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This story is No. 7 in the series "One-shot fun". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: The paths behind the mirrors lead to countless places. Jonathan Strange finds he keeps coming back to just one.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Literature > OtherEnergyBeingFR1313,3511362612 Jan 1312 Jan 13Yes
I own neither "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell" nor Buffy the Vampire Slayer, nor any works related to them. I merely own this idea.

For those of you unfamiliar with the book, I suggest you read it - if you like Harry Potter and Jane Austen, it will doubtlessly appeal to you. Otherwise, you don't particularly need to have read the book to know what the story is about.

~*~

It was the week before Buffy arrived in Sunnydale when Willow first met Jonathan Strange - not that she knew who he was, at that point.

It was closer to the sunrise than sunset when Willow woke up. She couldn't explain why - she hadn't been having a nightmare, and there hadn't been any loud noises - but the fact remained that she was awake. Of course, Willow wasn't happy about that, so she rolled over and tried to go back to sleep.

Willow didn't manage to, as a strange sensation crept over her. Willow knew every inch of her room - she could've walked all around it with her eyes closed and not bump into anything - but for some reason it felt as though her room had become substantially larger.

So Willow sat up in bed, peering into the darkness - she didn't turn on the light, as she knew that she'd never get back to sleep if she did - but she didn't see anything that shouldn't have been there. It was her room, plain and simple.

That was when the man stepped through Willow's full length mirror on the wall.

Willow didn't scream. She thought she was dreaming. Because, in the waking world, how often do people in top-hats and tailcoats walk through your mirror?

The man either didn't notice Willow at first, or completely ignored her. He just tapped what Willow was willing to wager was the exact center of her mirror. Ripples spread out from his finger, distorting the mirrors surface and bouncing oddly from its edges. The man nodded once in satisfaction, and this only reinforced Willow's belief that she was dreaming.

Only then did the man look around the room, although he still didn't see Willow. He seemed rather preoccupied - at least, from the admittedly little that Willow could see of his face in the gloom. She couldn't help but wonder what he might look like in full daylight, then dismissed the thought. After all, she was dreaming.

The man frowned, then opened the door to Willow's bedroom and peered outside. Apparently not finding what he wanted, he held up a finger, which seems to Willow to briefly glow for a fraction of a second. The man, apparently put out by the result, sighed and muttered to himself "Well, this is the wrong place." Willow was vaguely surprised to find that he had an English accent, and not one like the librarian her school had recently hired. But she supposed that in a dream, anything could happen.

"I don't suppose you've seen a brugh around here, have you?" the man asked. As he wasn't looking at Willow, she couldn't tell whether he was speaking to her or not, so she settled for saying "Are you talking to me?"

The man was amused, Willow could tell that much. "Well, of course. Who else would I be talking to?" then he frowned again, and asked "Where am I? I can't place your accent."

Well, this was certainly the most surreal dream that Willow had ever had. "America." she answered simply. Who didn't recognise an American accent these days?

"Definitely the wrong place then." the man said, and then walked back through the mirror as though nothing had happened. Willow, still feeling awake, thought that perhaps something else would happen in this strange dream of hers. She fell asleep waiting for it. She never mentioned it to anyone, because she was never sure whether it had happened or not.

~*~

It was about a year later when Willow met him for the second time. She wasn't in her own room this time, though, she was staying over at Xander's with Buffy whilst Giles searched for a way to uninvite Angelus from their houses.

Xander was sleeping in his own room, whilst Buffy was asleep on the waterbed next to her. Willow had been asleep too, but something had woken her, and she wasn't sure what.

However, the memory of the previous year, which Willow had pushed to the back of her mind, came to the fore once more when the same odd feeling of great distance returned.

This time, Willow kept an eye on the only mirror in the room. She'd learnt a lot about the supernatural world since last year, and she was willing to believe that she hadn't been dreaming after all. Although Willow still didn't know what a brugh was yet.

Still, Willow was interested to see if the mysterious man would be able to walk through the mirror in the same way he had before, given that this one was nowhere near full length.

