Buffy Anne Summers stared blankly at the destruction in front of her. Death was everywhere, her eyes couldn't escape it. Either in the form of dust, of carbonized bodies or soaking red ones, there was no trace of anything else on the immense battlefield.
She wanted to cry, to howl in pain, but her heart wasn't there. It just… she just felt far, far away, a detached observer suppressed deep inside her own body, lying under layers and layers of shock. She would emerge again, she thought bitterly. Nothing ever stayed buried long under the dirt in her line of work.
She slowly stood up and turned around, her limbs moving as sluggishly as in a dream. She was dripping blood and slime of all kinds from her cloths and hair, but she just couldn't get herself to retch.
It had been a massacre. Millions of people, of vampires, of demons, of gods… millions had died. Xander had been right. This had been the Apocalypse 2.0, the final, advanced version of everything the world had ever faced.
She suddenly hiccupped and with a start realized she was crying. Bringing her bloody hand up to her cheek, she wet her fingertips with pink tears and watched them in a somewhat bewildered state.
When had she started crying, she wondered, not really feeling what her body was going through. When would she start caring, she asked herself then, and a spark of anger, shame and pain seeped through the cracks in her soul.
Dead. Everyone was dead. From her sweet little sister, Dawnie, to the young slayers she didn't even know by name. From Xander and Willow to Andrew and Robin. And Faith, and Spike, and Angel, and… so many others.
Why couldn't she feel anything? Feel as bad as she should have? She was alive, she knew it, but wished the pain would remind her. Pain was for the living, after all.
A deep rumble from behind made her shoot up like a coiled snake, and she turned on her heel like a dancer, crouching slightly in a defensive position and gripping her Scythe tightly. From a pillar of smoke and lightning a few feet from her, a dark figure emerged, dressed in a long robe and looking morbidly majestic, standing over the bloody battleground.
"My, my," he marvelled with his deep voice, as he took in the massacre around him. "I have to admit I find all this simply lovely. Don't you agree, my dear?"
Buffy resisted the urge to spit on the ground but relaxed a little all the same when she recognized the newcomer. She lowered the Scythe.
"D'Hoffryn," she said to the bluish demon. "What are you doing here? I was told you wanted to stay out of the war."
"My Vengeance demons aren't really into such messy fights, indeed," he said jovially. "Well, we enjoy causing them and of course watching them, but not so much joining them." He looked around appreciatively. "Anyway, the war is over now, and only a handful of its parties' leaders survived it." He glanced briefly at the rapidly closing portal behind which the two still-ruling Old Ones had disappeared, before bringing his attention back to the girl. "You being one of them, darling."
"Right," Buffy said sceptically. "So you here to offer your regards?"
D'Hoffryn stared at her intensely. "I'm here because I heard your call."
That elicited finally an emotion in the Slayer as she furrowed her brow in surprise. "I didn't call anybody."
"You most certainly did," the demon disagreed. He put his hands behind his back and took a step in her direction. "Just a few moments before my arrival, your entire being called to me in despair and anger."
Buffy blinked at him sceptically. "You sure you're not hearing voices?"
D'Hoffryn shook his head ruefully. "Dear child, you can try and dissimulate the pain in your words as much as you want, but I can feel it loud and clear from your soul. And I can make it better."
A scowl appeared on the girl's face. "Cut the grandfathery crap, D'Hoffryn. I've known you for thirty and some years. Just get to the point."
The demon smiled a little, his clear teeth standing out against his bluish skin. "As you wish, Slayer. Like I said, it's futile to deny the deep pain you're currently in. I've made a career out of recognizing it and exploiting it. And I must say yours is particularly intense." His arms shot out dramatically as he pointed at the wasteland surrounding them. "What you want right now is to find the ones responsible, those who did this to your world and your friends, and gut them through and through in a slow and painful death."
Buffy looked incredulous at that. "And you want me to wish this to you?"
D'Hoffryn's arms dropped in frustration.
"No, no, no," he said almost petulantly. "That would be such a waste of talent and resources, other than out of my league. We're dealing with Old Ones, Hellgods and all sorts of great demons here. Disposing of them would prove quite too much for my powers." The demon brought his hands together. "Besides, I want much more than just grant you one wish." Another dramatic pause followed, as the bluish creature closed his eyes in pleasure. "I want you to become a Vengeance demon."
The Slayer blinked in surprise for a moment before eventually snorting. "You're kidding, right?"
"Not at all," D'Hoffryn assured her. "Your power is virtually equal to the greatest beings in the universe, some of which are the cause of your pain. With that and with what I could offer you, you'd become invincible. You could exact revenge and dispose of them as you saw fit. You could reach them even in the outer realms of Hell and make them pay for what they did to your vampire boyfriends, your friends and your sister." The demon sounded urging now. "You could shred them to pieces, like they did to your soul. And you could wish the pain away until only peace remained. Think about it."
