Title: The Last Time I Died
Word Count: About 17,900
Summary: After the defeat of the First Evil, the universe has plans for Buffy.
Spoilers/Warnings: Through Chosen and Chronicles of Riddick.
Disclaimer: Not my sandbox, I just play there. All things belong to Joss Whedon/Mutant Enemy and David Twohy/Universal, respectively.
A/N: Challenge prompt was – "There is no death, only a change of worlds." American Indian Proverb, Duwamish. Note to the requester, I tried Angel meeting Riddick first and got completely stuck at about 10,000 words. This was intended to be a much shorter alternate fic when it became apparent that I was going to miss the deadline. Famous last words.
Hell Hath No Starbucks
Buffy let go of Spike's hand, pulling her fingers out of the flames engulfing his skin and running as fast as she could for the narrow staircase that curved up to the surface. The basement had turned into a series of deathtraps waiting to snap down around her and the upper levels of the school were rapidly crumbling to pieces. Stairs ended and she skidded into the hallway, searching for any friends who might have fallen behind.
Tiles split with a shriek as a gaping mouth opened up, spreading out a vicious smile that swept the floor out from under her feet and sent her spiraling down into the darkness. Her cries for help echoed between the sides of the chasm and rocks crashed against the walls, set loose by her attempts to find stone or root strong enough to slow her fall.
The sudden stop at the bottom felt like a battle with a freight train. A battle that she lost and left her spitting dirt and blood along with the air knocked from her lungs. She winced, moaned, and tried to breathe with what felt like several cracked ribs. This was the perfect end to a really sucky apocalypse. There was no light above her and no sight of the edge she had plummeted over. All she could do was hope that the rest of her tiny army had made it out of Sunnydale alive.
"Ow, ow. This was so not the plan." She tried rolling and twisting to ease up into a sitting position. There was blood soaking through the elbow of her jacket and a jagged tear in her jeans just below her knee. One of her heels had broken in the fall. "Great. I'm probably an entire hell dimension away from a decent shopping mall."
Every inch of her body ached as she climbed to her feet, holding her elbow to stem the flow of blood, and peered into the darkness around her. There was wind blowing toward her left, whistling faintly as it twisted through the rocks. It was as good a direction as any so she started that way, feeling for the solidity of the walls as a guide. Her boots scuffed against rock and dirt clods and she bumped her head several times, unable to see the obstacles coming before she walked headlong into them.
When she realized that she was actually seeing the vague outlines of boulders, she thought it was her mind playing tricks on her in the darkness. The narrow pathway she was following hit a solid wall with light trickling down from above.
"Can't I fall into a hell that doesn't have a climbing wall? How about marble tile? Or some nice linoleum," she muttered to no one.
Hand over hand, she worked her way up over the wall, ignoring the stinging pain in her arm and leg as best she could. She was sure there was a cosmic rule that she couldn't possibly escape the apocalypse without ruining at least one outfit.
Her hand reached a flat outcropping that felt large enough to put both feet on. It was lighter above her head as she wiggled onto the landing. Roots snagged her hair and sent more dirt sprinkling down. She coughed against the dust, reaching up to dig her fingers into the soil and pull away chunks of it. More light poured in, making her eyes water and burn. It was going to take forever to get all the dirt out of her hair and pores. And there was no way she had been lucky enough to land in a hell that carried Oil of Olay facial cleansers.
More of the ground gave way as she forced her way up through the surface and into the sun. Coughing and choking, she spat dirt out of her mouth and eyed the gigantic orange sun burning above her. That was not her sun. Way too big and way too orange-y to be her sun. She looked around at the barren landscape. It consisted mostly of rock worn smooth under the constant onslaught of wind and gnarled trees with bark blacker than pitch. No grass, no roads, and no California in sight.
"Well. This sucks."
The wind howled in answer. It was colder above the surface than it had been underground; her stomach beginning to rumble as she crawled out of the earth and climbed to her feet. Since it didn't particularly matter which part of nowhere she started toward, she hoped it was the part with a Starbucks and a Marriott. The dream of thousand thread count sheets, fluffy pillows, and a jetted hot tub kept her limping across the barren landscape.
By the time the sun had begun to slip over the horizon, she had blisters on her heels from the awkward limping due to her broken heel and there were only more of the ugly trees as far as she could see. She kept trudging along because it was either that or sit down on the filthy ground and wait for whatever went bump in the night to eat her.
