The dreamscape was a dark alley at night. Buffy knew it was a Slayer-related one as soon as it started for she had much less control than usual over it. Slayer dreams were like that. You couldn't mould them as you wanted, nor you could change perspective like she had learned to do in a normal dream during her magical training.
So she was stuck inside a young girl's body, and as she turned a corner to an even darker alley, she realized it wasn't the first time she had had this particular dream too.
It was the first Slayer dream she had ever had. It was hard to forget, being so vivid and real, almost like a vision, and most of all… being the first. To someone whose dreams had only been ordinary ones until then, this had come as quite shocking.
In the dark alley, a vampire stared at her in startled surprise, his fangs still buried in a homeless old man's neck. She took another step forward and he grinned maliciously, dropping the body he was holding to the ground.
"Questa deve essere la mia giornata fortunata,' he said in what Buffy recognized as Italian.
"Io non ci giurerei,' Buffy heard herself reply grimly, not even knowing what she was saying. She guessed it was a threat of some sorts both because of the tone and the wooden stake now in her hand.
"Cacciatrice," the vampire hissed in surprise. Ah, finally a word she knew, Buffy thought as she recognized the Italian for 'Slayer'.
She started advancing down the alley with slow, balanced steps, ready to jump or dodge at the undead's littlest movement. When he did moved, it was to launch a barrage of punches that she parried easily and a low kick that forced her to step back. She punched the vampire in the face and then immediately went for the kill.
Buffy would have shaken her head if she hadn't been just a mere observer, albeit an internal one. Rushed mistake, she thought as the vampire swiftly deflected the stake and shoved her forcefully against the building on the left. The blow forced the air out of her lungs, but she got up immediately, shouldering the undead back.
Feeling herself scowl, Buffy attacked furiously, scoring a few hits before relenting. She waited for the dizzy vampire to bite in, figuratively speaking, and he did after a moment, punching at her almost blindly. She ducked under the swing and then dusted him.
She felt like nodding in satisfaction. The vampire had seemed a bit inexpert, but the Italian Slayer was fairly good. She crouched down beside the old man the undead had been feasting on earlier and checked his pulse. Buffy saw all this as a distorting imagine, and as the world around her grew ever so blurred, she understood the dream was about to end.
"Morto," the Italian Slayer said grimly, but her voice seemed to come from very far now. "Mi spiace di essere arrivata troppo tardi.'
And with that said, Buffy started to wake up from what had been the first Slayer dream of both her new and her old life.
Waking up immediately alert was something Buffy had learned early in her life, a skill probably tied with her enhanced senses and her Slayer powers. So it was something of a new experience when she struggled to open her eyes and then to focus them on her surroundings.
She was lying on a bed in a dark room. The shutters of the window were completely lowered and only a feeble stripe of light seeped through the small crack under the door. The first impression Buffy had was that the room felt familiar, but it was only when she sat up on the bed that she realized where she was. She hurriedly fumbled for the light switch beside her and the table lamp clicked to life.
And then, everything came back to her in a rush, sweeping all the sleepiness away. The war, the destruction, D'Hoffryn, the wish, the pain and… her mom.
She got out of bed and practically pranced through the room, from one corner to the other, looking everywhere and at everything. She walked up to the window and silently lifted the shutters.
She had done it, she thought, as her eyes swept over the lights of LA – pre-Fall LA, that is. Honks of cars and sirens resonated through what seemed like late evening as small groups of people walked up and down the sidewalk under her window.
Buffy smiled, looking down at them.
She had done it.
The calendar on her desk told her it was October, the tenth she decided after a moment of consideration. Although there was no sign on it, it was hard to forget the day she had received her powers and that was where her wish would have brought her. As a test, she tried to lift the wooden desk with all her books, her magazines and the TV on it and with some effort she managed to do it.