It turned out that he could, although it made Willow's head hurt to think of how he had done it. It was as if the mirror was very far away, which was what made it so small, but a glance at the surrounding wall made it clear that Willow could reach it in a few strides. Yet the man was walking, not through the mirror, but in front of it, getting not bigger but nearer. It made Willow feel sick, and closing her eyes didn't help. Eventually, the man was in front of her, full size, and everything was normal again. She breathed a sigh of relief.

"It's you again." said the man. He seemed more than a little annoyed. Willow couldn't tell whether it was at her or at himself. "I don't suppose you've seen a brugh yet?"

"No, I haven't. I don't even know what it is. Or who you are, for that matter." Willow said, a little peevishly. What could he expect after waking her up?

The man looked surprised. "Do you truly not know who I am?" He asked, incredulously. At Willow's head shake, he said "I am Jonathan Strange." as though that explained everything.

"Never heard of you." Willow said shortly.

"I must have wondered very far for my name to be unrecognized." Strange mused to himself. "I wonder where... no matter." then he focused on Willow again. "A brugh is a dwelling place of fairies."

Willow might've laughed, where it not for the fact that she was wary of waking Buffy. She could imagine only to well how the Slayer might react to finding a stranger on her room. "I think someone must be having you on, Jon-"

"Mr. Strange."

"Jon, because fairies don't exist." Willow finished derisively. Then she thought back over the last year of her life and added, in a considerably less sure tone "Do they?"

"Most assuredly. They are well known where I come from. I am trying to find one." Strange answered.

"Well, I'm pretty sure there aren't any around here." said Willow helpfully.

"It would seem you are right. I must look elsewhere." Strange turned to the mirror paused and then turned back. "I must say, I prefer you hair in its current colour." Then he left without another word.

Willow noticed, as Strange left, that his hair also had a reddish hue. She ran her hand thoughtfully through her own hair, then shrugged and settled down to sleep - after Strange had left and the odd sense of distance had gone with him.

Willow didn't mention it to anyone the next day, and she wasn't entirely sure why.

~*~

Again, it was about another year before Willow met Strange again, and again he came through the mirror. It was her own mirror in her own room this time.

It was just after Buffy had given the Mayor a box full of bugs in exchange for her life, and Willow was recovering from the blows that Faith had given her.

Fortunately, given that the mirror was big enough for Strange to walk through with ease, he didn't have to do the creepy space-distortion thing that had upset Willow so much last time. He just walked right in.

The first words Strange spoke were "What happened to you?". He gestured to the prominent bruise on Willow's face.

Willow wasn't really in the mood to talk right now, let alone to some weird fairy-hunter guy. So she just said "I got in a fight."

Strange looked disapproving, but didn't say anything about that. "I didn't just mean that, I meant - you. You're - different, somehow."

Willow thought for a moment - what had changed for her over the last year? "Well, I've got a boyfriend now, but I doubt you mean that... oh, and I started learning magic."

"Really?" Strange asked. "You don't look like a magician."

"Well, thank you." Willow said acidly.

"That wasn't what I meant. I you do not have the same air about you as a magician. Admittedly, I only know one other magician, but you are exceedingly different from him." Strange said.

Willow shrugged, but didn't say anything.

Strange looked at Willow for a moment, then said "It strikes me that I have never asked you your name."

Willow's eyebrows rose at that. It was true, Strange hadn't - but then, it had taken him two years to tell her his name, so it was hardly that strange. Or, she supposed, Strange. "Willow Rosenberg." she answered simply.

"Well, Ms. Rosenberg, would you permit me to heal your bruises?" Strange asked solicitously.

"You can do that?" Willow asked in some surprise. It had occurred to her that one could use magic to heal injuries, but upon questioning Giles she had found that it was so difficult as to be nearly impossible. But then, Willow's discrete searches for fairies and walking through mirrors hadn't turned up anything either, so she really didn't know what Strange could do.

"I believe so. I know the form of it, at least, although I have never had cause to test it." Strange answered.

