This Time Around
Chapter Twelve - Mirror, Mirror

written by Rainne

"Why is it so dark?" a young boy's voice asked.

"In the beginning," replied a young girl, "it is always dark."

There was silence for a moment, and then there was a sudden, soft glow. It grew brighter and brighter, illuminating a space of complete nothingness inhabited by two small figures. They looked at one another across the glow, which the girl held in her hand. The boy spoke. "What's that?" he asked.

"One grain of sand," the girl answered. "It is all that remains of my vast empire."

"Oh, cut the crap." A voice cut across the serene little vista and the two children disappeared, leaving only the light. Buffy Summers, aged twenty-seven, strode forward into the glow. "If I wanted to watch The Neverending Story, I'd rent the DVD. Get out here. I haven't got all day, you know."

Buffy Summers, aged eighteen, stepped tentatively into the very edge of the circle of light. "What the heck is going on?"

"I got played, that's what's going on," the older Buffy snapped. "I never said 'I wish', and Anya said you had to. It was a rule. I got played and you got dragged into it."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about that guy in Giovanni's making like a vengeance demon. Two weeks I've been thinking I made a wish; well, I didn't!" The older Buffy, still dressed in her date outfit, began to pace.

The younger Buffy raised an eyebrow. "Why are you dressed like you're going out on a date?"

"I just came back," the elder replied. "Giles took me out for Italian and then kissed me on the bench." She paused in her pacing, a giddy expression crossing her face. "That was. wow."

The younger Buffy gaped at the older. "You kissed Giles?"

"Uh-huh." The older one nodded. "And don't try to even pretend you don't want to. I'm you, remember?"

The younger girl sighed. "I want to. He doesn't want me."

"Hello!" The older version snapped her fingers under the younger one's nose. "You - me - same person!"

"Yeah, but you're all. older. He thinks I'm just a kid."

"Maybe 'cause you've been acting like one. Ever think of that? Pitching a fit and calling him old just because he got a girlfriend?"

"He said -" the younger one began, but the older one cut her off.

"I know what he said! I was there! Did it ever occur to you that maybe he was trying to get you to look at him differently?"

The younger girl was silent for a long time. Then, finally, she spoke. "You really think so?" she asked tentatively.

"I know so," the woman replied. "All he wants is for you to see him as he really is."

"But I do see him!" the girl responded, anguish in her voice. "You know I do!"

"I know," the woman replied. "But don't you think maybe he should, too?"

The girl bowed her head. The woman walked over to her, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. "He needs to know," she said softly to her younger self. "You need to tell him."

"He doesn't want me," the girl whispered.

"You don't think so?" The woman put her hand on the girl's temple. She focused on the memory of that searing front-porch kiss and pushed with her mind, forcing the memory into the girl.

The girl looked up, then gasped in shock as the memory invaded her mind. From her older counterpart's point of view, she relived the kiss that Giles had given her - them? - from the moment she'd asked him to kiss her until her ragged intake of breath when it was finally, agonizingly over. She looked up into his eyes, which shone with love for her, and gasped, realizing the truth of the words she'd heard. He really did love and want her. As she came to this realization, though, she was roughly slammed back into unreality and her own body. She reeled, clutching at her older self for support.

"Now," said the older, "tell me again that he doesn't want you. Only, make me believe it, okay?"

The younger swallowed hard and nodded. "I'll tell him," she said softly. "I swear I will."

"You'd better," the older replied laconically. "You're the only one who can fix this, you know."

"Me?" the younger whined. "Why me?"

The older sighed. "Because you are the one who's in a position to change everything. For me, everything's already happened. I can't change anything. You've got your whole future ahead of you. You can make it different. You can make it so much better."

The girl bit her lip. "You promise?"

The woman took the girl's chin and raised it, making their eyes meet. "It has to," she said softly.

The younger Buffy nodded. "I will," she promised. "I swear."

There was a sudden, violent gust of wind. The older Buffy was alone in the nothingness. Dramatic music swelled, thunder crashed, and the light suddenly went out. There was total silence. Buffy rolled her eyes, then sighed into the dark. "Well," she said softly, "here's hoping I'm not as much of a jerk as I remember being."