Normal Slayer strength, then, she determined, putting the desk down with a quiet gasp. It was a bit disconcerting but she had taken it into account when she had proposed the deal to D'Hoffryn. There wouldn't be any superpowers until roughly ten years passed. Just normal… Slayer… superpowers.
She stretched a little before opening her wardrobe. The reflection looking back at her from the full-size mirror was of a slender girl of fifteen in her pajamas, with blond, currently pillow-ruffled hair and no scars. She wasn't very different from what she had been before her travel, despite being roughly forty years younger. Slayers didn't age like normal humans, and at fifty-four, Buffy couldn't have looked older than thirty.
After a quick inspection that left her even more thrilled than before, the blonde walked up to the closed door of her room and listened. Muffled voices came from outside and it wasn't a long stretch of imagination to understand they were her parents'. Her mom's was simply too alluring to ignore, so she resolved to stick to the plan and opened the door.
"But it's almost been a day!" her mother was saying from the kitchen
"Just… let her sleep some more. It's not like she's in pain or anything now," was his father's answer. "You heard the paramedics."
Buffy walked along the hallway silently as she listened to her parents' conversation. She looked left and right at the paintings on the walls, recognizing them with but a portion of the melancholy she had previously felt when surveying her bedroom or the city outside.
"I just… I don't know what else to do," her mother admitted as she got close to the door.
"We already called the school and the doctor said she's fine. Only tired for whatever reason." Her mom made an unconvinced sound as he said that before continuing. "Now we just have to wait for her to wake up."
"Might be sooner than you think," Buffy said, stepping inside.
Her parents were sitting at the small table, empty plates and a half-eaten cherry-pie in front of them, having just finished with dinner, apparently. They looked up startled as she entered, before standing up and approaching. Her mother engulfed her in a long hug while her father put a hand on her back.
"How are you, sweetheart?" he asked quietly.
"I'm fine," she said, lingering on the hug for as long as she could.
"But what happened?" Joyce Summers wanted to know. She pulled back and looked at her straight in the eyes. "You were suddenly screaming from your room and… oh Buffy, you worried me sick."
The blonde smiled slightly, trying to keep up with her casual approach. "Sorry about that. I don't really remember what happened. I was hoping you could tell me." She stepped to her seat and plopped down unceremoniously, ignoring the look her parents shared. "Hmm… cherry-pie! May I?"
"You should eat properly," her mom immediately chastised her, taking the dessert away from her.
"I'm not really hungry. I just woke up."
"God only knows when was last time you ate, all with your silly diet and your recent twenty-four hours nap." The woman walked up to the fridge and pulled out a small pot half-full with sauce, putting it on the stove. "Pasta is in order, I think. Let me get all set."
Hank Summers rolled his eyes as he sat down, sporting a knowing smile. Buffy tried to smile back, but she wasn't sure it came out okay.
"Twenty-four hours, huh?" she asked impressed. She usually didn't sleep more than a couple a night. "That explains the grogginess."
"You really don't remember anything?" her father asked curiously.
"Just… being in pain and then falling asleep," Buffy admitted with a small grimace.
Her mom filled a pot with water from the sink before pulling a bag of spaghetti out of a cabinet.
"What about the doctor?" she asked as she prepared the meal. "You seemed actually awake when he came by later on."
The blonde shook her head.
"We called the doctor," her father explained. "Well, we called 911 first, but when they came, they just checked on you and said you were sleeping. Not hurt in any way."
"That's good, right?"
"Yeah," the man immediately reassured her with a smile. "The doctor said you were fine as well, but that you needed sleep." He snorted, jabbing at her shoulder lightly. "I'm telling you, no more late nights at the telly or the phone."
The joke was actually funnier than her father even knew considering what Buffy's life was going to be from then on, and the Slayer hid her grin with a slight grimace. Her mother, instead, seemed almost disapproving but she didn't say anything.