In the sharply angled light of the setting sun, she realized that what she had thought was a gigantic tree was too oddly shaped to be organic. It was a structure, top heavy and crafted by tools rather than nature. She altered her original course, heading straight toward the towering colossus and whatever may have built it. If they were friendly, maybe they had a shower and if they weren't, well, then she'd say hello the old-fashioned way.
The shadow of the tower dropped the temperature of the air a solid ten degrees and gave her a taste of what night would bring in this strange world. She passed by one of the black trees close enough to see that they bore small, dark green leaves clustered into groups of four or six, each with razor sharp edges. Even the patches of grass seemed to slice and cut as they shivered in the wind; the whole landscape was made of blades.
As she got nearer to the monstrosity, she could see flickering lights and either her ears were playing tricks on her or there were human-like voices carried along by the wind.
"Please don't be demons. No horns, no fangs, no scaly things with uber morning breath," she muttered.
Lumpy boulders strewn about the mammoth tower turned out to be spaceships hunkered down in a tableau of mechanical obeisance; the source of the voices was an army milling about the empty space between the craft with jaggedly ridged armor and heavy boots crunching the twisting grass into splinters. There were no horns or tails in sight, but she slowed her approach and warily searched for anything that would give her a hint as to what kind of people they were. Armor and weapons weren't usually good signs when one was wandering through an unfamiliar hell dimension.
She froze when a soldier began shouting and pointing in her direction. There were far too many of them for her to fight and outrunning them with one broken boot heel wasn't particularly likely. She held her ground and tried not to look worried as a group of them surrounded her, weapons pointed steadily in her direction.
"Take me to your leader?" she requested with false cheerfulness.
The man who appeared to be in charge towered over her, his face permanently set in an angry scowl. He studied her with blatant suspicion for several moments before nodding to the others. "Bring her to the Basilica. Let the Lord Marshal deal with her."
"There doesn't happen to be a shower at this Basilica thing…hey!" She glared back at the soldier who had jabbed her in the back with a wicked looking spear, but allowed them to herd her toward the largest of the strange ships. As long as all their weapons were pointed at her, the best idea was to play along and see what hand she'd been dealt.
A female or two appeared as they neared the Basilica and Buffy could tell from their skintight apparel that these people weren't exactly equal opportunity. The men did the fighting and, well, she had no idea how the women even managed to breathe in the elaborate dresses. If they expected her to give up her jeans in exchange for painted on latex, they were in for a big surprise. A series of retractable steps led up to wide double doors with baroque detailing.
Inside, her eyes were drawn everywhere at once, trying to take in the enormity of the sculptures and the internal structure of the ship. It was a transportable city, like the galactic equivalent of a mobile home, only a thousand times bigger. None of the sculptures were her style. Each one was an image of pain and self-inflicted agony frozen forever in several tons of stone and metal. The floor was equally, although more pleasantly, decorated in mosaic tiles of slate and gold. Wide corridors stretched off to the side like empty tubes extending forever in space. She shivered a little and wondered how they lived in a place as cold and unyielding as this.
The big, angry guy pushed her toward a grotesquely ornate dais with an equally ugly throne sitting front and center. "We found this woman."
She opened her mouth to let this Lord Marshal guy know exactly what was on her mind but the words turned into a single, almost unintelligible vowel sound.
The man on the throne was only wearing partial armor, no metal covering up his muscular arms or shaved head. He had skin the color of caramel mocha and eyes like the silver lining on a storm cloud. She blinked several times and awkwardly tried to straighten her torn jacket. He continued to watch until she finally dragged her voice out of its hiding place.
"Hi. I'm Buffy. And I have no idea how I got here, I'm not really sure where here is exactly. But this is since this is so not California; I obviously took a wrong turn. There was this whole end of the world thing, you know how those can be confusing." She laughed at her own embarrassing rambling.
"Hold your tongue," Angry Guy snarled.
"Hey!" She rubbed her shoulder where he had prodded her and gave him a scowl of her own. "Do you mind? It's bad enough I'm stuck in the only hell dimension without a decent shower."
"This is no hell. This is the Underverse and you have no place here."
"Right. Whatever. No Starbucks and no mall? Trust me, this is hell." She tried to turn back to the hot guy sitting on the throne but stopped short when the Angry Guy swung his spear around to point it directly at her throat. "You might want to get that out of my face."
"Kneel before the Lord Marshal," he ordered.
Buffy sighed tiredly and rolled her eyes. "I crawled out of my grave for this? All I want is a hot shower and new clothes."
The tip of the spear poked into her neck. "I said kneel."