Buffy was looking down by the time the other finished speaking, but when she finally raised her head and tilted it to the side, a small smile was playing on her lips. Not exactly what D'Hoffryn was expecting from the distraught Slayer.
"I'm thinking about it," she said, "and I'm thinking you're trying to screw me over."
"This whole demony thing," the blonde continued, now advancing menacingly towards him. "It can't happen. I've read about Slayers from the past trying the demonic route and it never works out. What it does is cutting off their own Slayer demon from them, which in my case would only leave the flimsy power of a Vengeance one in my body, something you could control or destroy without any problem."
She jumped forward supremely fast as D'Hoffryn tried to teleport away. The grip on his rob told him it was too late by that point.
"Don't, or you'll leave your head behind," Buffy warned, raising the Scythe until the blade was at his throat.
The demon gulped loudly and raised his hands in surrender. The dark dimensional-rift behind him stopped growing in size before closing completely.
"Good," she said with a snort. "Now, what were you thinking? Trying to trick me like that… who do you think I am?"
"I-I-I admit I thought I wasn't dealing with a rational Slayer, at the moment," he said, trying to keep his neck as far from the magical weapon as possible. "More like a desperate human."
"Sorry to disappoint you, but I'm not," Buffy said quickly before amending, "desperate."
"Of course you are."
"No, I'm not."
"Oh please." D'Hoffryn huffed lightly, trying to regain his usual composure. "Your soul is still screaming and shouting its pain. I could hear it loudly from Arashmaharr, and here it is positively deafening me."
Buffy almost seemed to pout at that. "Well, I can't feel it."
"Well, of course you-" the demon started to say but then stopped abruptly. He took a better look at his captor and cursed. "Oh hell. How could I not notice it before? You're in shock."
The blonde looked away. "Maybe."
"Of course you are. I've seen it often enough in my career."
"I'm surprised your career lasted this long," she commented dryly and decided to elaborate on it when he looked at her with a raised eyebrow. "I mean, you tried to make Willow a Vengeance demon for years and couldn't even keep Anya as one. Now you came to me saying my soul was in pieces, and still didn't think it strange that I wasn't actually screaming and throwing hissy-fits?"
"Well, you were crying," D'Hoffryn pointed out in his defense.
If she hadn't been holding both the demon and the Scythe, Buffy would have probably raised her hands to her cheeks. "I forgot about that," she admitted. "Totally unintentional, though. My body was doing it without even me knowing."
"That's not so uncommon for someone in your situation," D'Hoffryn reassured her. "You simply cut off your emotions because it was too unbearable to deal with them at the moment." The demon almost sounded relieved. "That explains why I couldn't swindle you with my offer, despite manipulating pretty much every chord I heard from your heart. Despite your snarky remarks, I know I'm pretty good at my job and it's still some millennia too early to start losing my touch."
"Good for you, then, your ego is restored," she commented before raising the blade to graze his neck. "Or maybe not."
"It's a pity, though," he said sorrowfully, ignoring the comment. "You would have made a great Vengeance demon. Not as good as Miss Rosenberg, but-"
"You're not really helping your situation here," Buffy reminded him, gripping his robe more tightly and yanking it brusquely.
"What could possibly help my situation?" the demon asked, sounding resigned.
The Slayer finally let him go with a little shove.
D'Hoffryn stumbled back, surprised by the unexpected freedom. He straightened up after a moment, looking very curious. He thought about fleeing for a moment before dismissing the idea. She was close enough to use her blasted magical weapon on him in a split of a second, and he really wanted to know more about what she was thinking, anyway.
"I'm all ears."
Buffy looked at him straight in the eyes.
"I don't want revenge," she said. "I know I don't, no matter what the voices in your head tell you. And I don't want power either, not the one you can give me, anyway."
She cast a look around. The rising sun gave a new look to the silent battleground, but the dead stayed dead and the light didn't help at all in hiding their vacant eyes.
"What I want is to look around and… not see this."
D'Hoffryn contemplated her words for a long second before speaking up.
"I can't bring back your friends," he said quietly, trying to guess where this was going. "More precisely, I can't bring back their souls, and as I understand it, even your vampire allies had theirs. Not without a great deal of sacrifices anyway, and if you haven't looked around yet, we're short of those at the moment."
"I wasn't asking you that," she resumed. "Many people died in this war, not just my friends. Humanity has almost been wiped out." She shook her head before taking a deep breath. "And I want to wipe this war."
"What do you mean?" the demon asked, not sure about what she was saying and not sure if she knew it either.
But Buffy had given it some thought already.
"Bring me back in time. To the past."
A long, heavy silence followed, as the two looked at each other for an interminable minute.
"I can't do that," D'Hoffryn said.
"That's a lie."
"No," the demon assured her more forcefully. "I can't do that. As I said before, it would take sacrifices I'm sure you're not willing to take, or in alternative, power of a level I don't possess."