Willow was about to say no, but then realised that it would stop a lot of questions being asked at school the following day, or by her parents - allowing, of course, that they noticed at all. So she gestured for Strange to go ahead.

Strange stood stock still for several seconds, hands clasped in front of him, muttering something too quietly and too quickly for Willow to catch. Then Strange read his hands, and it seemed as though there was an odd, translucent fabric stretched between his hands. W750.154 Safari/537.36

Content-T at Willow.

Willow fell fast asleep as soon as it touched her. She didn't wake until dawn, and when she did so, she found that the only sign that Strange had been here was a distinct lack of bruising.

When her friends questioned her about it later, Willow responded that Faith hadn't hit her as hard as it had seemed. She didn't tell them about Strange.

~*~

Once again, it wasn't until a year later when Willow met Strange again. This time, Willow was in her dormitory at UC Sunnydale. The odd sensation of distance that always heralded his arrival was muted somewhat, as there was no mirror in that main room, so he had been forced to use the one in the bathroom.

However, now, even more than last year, Willow was in no mood to talk to Strange. Oz had just left her, and Buffy was out patrolling in an attempt to give her some space. She wished that Strange would do the same.

No such luck. Strange emerged from the bathroom, looking as he always did, took one look at her tear-stained, red-eyed face, sat on Buffy's bed and demanded that she tell him what was wrong.

So she did. Willow ranted about how cruel Oz was to leave, how it was her fault, how Verucca deserved to die for what she had done. She vented everything, and Strange just sat there and listened, somehow comforting by the very fact of his presence. When Willow finally petered out, she wondered how he managed it. Strange certainly didn't know any of the people she was talking about.

Strange waited a few moments after Willow had stopped speaking, to make sure that she wasn't going to continue. When she didn't, Strange lent against the headboard and closed his eyes.

"My wife died recently." Strange said. He obviously meant to say it in a conversational tone, but he didn't manage, didn't even come close. The pain in his voice dwarfed Willow's. "She was ill. Not for very long, just a few days. Then she died. I was distraught, I buried myself in my work. I wrote a book, I went traveling. Now I'm trying to find a fairy. It's all just distraction. I do for those moments when I forget she died, when I think she'll walk in. Of course, it's painful when I remember - but just for a moment, she's still alive. She told me not to use the mirrors, but I couldn't help but think that somewhere, there must be some path that leads to her." Strange took a deep shuddering breath. "But all I find is you."

Willow didn't know what to say. She didn't even know if she could speak. Strange left, and Willow made no attempt to stop him.

Willow cried herself to sleep - not because Oz was gone, but for Strange. When she woke up in the morning, Willow didn't feel nearly as bad as she had. Oz was put in perspective.

~*~

It was a year later when Strange visited again. It was just after Glory had sucked out Tara's brain, driving her insane, and Willow had lost it and gone to fight Glory. Not because she wanted Glory dead, although she did, but because she wanted to inflict as much pain on her as she possibly could.

Willow had wanted Glory to feel everything that she was feeling.

Of course, it hadn't gone according to plan, and Buffy had had to save her, but Willow couldn't help but think that if she had had more power, she could've had her revenge.

Strange didn't even come all the way through the mirror that time, he merely stuck his head through, looked at Willow, had a thunderous expression on his face, and left.

Oddly, that hurt Willow nearly as much as losing Tara had.

~*~

Strange didn't come back the following year, but Willow didn't even notice. She was too wrapped up in her addiction to magic.

~*~

Strange did come back the following year, but this time it was different.

Firstly, it was day time. Secondly, due to a spell cast by Amy - not that either of them knew about that- Willow currently looked like Warren. But it wasn't just looking like Warren. She was beggining to think like him too.

Willow even had his gun, the gun that had killed Tara and nearly killed Buffy. And she knew that she was going to kill Kennedy with it as well, and Willow feared that she wouldn't be string enough, that she wouldn't be able to hold Warren back.

So Willow was unbelievably relieved when she felt that sensation of great distance, and watched as Strange slowly walked out of one the side mirrors from a car.