"Have it your way." She caught the end of the spear, twisting and yanking it out of his hands. In the blink of an eye, she had the pointy end aimed at the gap in his armor just below his helmet. When he reached for the gun holstered at his hip, she shook her head and jabbed his armor with the spear. "Unless you want to be breathing through a hole in your neck, keep your hands where I can see them."
The man on the throne finally spoke. "Vaako. Stand down." He stood up, walking slowly and deliberately toward her. Taller and larger than she'd guessed when he was sitting, there was something magnetic, if a little intimidating, about the way he moved.
"She is not one of us, Lord," Vaako snarled. Strangely enough, he looked at the Lord Marshal with more distaste and hatred than he had leveled at her.
"Leave her." The Lord Marshal reached out and took the spear from Buffy's hands. He nodded toward the main entrance to the ship. "You have a job to do, Vaako. Are you waiting for a direct order?"
"No, sir," Vaako ground out through clenched teeth. He was nearly vibrating with fury as he turned on his heel and stalked off with the rest of the men in tow.
"He doesn't like you much, does he?" Buffy observed.
"It's mutual." He was still holding the spear, turning it over in his hands with unexpected thoughtfulness, as though he was trying to figure out how it worked.
"The sharp end is the dangerous one," she quipped before realizing it might be a very bad idea to piss off the guy in charge. "Not that you didn't know that. Of course you knew that. So…what do I call you? Lord Marshal? Is your name Marshal or is that just a title?"
He stared at her long enough that she began to wonder if he spoke English as a second or third language, but just as she was about to try again, he answered. "Riddick. Richard B. Riddick. The Lord part is their idea, not mine."
"So it's like King or President. Good for you, moving up in the world." When he continued to look at her as though she had sprouted purple antennae from her head, she gave up. It was just her luck to land in a hell dimension where the only hot guy was dull as a table lamp. "Look. I really just want to shower and change. And if you've got anything that isn't Saran Wrap meets Night of the Living Dead, that would be fabulous."
There must have been some understanding of what she'd said because he motioned for her to follow him and headed off to the left side of the chamber. Standing beside one of the enormous pillars was a woman dressed in a shimmering white gown and translucent veil that billowed with even the slightest wind.
"Take care of her," Riddick told the woman gruffly.
Buffy watched him walk away with more than a little annoyance at being dumped off on the nearest bystander. At least this woman was dressed in more comfortable clothing, which was a cause for optimism. She managed her brightest smile regardless of the less than cushy situation. "Is he always so chatty?"
"Consider yourself fortunate. You may call me Aereon." She glided away from the pillar, parts of her becoming transparent as she moved down the hallway.
"Not to be rude…but what are you? And what's up with this place, haven't they heard of color?"
"I'm an envoy from the Elemental race and this is the home of the Necromonger army. The man you met, Riddick, defeated the previous Lord Marshal."
"That explains the weirdness." A set of carvings had caught her attention and she had to hurry to catch up. "So they came here on purpose?"
"This is their heaven, if a rather unusual vision of such a place. An alternate universe of sorts they believe to be their destiny." Aereon led her through a smaller set of double doors into a vast suite. "You may wash through there and I will find you replacement clothing. I'm afraid the Necromongers care little for luxury so there is precious little of it here in the Necropolis."
Buffy wandered into the room, eyes wide as she tried to take it all in. It was done in the same omnipresent shades of gray, silver, and gold with copious amounts of black for good measure. The flat surfaces were cold stone and even the fabrics looked hard to the touch. When she tested the bed covering, she was relieved that it was actually smooth and silky against her fingers. More of the ugly statues had been positioned about the room but, oddly enough, had been placed with their contorted faces turned toward the wall.
Another door led into an equally unwelcoming bathing area. What passed as a shower took up nearly half of the room and the six inches of raised stone serving as a border provided no privacy at all. Praying that no one would come in, she hurried out of her clothes and stepped over the low wall. It took her several minutes and a few blasts of icy water to figure out how to operate the strange controls jutting out of the walls. The temperature of the water remained on the cool side but once it was warm enough that her teeth weren't chattering, she began scrubbing vigorously at the coating of dust on her skin and hair.
Blood and dirt sloughed off, swirling past her feet to disappear through the grate in the floor. There wasn't anything that looked like soap so she did the best she could without it. Her hair was going to be a nightmare without conditioner.
"Stupid hell dimensions," she complained loudly. The echo of her voice muted by the sound of falling water.