Buffy smiled slightly at that.
"That's why we'll use mine," she said. "I was thinking I wouldn't have it in the first place where I wanted to go."
"And where-" D'Hoffryn paused before amending, "when would that be?"
"When I was fifteen and I was first made a Slayer," was the simple answer. "That's thirty-eight years ago. Can you do it?"
Another deep silence descended around them.
"What would I gain from this bargain, if I may inquire?" the demon eventually asked.
"You'd get to live, for starters," the blonde commented off-handedly. "Considering the trick you just tried to pull on me, you're lucky you're still in one piece. And I would have to see to that, if you refused the deal. Even if you somehow managed to escape from me now, you wouldn't want me to hunt you down in the near future. I mean…" She flicked her hair sideways and looked at him smugly as blood and slime flew behind her. "This shock you say I'm in is not gonna last forever. Imagine what would upset-Buffy do if she got her hands on the one who at the very least contributed to her pain."
D'Hoffryn tried to maintain his composure at those words, but his eyes were giving him away. They both knew she was way out of his league, the simple fact she had survived the war was proof enough of that. The fact she had killed many superior beings like Old Ones and Hellgods put her firmly in the highest tier of the supernatural hierarchy. He had no doubt she could find him and destroy him without much problem, probably very painfully too, if in a state of emotional distress.
No, the threat was genuine and pretty realistic, unfortunately for him.
When she thought the concept had completely sunk in, Buffy finally continued.
"As an optional, if you accepted the deal, you'd get to ride the time-travelling spell as well." She smirked slightly at his surprised look. "I know how this works, D'Hoffryn. I know you'd fly back in the past with me. And think about just what you could do with your knowledge of the future. That's a kind of power I am willing to grant you."
The demon had clearly made up his mind already for he nodded immediately after that.
"Very well," he said solemnly. "I accept your terms, Slayer, but let's act quickly. Your soul is still howling and screeching tremendously and its pain won't be contained much longer before it is unleashed on us all. I would prefer we were finished by then."
"So," she said quietly, shifting the Scythe to her left hand and extending her right, "it's a deal?"
D'Hoffryn looked at the bloody appendage for another second before shaking it. He nodded his head deeply in a deferential bow of sorts.
"It's a deal."
Buffy came to in excruciating pain. It was like nothing she had ever felt before, and screaming her throat raw only seemed to help so much. The world around her was all but a blur, both images and sounds drowning in that agonizing torment.
After what seemed like an eternity but were probably just a few seconds, she felt herself being wrapped in a pair of arms. The first instinct was to escape them, but a flash of brown hair and soft features and eyes stopped her. Also, an achingly familiar voice resonated in her ears, and even overburdened as it was, her mind managed to give a name to it.
The pain started to lessen and the brain to work again. She slowly abandoned herself to the warm hug and let herself be lulled back to calm. She soon stopped screaming until only soft words were reaching her ears, and she lifted her head from the bosom that had held it to finally look up with watery eyes.
Joyce Summers looked back at her with the most scared expression Buffy had ever seen on her face. She too was on the verge of crying and looked exhausted behind a lock of hazel hair that had strayed in front of her eyes. She continued to whisper soothingly at her in between caressing and kissing her head.
"Mom's here, hon," the woman was saying softly. "There. There. There."
Buffy didn't know whether it was the pain or the sight of her mother, but she realized the shock that had affected her since the final battle had finally worn off.
Memories of her dead friends and allies emerged to the top of her mind, but this time they brought with them intense sorrow and sadness. Pain coursed through her in small waves, now timed with her sobs, but it was much different than the previous physical pain she had been in. Buffy couldn't really decide which was worse and at the moment she just couldn't care less.
And she realized something, through the grief and the misery. She realized that if she had felt like this when D'Hoffryn had appeared, he might have convinced her with his proposal. She actually might have thrown her humanity away and with that her freedom, probably.
Thinking about how lucky she had been to dodge that bullet, she felt the pain recede a little against a sudden surge of hope.
She had done it. She had travelled back in time. She could start everything anew, with her mother alive, as well as her friends. And she would do everything she could to keep them so.
Rocking gently back and forth against her mom's bosom, Buffy Anne Summers cried herself to sleep.
Author's notes – Pretty classic beginning to a time travel story, I know. It's just that I love this sub-genre (that and crazy people) and couldn't resist the urge to try it on the Buffyverse. But no worries, I'll spin it around my way soon enough.
It is meant as a pre-Sunnydale fic. That doesn't mean you won't see the Scoobies, though, on the contrary... some of them will be a big part of the story. I'm currently struggling against chapter three, after sliding smoothly through the second, but I count on moving on in a day or two. I'm pretty much up to date as far as the comics are concerned, but of course there's the strong possibility that future canon events will not be compatible with the plot I have in mind. I can't promise you anything about that.
Till next time.