When Strange had fully emerged, he turned and looked at Willow. "Well, that's new." he said, taking in her new appearance. His eyes unfocused briefly, then he said "You're still Willow, though. So who are you?"

"Shut up!" Willow found herself yelling. "Just shut up, you don't know anything!"

"No?" said Strange, mildly, unfazed by the gun-wielding madman that Willow seemed to be. "So you're not Willow? You're not the girl who talks to strangers who walk through mirrors. The one who was so upset when her boyfriend left her. The one who lost control when her girlfriend went crazy, and it took two years for her to get it back. You're not her?"

"No! Yes! Oh, I don't know, not for much longer. I'm losing it, Jon." Willow wailed.

"I don't believe that. If you had, you'd have shot me already." said Strange, slowly walking towards her.

"I'm not strong enough." shouted Willow. "I couldn't save her. I couldn't stop myself."

"I've been insane, Willow. I know what's its like. I did it to escape memories of my wife. I can understand vengeance. I can. But you have to let go!" Strange said fiercely, right in front of her now.

"I can't!" Willow said, through gritted teeth. It was all that she could do to keep the gun pointed at the ground. She knew if she lost control for even an instant, then she'd shoot Strange.

"Then hold on to something else." Strange said, taking Willow's free hand. She felt a tingling sensation coursing down her arm - this was the first time Strange had ever touched her - she hadn't felt anything like that since Tara had - Willow took a deep breath and dropped the gun.

Strange smiled, and Willow tore her hand from his, pounding on his chest, tears streaming down her face, sobs threatening to overwhelm her. Strange stood there, taking it all. He knew it wasn't him that she was angry at.

Eventually, Willow's anger ran its course, and she just put her head on Strange's chest and cried. Strange didn't say anything - he didn't even think he could - he merely held her tightly.

Then, for the first time, Willow's encounter with Strange was interrupted by someone else. Kennedy, to be precise. She yelled "Who are you?"

"Be quiet, will you? She was just starting to calm down." said Strange quietly, not looking up from the shaking redhead in his arms.

"Gods, Willow, are you alright? You're not still all Warren-y?" Kennedy asked, ignoring Strange as though he wasn't even there.

Willow somewhat reluctantly disengaged herself from Strange, and said thickly "Am I alright? No, not really. I don't know if I'll ever be alright -"

"You'll get there." said Strange warmly.

"-but I'm better. Better than I've been for a long time." Willow finished.

Kennedy sagged in relief, then said "Can I ask who this guy is? 'cause you two seem mighty close, but I know that I haven't seen him before."

Willow nodded. "Jon, this is Kennedy. Kennedy, this is Jon. Jonathan Strange."

"Nice to meet you." the pair said politely, in unison. Then Strange smiled at Kennedy, made an odd gesture with one hand, and Kennedy froze.

Then Strange turned to Willow, who couldn't find it in herself to be concerned about Kennedy - she knew that Strange would never do anything to hurt anyone - and said to her urgently "Come away with me. Through the mirrors. You don't have to stay here anymore, and there are worlds out there that you can only imagine -"

Willow cut him off. "No, Jon. I can't."

Strange didn't try to convince her with words. He just looked at her, and Willow saw everything that he wanted to say in his eyes.

"I have things to do here. It's dangerous, and I can't just up and leave. There's things that I have to do." Willow explained.

"I could stay." Strange said simply.

"No, you couldn't. You belong there, in between the mirrors." Willow answered. "But let me ask you one thing." Strange didn't answer, but Willow went ahead anyway. "I never told you about Tara going crazy, or dying, or about magic addiction or any of that. So how did you know.

"You told me." Strange answered. Willow understood. "I will see you again." he told her, then left through a mirror.

Willow stood still for several moments, then said softly "Yes, you will."

Kennedy unfroze a short while later, and Willow found that she didn't remember Strange at all. Willow didn't pry into what she did remember.

~*~

The following year, after The First had been beaten and Sunnydale was nothing more than a crater, Strange didn't come for Willow.

Willow came for him instead.

The End

You have reached the end of "Instants". This story is complete.

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