Satisfied that she was relatively clean, she managed to turn the water off and find a rectangular block of fabric that would do for a towel. It felt more like wrapping a leather glove around her body, but sucked away the moisture as well as terrycloth. One hurdle had been leapt with marginal success, the next being finding clothing that was actually wearable.
She was no longer alone when she emerged from the bathroom. A dark-skinned woman painted into a form fitting gold dress was perched at the end of the grand bed, smiling like a boa constrictor.
"So, you're the creature the Lord Marshal chose to keep?" the woman purred. "I must say, I am…disappointed in his taste."
"As long as you're not referring to whether or not he likes me with ketchup, I don't really care about his taste. You haven't seen any spare clothes lying about, have you? The towel look is so white trash."
An icy smile firmly in place, the woman held out a pile of dark fabric. "Of course. It's hardly befitting a slave, let alone a consort. But our Lord insisted that you wear it."
Buffy took the clothing with a superficial smile, trying not to show her relief that the fabric was warm and supple as cotton. She ducked behind one of the gigantic statues to strip off the towel and try on the new clothes. The outfit turned out to be a tunic style sleeveless dress with a long flowing skirt and a floor-length jacket woven out of fuzzy threads. It was even softer against her skin and gave her enough freedom to run or even fight if she had to. There was a strip of the same cloth to tie her hair back.
"How…lovely," the woman told her with barely concealed venom when she stepped out from behind the statue.
"A gal can't be choosy when she's in hell. Now that I'm clothed, who are you?"
"I am Dame Vaako."
"Ah." Buffy nodded with understanding. "Is your husband the guy who got his ass kicked? The last Lord Marshal. He doesn't seem to like the new one very much."
Dame Vaako stiffened, her eyes narrowing. "Our previous Lord Marshal is dead. In this religion, you keep what you kill."
"Then this Riddick guy killed the last guy and now he's in charge of everything? Can I say, whoa, hottie. I'm sure you've noticed." Buffy sighed with exaggerated dreaminess before returning her attention to Dame Vaako. "You don't seem too happy about it. Were you expecting the hubby to get a promotion?"
"You'd be wise to watch your tongue," she hissed.
"Look, I just want to go home, where they have hair care products and the Home and Garden Channel. So go be Lady MacBeth in someone else's room."
The gold clad viper in human form swept haughtily out of the suite, leaving Buffy to wonder who her next uninvited guest would be and exactly what kind of political nightmare she'd wandered into. Post-coup was really never a good time to enter a religious dynasty. There was nothing she could about that at the moment so she focused on what she could do, and that was attempting to get the stains out of her own clothing.
Returning to the alien bathroom, she stared at the remaining fixtures for several minutes before deciding one of them was a sink. It sort of looked like a sink. Finding similar controls for the water, she dumped her clothing into the wide, shallow basin and fiddled with the dials. Water bubbled over the entire length of the basin and from several holes along the side, creating a slow current in the pool. Again, there was no sign of soap so she settled for old-fashioned scrubbing and rinsing. It took an eternity for the black stains to begin to fade and she finally despaired at getting the blood out at all.
She held up her ruined jacket with a mournful sigh. "It was on sale too. Stupid apocalypse."
Both her jacket and her jeans were in sore need of a sewing needle and unless these Necromongers had stocked up on super glue, she wasn't going to be able to repair the broken heel of her boot. And she was pretty sure there wasn't a decent place to shop in this entire universe. It was a pity that she never got sucked into the dimension where the natives worshipped Christian Dior as a God and built temples to Prada.
With aching arms and skin turned wrinkly by exposure to water, she finally abandoned her battle against the evil stains and returned to the main chamber of the suite. The bed wasn't direct from the Hilton but it felt good to stretch out on her back and relax.
Relaxation hadn't made plans to stay, however; the rumbling in her stomach and the racing in her head chased it away. Food was probably the least of her troubles, since even bizarro armies needed to eat. The more insurmountable obstacle was how to get back from whence she'd come when she had no clue how she ended up here in the first place. She remembered the cavern and Spike being on fire and then the ground split right out from under her feet. The only problem was that she'd climbed out of the Hellmouth into an entirely different world.
She frowned at that thought, realizing that everyone would believe she simply hadn't made it out of the building before it imploded. They might come back to look for her body, but would think that she was buried under the rubble of one former high school. Maybe they'd plant flowers. Regardless of how they chose to mourn her, she doubted they'd think to look in an alternate dimension. On the plus side, she hadn't seen any vampires.
