Title: Bargaining Aside
Author: Jade Hunter
Disclaimer: None of the characters and properties of Lord of the Rings or Buffy: the Vampire Slayer belong to me.
A.N: Wowee! Lots of reviews, for one prologue! Well, I hope this chapter doesn't disappoint anyone, although, I can't please everyone, can I? I hope everyone can understand my explanation of how Buffy arrived in Arda, and, if you can't, please say so, and I'll try to explain in more detail through e-mail or something.
"You seem troubled."
Elrond leaned back in his seat, gladdened by the respite from the thoughts and questions that plagued him. "I am troubled, old friend."
"Is it the Edain girl-child?" Erestor asked, taking a seat across from the Lord of Imladris.
Despite himself, Elrond smiled faintly at his counselor, "She is no child. I estimate her age to be around a score of years, perhaps a bit more."
"A score?" Erestor raised a brow. To him, it seemed ridiculously young. "She is so…small."
"Yes. It is clear that she is not of the Dúnedain," Elrond said. "Such small stature and fair coloring are more common in the lands of Rohan, but she knows not their language, nor the Common Speech." Here, he became pensive again, his brows furrowing as he began to ponder aloud. "She speaks no tongue that is familiar to me, and though she was in great despair when she first arrived in the care of Elladan, it is nothing compared to the state she is in now, after she discovered she could not understand the words spoken to her."
"She still barricades herself in her room, then?"
Elrond nodded wearily, "And refuses to emerge for any reason, no matter how beautiful the weather. She grows more lifeless as the days pass."
Although he was the high counselor to Elrond, and quite knowledgeable of many things, the workings of the Edain was not among those things, and Erestor found himself intrigued. "It sounds somewhat similar to the behavior of elves who fade away from grief."
"Disturbingly similar," Elrond confirmed. "The race of Men are hardy, and I have never heard of such a case before. It disturbs me, that I cannot do anything for her."
"We do only what we are meant to do," Erestor said softly, knowing that his friend was remembering another time when he had failed to heal someone. "If you cannot help her, it is because you were not meant to."
Elrond's expression was grave as he answered, unconvinced, "Perhaps."
Buffy was dreaming.
She didn't know what she was dreaming of, but her thoughts were clearer than they had been for a long time, her heart almost unbearably lighter, and she had no clue why she had been feeling so down lately. No, she did know, but it suddenly didn't seem so very important, in the nice dream of hers.
"We meet again, Slayer."
Or, what had been the nice dream of hers.
"Whistler," she said, crossing her arms. "You're in my dream. That is so wrong, on so many levels."
He smirked. "Nice to see you back to your chipper self again."
"Anyway, you're probably wondering where you are," the annoying balance demon said, adjusting his travesty of a hat.
"For starters," she agreed. "And how I got here, why, and how do I get out?"
Whistler pursued his lips, looking serious for once. "Very loaded questions," he admitted.
"Don't make me threaten you again," she warned.
He stepped back, holding his hands in the air, "Whoa. I said that they were loaded, not that I can't answer them."
Adopting a 'go on' stance, Buffy braced herself for the worst.
"Your witch friend, she tried to resurrect you," he said bluntly. "She screwed up, big time."
"Willow?" Buffy whispered, and she was suddenly sitting on a couch that had not been there before. "She did this to me?"
"Not intentionally, of course," Whistler added. "She had the best of intentions. Of course, we all know where that road traditionally goes. She thought you were in hell, kid."
She would have laughed, had this been some sort of joke. But it wasn't, and now she felt like crying.
"As for where you are…" he paused, then took a different route. "Okay, it's like this. There are many different types of dimensions in existence. You know this."
Buffy nodded faintly.
"You also know that there are many different types of hell dimensions."
Again, she nodded.
"Right. What you don't know is that all the dimensions are like layers in a cake. There is a top, and a bottom to it, with middle stuff. Obviously, the bottom layers are made up of all the hell dimensions. So, logically, the very top dimension would be…"
"Heavenly dimensions?" she whispered, following the line of thought.