Then, quite suddenly, another gust of wind blew through the nothingness and Buffy simply blinked out of existence. The wind howled and screamed through the empty space. And Buffy Summers opened her eyes.

"Buffy? Honey, are you all right?"

Buffy put her hand to her aching head. "Oh, God. Mom?"

"Yes, honey, it's me. Are you okay?"

Buffy blinked. Her mother's face swam into focus above her and she groaned slightly. "God, what happened? I feel like I got hit by a truck."

"I heard you fall, so I came downstairs to check on you," Joyce replied. "There was a glowing shell around you - I couldn't touch you through it. And then you were you again."

Dazed, Buffy asked, "Who was I before?"

Joyce pondered how best to explain the situation when she herself didn't particularly understand it, and her own reactions to the woman who had both been and not been her daughter. "You were. older," she finally temporized, deciding to save more complicated conversations for daylight hours.

"Oh," Buffy replied. She pondered that for a moment, and then suddenly her eyes opened wide as the memory of that kiss flooded her mind again, bringing with it all the other memories of the previous two weeks that had been knocked out for a moment by the blow to her head. "Oh!"

Joyce was startled when Buffy pushed herself to her feet. "Buffy?"

"Not now, Mom," Buffy replied. She kissed her mother on the cheek. "I love you, but I gotta go find Giles."

Rupert Giles was pacing in his living room. God, that kiss - it had been amazing, and he hadn't wanted to let her go. He had known that he had to, but part of him had wished that she would push the issue, demand more. God help him, he'd have given it to her. He'd have made it his mission to love her more thoroughly in one night than any man had before in her life, including that bleached-blonde threat to nothing.

He was startled out of his reverie by a knock on his door. His eyes shot to the clock: it was two a.m. Who the hell would be knocking on his door at this hour? He could think of only one answer to that question.

When he pulled the door open, the first thing he noticed was how the moonlight shone on her hair. Then he took in her terrified eyes and realized all in a rush that she was young again. "Buffy.?"

Buffy stepped forward, crossing his threshold, and he backed up. She pushed the door shut behind herself and locked it quietly, then looked up at him. "I love you," she said softly and without preamble. "I love you and I want you, and I want to be with you."

He swallowed hard, not quite able to believe she'd said that. "Buffy," he said quietly. "Do you realize what you're asking of me?"

"Tell me," she replied. "No more guessing; no more games. Just tell me, Giles."

Giles nodded, moving slowly toward her. She took a moment to appreciate the sight of him in emerald and cream before he laid a gentle, warm hand on her cheek. "There are a number of factors to consider," he said in a low, rich voice. "For one, I cannot be cavalier about a relationship with you. If I make you mine, I will not let you go. For another." his fingers moved up to brush the center of her forehead at the place Willow had once told her was the location of the Third Eye. "There is a legend which tells of a strange mystical connection which may form when a Watcher and a Slayer join in love. I don't know much about it - the Council has worked to stamp it out in recent centuries - but there are still whispers about it in dark corners. To bond with you in such a way, Buffy, I would consider to be an honor of epic proportions. But it may be that you would not wish to be tied in such a permanent way to me. There is, after all, young Riley." he let his voice trail off.

Buffy shook her head. "I don't love Riley," she replied evenly. "He knows it. He's jealous of you because he knows he could never measure up to you. And I wouldn't mind being bonded to you. I think it would be. nice."

"Being bound to a man who is. I believe your words were 'old and gross'?"

Buffy sighed, looking down in shame. "I was jealous, Giles," she replied finally. "I was jealous and hurt and I wanted to hurt you back. I didn't mean it, and I hated myself for saying it." She swallowed. "I. I'll understand if you. if you can't forgive me."

Giles's hand came under her chin, lifting her face up so that he could look into her eyes. The utter misery that he saw there nearly broke his heart. "Buffy, dearest, don't cry." He said softly. "I forgave you for that immediately. You were lashing out, and I knew that. It's past, Buffy. Let it go."

She looked up at him hopefully. "Do you. I mean. will you.?"

"Yes, Buffy," he said softly. And for both the second and first times that night, he bent and captured her lips with his. When he had rendered her sufficiently breathless, he lifted her in his arms, waited until she had wrapped her legs and arms around his trunk, and carried her upstairs.

Read the next chapter: The More Things Change, The More They Change