–” Panic grips her. “Not yet. I-I don’t–”
“Oh, you’ll be fine. After all, it’s what you came here for.” Abruptly, Anya shoves out both hands, and pushes Buffy down the hill.
Head over heels, Buffy tumbles. She rolls for what seems like a long time more than it would take to reach the bottom of the small gully.
And long before she arrives, her vision goes black.
She wakes beside a fire. Her head hurts.
“Hello?” The flames dance, but she can’t see anything else. Just the waving grass, the rolling hills. Bright moon overhead.
She sits up. Then sucks in a breath.
There’s an indistinct, black shape, just beyond the reach of the firelight.
She can barely form the word. “Spike?”
The figure doesn’t immediately speak. It moves, though, slowly, closer to the light.
When she finally sees him, she draws in another breath. She feels oxygen-deprived. The environment is… still. Airless.
It’s him. Dressed exactly as he had been then, the way she remembers him–black clothes, black coat. Nearly swallowed by the darkness.
His hair is the same color as the flames.
She can’t breathe.
“Just a form.” His voice is subtly different. Quiet, but resonant. The accent sounds wrong. “I am the Guide.”
“I know.” Not him, she reminds herself. Rubs her arms in a cold shiver. “I guess you’re… probably drawn from my memories too, huh?”
She swallows past a dry throat.
He begins circling around the fire. Pacing, in that predatory walk. She sits up straighter, feeling the need for alertness.
“You are disturbed by dreams.”
“Slayer dreams.” She clears her throat. “I need to know what they mean.”
He leans forward, closer to the fire. “Ask the right questions.”
She shuts her eyes. Too many times recently, she’s seen that face. Leaning forward. Menacing. “Why do I keep seeing you?” she whispers.
“Yes.” Why do I keep seeing you killing? Why do I keep feeling it?
“You are full of love.”
Her eyes snap open. He’s still there, leaning so close now that he might as well be standing in the flames.
“It is brighter than the fire. Blinding.”
Her mouth opens. No sound comes out.
“Love is pain, and the Slayer forges strength from pain.”
Recognition dawns. “Me.” It rolls over her, a feeling of utter horror. “The dreams are from me.”
He’s touching her.
In her mind, he’s touching her.
…snap-punch-kick. Spin, twirl, and a whiplash of his boot to her face, and they’re dancing, dancing like they’ve always done…
…arm around her breasts, holding her tight against his chest, and oh, the feel of it. Fangs digging in, and she’s never felt that, never…
…look, that look in his eyes, dead and deadly, murderous, and she never saw that before, he was right, she’d never seen the real him…
…shifting back and forth on his feet, like a boxer, since when did he ever fight like that? Barely getting out of the way in time to avoid losing an eye–so that’s how he got the scar. Quick snap of his head to dislodge a lock of floppy hair, and oh god, was that a ponytail?
In her head, he’s immortal. In the Slayer memories.
She doesn’t even have a photograph.
Memories are all she has.
“Tell me how to stop it.” I’m to blame for this whole thing. Her eyes drink in the face in front of her, lit by flames. Just because I wanted to see you. “If it was just me, it would be different, but those girls… I can’t keep putting them through this.”
“They are one with you now. One heart.”
The energy of the demon. “I know, but…” Its spirit. Its heart. She wet her lips. “I need you to tell me how to stop this.”
“No you don’t.” The face withdrew. Back through the flames, into the darkness. A last whisper of a voice, like a hiss.
“Your question has been answered.”
The fire goes out.
For a long while, Buffy just sits in the gully. The spell has left nothing behind, not even cold cinders. Eventually, she gets up from the ground, wincing at the stiffness, and gathers up the last few spell ingredients. She doesn’t want to pollute. Leave clutter on the hills.
It’s nearly morning. A thin layer of frost covers her clothes.
She makes her way back to the town. It’s slow going. Her muscles are painful, tight and sore as if she’d waged a hard battle.
The Tourist Information Center gets her into a B&B. She collapses into the bed on arrival, but quickly realizes she won’t sleep. Takes a shower instead, leans into the hot water with her forehead against the tiles, streams flowing over her face like hot tears.
Then she does something she hasn’t let herself do in over two years.
Love is pain. And the Slayer forges strength from pain.
Two years of creating a new life. Of shopping for apartments, for new wardrobes, for experiences and normalcy and casual boyfriends.
Happy and numb and painless.
Risk the pain. It is your nature.
and they mostly get it wrong
but oh well
‘cuz the bathroom mirror has not budged
and the woman who lives there can tell
the truth from the stuff that they say
and she looks me in the eye
and says would you prefer the easy way
no, well o.k. then
–Ani Difranco, “Joyful Girl”
ETA on 2-5-07: Now with epilogue.
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/172484.html