The whoosh of the doors swinging open and subsequent thud of boot steps didn't improve her mood. Bracing for whatever unpleasantness was coming next, she rolled up into a sitting position and glared at the intruders.
Riddick motioned to the guard who had followed him to put down the tray of food he was carrying. The guard obeyed, setting the tray on the corner of the bed and leaving the room quickly. Behind him, Riddick secured the door so that it couldn't be opened from the outside without a great deal of trouble or firepower.
Eyeing the food with skepticism, Buffy moved down to the end of the bed and sniffed at it. "Is it edible? Cause you people have no concept of basic amenities. Did you know that you have no soap? How can you have no soap?"
He surprised her by laughing. It was a rough and edgy laugh that made her think of bad horror movies with psychos bearing chain saws. Since he was noticeably lacking in the chain saw department, she decided that he probably wasn't planning on killing her and turned back to the food. The only utensil provided was a slender knife topped with an elegantly carved ivory handle.
"They look like vegetables." She peered at the round, turnip-like thing at the end of the knife blade. It had a pleasantly spicy aroma and when she nibbled at it, the taste was a cross between a potato and an onion. Her stomach growled in anticipation of food, regardless of what it was or where it came from. "I don't wanna know what this is, do I?"
She swallowed hard when she saw that Riddick was stripping off his armor. Beneath the layer of hammered steel was a black tank top and dusty gray cargo style pants that had definitely seen better days. He didn't seem to be bothered by her watching him and nearly made her choke on her food when he pulled the tank top up and over his head. More caramel skin, more muscles, and abs to die for. She was a little disappointed when he disappeared into the bathroom.
"Bad Buffy," she chided herself quietly.
Wishing that Willow was there to gossip with was the equivalent of throwing a wet blanket over her fantasies. She turned back to her food listlessly. It was hardly fair that she'd saved the world and ended up in hell anyway. Karma was a bitch after all.
Focusing on chewing her way through the plate of strange vegetables kept her from curling into a ball and crying like a baby. Maybe later when there was no one around and she didn't have to worry about looking like an idiot in front of any hot men. There were always more pressing matters, like whether or not the Necromongers intended to keep her alive. And whether or not she was actually being kept as a consort, which she was pretty sure was just a fancy word for whore. If that's what he intended then she'd have to dissuade him of that notion. That part didn't worry her. Breaking a wrist or two was always easier than finding the Stargate and dialing home.
She finished off the vegetables but refrained from licking the plate clean. A few days of this food and she'd kill for a Big Mac. A new possibility occurred to her. What if she hadn't been the only one to get swallowed up? Could the others have found their way out of the ground as well? That made her slightly more hopeful about her very gray, drab, and entirely fashion-less future. There could even be a chance of getting home if Giles could figure out where they were and Willow could work the mojo.
Her mind had been so focused on the what ifs that she hadn't heard the water stop running or the soft footsteps as Riddick returned. The sound of scraping against stone startled her enough that she rolled onto her side and hurled the knife as hard as she could. Riddick twisted out of the way, the blade missing his head by inches and embedding into the wall behind him.
"Not bad," he said noncommittally as he dislodged it from the wall with a sharp twist, remarkably calm considering that she'd just thrown a knife at his head.
She caught the knife by the handle when he tossed it back to her. "Not bad? That was better than not bad."
"How did you get here?" He settled into a chair beside one of the enormous statues with the grace of a large cat stretching out in the sunshine. A simple tunic and leggings combo in slate gray and large enough to drape over his large frame had replaced his well-worn black clothes. His feet were bare despite the cold floor. A pair of black goggles dangled loosely from his hand, swinging back and forth ever so slightly.
"Fell into a hole and when I climbed out…voila. Here I am with the crazy people living on a dead planet." She curled her knees up against her chest, very aware that she was far away from home and unlikely to see any of her friends or family again. Better lay down the ground rules before she got in over her head. "So what is this? You feed me and give me clothes…what exactly do you expect in return?"
"I'll let you know."
Fair enough, she thought. He barely seemed to understand the words coming out her mouth so he may not have decided if she was useful or not. "Is there anything else in this world? Other than you and your army."
He nodded slowly. "There are more of them. Each Lord Marshal who's ever led a crusade has his own army."
"Let me guess, they're all fighting each other. Fabulous." She rubbed her arms against the sudden chill in the air. "I don't suppose you've even heard of planet Earth?"
"Earth?" he repeated. "It's a dead planet now. Has been for nearly a hundred years."