Whistler smiled, snapping his fingers. "Close. Heaven. Singular. The dimensions closest to it are utopian dimensions, of course, just like the dimensions closest to the hell dimensions have demons and some such, like your home dimension, but unlike the hells, there is only one Heaven. Where you were, by the way. Just to remove all doubts."
"Wait," Buffy frowned again. "If Heaven is a dimension, then anyone can get in, if they have the proper portal?"
Whistler shook his head. "No. Unlike most of the other dimensions, that dimension can only be accessed by those without corporeal forms. That is to say, spirits, or ghosts. Dead people. And the spirits are naturally drawn to their like, so those with malicious residue from life tend to drift to the hell dimensions, while others drift up."
"Oh, yeah. So, your witch-y friend tried her little black mojo. Tried to resurrect you. Did a half-assed job of it, and the Powers are pretty pissed with her right now, let me tell ya. Anyway, what resurrections spells basically do is drag the spirit back from wherever they are – because you always have a link with your body, no matter how long you've been dead – and shove them back in the real world. A shocker to most people, very traumatic."
"Tell me about it," Buffy muttered.
"I just did," Whistler smirked. "On with the story. The witch managed to drag your spirit through many dimensions before the party was interrupted. Now, that meant your spirit was wandering around here without a body for a few moments, but the, um, gods, I suppose you could call them, of this world caught on pretty fast. They alerted the Powers, who managed to snag your body from your dimension and deposit it here for your spirit to get in to. And here you are."
Buffy raised a hand. "Wait a minute. Why didn't the Powers just sent my spirit or whatever to my 'home' dimension?"
"Basic rules of magic," Whistler shrugged. "It's always easier to manipulate something inanimate."
"So that covers how you got here," he continued. "It's called Arda, this world. Not too shabby a place; it's somewhere in the middle of the 'cake'. So there's evil, but they're a minority, though powerful."
She frowned, "And does that have to do with why I'm here?"
"Eh?" he shook his head. "No, you probably shouldn't do anything. I mean, each dimension has its own destiny, and this one turns out fine by itself. The only reason you're here is because your witch's spell was interrupted ahead of schedule."
"So this is all because of an accident?" Buffy asked, incredulously.
"Basically, yeah," Whistler nodded. "Hey, you always complained about your Calling, no? Take this time to sit back and relax."
"Relax?" Narrowing her eyes, she demanded slowly, "How do I get home?"
He floundered for a while, then shrugged again.
"Well, no one really planned to have you here, so how could they give you a way out?" Whistler asked weakly, stepping back once more. "Give them time, they're working on it."
"How much time?" she asked shrewdly.
He floundered again, then, quailing under her glare, mumbled, "A few decades or so."
"Hey, you're not the center of their world, you know!" he defended. "They've got a whole universe to worry about!"
"But, but," she spluttered. "Decades?"
Whistler grimaced a bit, "Yeah, see, there's a little problem."
"What problem?" Her voice was deadly, and demanded a good answer.
He let out a breath of air, then gestured with his hands, saying, "Okay – I'm a balance demon. I keep the balance between good and evil. Between the Powers and the First."
"The First," whispered Buffy, remembering the entity that had almost caused Angel's death.
"Yeah. Well, sometimes, they like to cheat. Both the Powers and the First. And when one of them cheats, the other gets a freebie, as you'd call it," he explained. "For instance: the First began to corrupt the other Slayer, Faith. So the Powers brought your Angel boy back to even things out. But then the First tried to make Angel kill himself, so the Powers were able to send that little freak snowstorm so that it couldn't happen. The Powers manipulated the downfall of Glory; the First transferred her essence into Ben and put the Key in the same dimension as her, but that last one gave the Powers a chance to make the monks give the Key human form. Over the years, there have been lots of such events, too many to count, really."
She was starting to develop a headache. Was nothing in her life hers? Was everything controlled by the two warring entities? Every save, every failure – were they just results of some whacked out game?
"To get to the point," Whistler continued, "The Powers are kind of glad that you were resurrected here, instead of in your home dimension. Because if you'd been brought back there, it would have given the First an edge, because your second death? That was your time. But since you've been brought back here, there's no upheaval in the balance."
"Why?" asked Buffy, furrowing her brows in an attempt to follow the balance demon's line of thought. "I mean, there's an evil here, too, right? Why aren't I upsetting the balance here? And the First and the Powers aren't limited by one dimension."