The rest of the evening was spent in idle conversation, the matter about Buffy's strange breakdown having been dropped for the moment. The blonde realized soon that her mother was still worried about it, but also knew she didn't know what to do. Aside from calling the doctor, which she had already done, and asking her about it, there was little else she could think of.
While eating her meal, Buffy couldn't help but watching her. Joyce Summers had been out of her life for quite a while now, and finding her back in it was… stunning. She'd go with stunning for now. Thirty-two years had passed after all. It would take some time to get adjusted to the idea.
Hank Summers, instead, had been quite alive for an old man well past his seventies until a month before, when the war had started picking up and extending to the West coast. He had died with millions of others when Sacramento had been attacked by the Judge and his army of demons, but Buffy hadn't really mourned the loss. It couldn't feel like a loss since she practically never had him in the last thirty and some years.
Keeping up with the table conversation was somewhat of a tricky business. Forgotten people and events were named a few times alongside hazy ones, and she generally had to stay on the vague-side when she answered questions. She clearly remembered Kelly, her Hemery high-school's friend, who had apparently called when she was out cold and wanted to be called back. Buffy so didn't look forward to that conversation.
She eventually excused herself after a slice of pie and went to the bathroom. After glaring at the three toothbrushes for a few minutes, she decided to use the green one and get it over with. The little things were sure hard to remember…
She showered for a long time, trying to get as best a feel of her young body as she could and then stepped out of the steaming bathroom. She would get fitter in no time. That was one of the few perks about the slaying business.
Exiting into the hallway, she walked past her room and stopped at the next one.
It took her a few minutes to make up her mind, but she finally opened the door after taking a deep breath. Paintings of all kinds and size littered the room, leaning on the walls and on the spare bed beside the door. There was a thin layer of dust covering everything, almost invisible in the yellow light coming from the streetlamps outside.
Dawn and her bedroom were nowhere to be seen.
Of course, Buffy had known that from the very beginning, from well before making her wish to D'Hoffryn. But seeing it was something different.
It was like the Tirer La Couture spell all over again, only this time there was no magic involved. Buffy's mind continued to come up with images of girly furniture and toys, of pink blankets with unicorns and school books on a small desk, while her eyes registered something else entirely. It didn't help that what were to be considered the 'real ones' were the latter.
She turned around, feeling more upset than she'd thought she would, and closed the door without looking back. Dawn didn't exist. Not yet, at least. The energy that had given her life was still just that, energy, and it would remain such for some years to come. Buffy would do everything in her power to make sure the monks entrusted it to her, but there was still the possibility she would never get her little sister back.
She couldn't think about it, she decided, getting away from the door and back to her room, or else she'd go mad with pain. Closing the door behind her, she marvelled at her newfound things for some more minutes, before clearing a fairly large space in front of the bed and sitting down on the floor.
Crossing her legs still in her bathrobe, she started taking deep, calming breaths, letting the air in and out in a regular rhythm. Meditation came easy to her now, after decades of practice, and she managed to tap into her inner energy in just a few minutes. Just like her body strength, her mystical one had taken a big hit with the travel in time, if for slightly different reasons. All the years of training were lost after all, and although her experience and knowledge had remained, everything else hadn't.
Slowly coming out of her trance of sorts, Buffy focused her intent before trying and managing a few minor spells, fortunately all successfully. She was just about to try conjuring a small flame in her hand when her mom knocked on the door.
"Buffy?" she called before opening. She stopped whatever she was saying when she noticed her daughter was sitting on the carpet. "What are you doing on the floor?"
"Nothing, really," she said quickly, and it sure looked like it. The blonde made a mental note to put a magazine next to her the next time she meditated. "Did you want anything?"
Her mom nodded, looking a little puzzled. "Did you use my toothbrush?"
Buffy closed her eyes for a moment before wriggling her nose. "Maybe?"
"Honey, are you sure you're okay?" the woman asked with worry written all over her face. She sat on the bed and stroked a lock of Buffy's hair affectionately.
The Slayer leaned a little towards her touch.