"In a way, they sort of are," he corrected. "Your dimension has been their focal point for a long time now, ever since the beginning."
She sighed, and asked again, "Why?"
"Because it was a challenge. All the dimensions that aren't hell dimensions or utopian – the dimensions in the middle area – they're basically game boards. And, at the time of your dimension's creation, the Powers had a majority of the worlds in their grasp; evil was taking a beating. The First, angry at its losses, issued a challenge: it would create a world overrun with demons, and the Powers could create one thing in reply to save that world."
Realization overcame her. "The Slayer."
"The Slayer," Whistler nodded. "The First didn't know one person could be so affected, or that any average Joe who found out about the demons wouldn't stand for it. The First has always been bad at judging people, you see."
"Not so bad," she murmured, thinking of how close Angel had come to giving in.
"Anyway, that's the deal. The Powers have to think on a way to put you back in the game without giving the First a blank check," he finished. "And if they can't think of a way, they'll just have to wait until the First gives them a blank check. Until then, you're stuck."
"Well, what if I'm old and useless when they find out the answer? I don't want to die here!" Buffy exclaimed loudly. If she had to die again, she'd prefer doing it in her own dimension, thank you very much.
Whistler snapped his fingers, "I knew I forgot something!"
She eyed him warily. "What?"
"Yeah, that aging thing?" he smiled. "Not an issue."
She blinked, "Tell me I heard you wrong."
"And how is this possible?" she bit out.
"Whoa, another loaded question," he adjusted his hat once more. "Okay, you remember way back when, that time you drowned?"
"Yes," Buffy rolled her eyes. "Like I could forget."
"Right. And you remember how you were stronger after your friend brought you back to life?"
"Yeah, get on with it."
"Okay, this is something like that. See, that time, you were only in the Heaven dimension for a few minutes, really. Not even three. But, see, that dimension is so full of the goodness that your spirit just soaked it up, and when you got back to your body, you were better than ever. Now, scenario: if three minutes did that, then imagine what almost four months have done."
Buffy goggled at him, unable to comprehend what she was hearing. "Oh my god…"
"Yup," he smiled, tilting his hat. "You're pumped up with the white hat power. The killer is, with all the negative vibes from the close hell dimensions, it would have been negated had you been resurrected in Sunnydale. But you weren't, so…it's not going away."
"And this…energy I soaked up…it makes me immortal?" she asked, wanting a clarification.
"Not exactly," Whistler hesitated. "I'm not sure how to explain. You can be wounded, but it'll heal up super fast. You remember your Slayer healing? Think that, except enhanced beyond belief. Of course, it won't help if you get your head cut off, but you can avoid that, I'm sure."
"But where does the non-aging come in?"
"Er…your healing is sped up, so your rate of deterioration is slowed down. Aging is basically a body dying while you're still alive – as soon as your body starts to begin the dying process, it's going to be all healed up. Not really immortality, but close enough."
"But – " she began.
Whistler suddenly looked off into the distance, and frowned. "Ooops. I gotta go. See ya around, kid."
He turned and started to walk off into the distance, and her surroundings gave out a flare of bright light, blinding her. Buffy raised a hand to block her eyes and squinted, trying to spot him, remembering at last one important fact –
– and found herself squinting at the sunlight, streaming in from the balcony.
Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, Buffy struggled up, running a hand through her hair, feeling altogether down and out once more.
"Oh god," she moaned, letting her head fall into her hands. "After all I've done for you bastards…the least you could have done was – "
The door opened, and a tall, beautiful woman walked in. It was the same woman that came every day, with her skin glowing and her thick, shiny hair trailing behind her like a cloak. In her hands, she carried a tray full of breakfast, and there was a small smile on her impossibly perfect face.
The woman set the breakfast tray on the small table in the room, and said something in a lilting tone that involuntarily relaxed all of Buffy's muscles. Then, the woman smiled again and left the room quietly, but Buffy knew from prior experience that she would be back two more times later, to bring lunch and dinner.
The Slayer sighed. "After all I've done for you bastards…you could have done something to get me to understand their stupid language."