"Yes, mom, I'm fine."
"Are you sure?"
"Totally." The blonde smiled up at her. "Stop worrying."
"I can't. I'm a mother. Worrying is my job," she replied only half-joking. "And you make it pretty easy, missy."
"Sorry about that," Buffy said honestly, giving in to the urge to hug her. She wrapped her arms around the woman and squeezed a little, closing her eyes. "I'm okay."
Joyce Summers seemed to take a deep breath, judging by the heaving of her chest against Buffy's cheek.
"Your father thinks I'm overreacting," she said quietly. "He thinks the doctor's right and you were only tired. Exhaust, they said." Her voice assumed a derisive tone before softening suddenly. "But I know what I saw… and heard. You weren't just tired." She paused for a moment and moved away so to better look at Buffy's face. "You were hurting."
"Mom," the blonde interrupted her firmly when it seemed like she was getting worked up. "I'm fine now. Whatever it was, now it's gone."
"You'd tell me if something was wrong, right?" the woman urged her resolutely and Buffy internally winced. She briefly wondered if telling her the truth was the best solution, but discarded the idea immediately. As she was now, it wouldn't take more than a silly thing to completely freak her out, and admittedly, neither the Slayer nor the time-travelling business could be considered as such.
"Of course," she reassured her and her mother sighed softly.
"Right," she said in evident relief. "I just wanted to be sure."
She patted her back once more before standing up.
"Well now, I know you probably don't feel the need after doing it the whole day," she continued with a lighter tone, "but try to catch some sleep if you can. You get another day off school tomorrow, just to be sure, but then it's our old life again, mind it."
"Our old life," Buffy repeated seriously while biting her lower lip to hide a smile.
"Exactly." Joyce Summers walked to the door and stepped outside. "Oh, and Buffy?"
"Get rid of that wet bathrobe before you catch a cold." She pointed at the desk chair. "The clean pajamas are folded there."
With that last advice, she stepped out of the room, closed the door and left Buffy to her own thoughts. The blonde smiled slightly, looking sceptically at the piece of clothing.
"Sorry mom," she said quietly to herself as she eyed the pinkish pajamas. "I can't go slaying in that."
Buffy stared down at her magical brew and coughed lightly as dark wisps of smoke floated around her nose and mouth. The sun had gone down an hour before and now countless stars were shining down on her from above… probably. She still had to get used to looking up and not seeing any because of the lights of LA. The city was so bright it sometimes scared her.
The Slayer was currently on the rooftop of her building, which was pretty much the only place she had been able to think of where chances that someone walked in on her during her spell were very slim. It was her second night in the past, if you didn't consider the one spent sleeping, and she was finally able to put her plans into motion.
The spell would only be the first step.
Coming up with a suitable location had probably been more difficult than founding the ingredients of the spell. Los Angeles was such a big city that in her first night-patrol she had stumbled upon three different magic shops – actual magic shops she discovered the next day and not new-agey crap. She had found more magic shops than vampires actually, which was somewhat disappointing.
After dusting the two undead, she had gone home for a couple hours of sleep and dedicated the rest of her morning to her mom. Then, afternoon shopping, starting with the old armour shop that sold her the very same trunk full of weapons that had accompanied her through all Sunnydale the first time around, and then the various magic shops, mostly but not exclusively in search of what she needed for the spell.
All in all, her wallet had taken a pretty big hit, not dissimilar to what the 'old' Buffy would have dealt it when in a shopping spree for shoes. After a light dinner at home, the blonde had excused herself to the bedroom and climbed up the fire escape to the roof, where she was standing at the moment.
Pulling out the last ingredient from her bag, she poured a tiny pinch of it in her newly-purchased golden goblet and chanted the spell.
"Anyanka," she called purposely, "I beseech thee in the name of all women scorned. Come before me."
Nothing happened right away, but Buffy knew she was doing it right as power rolled with her words, so she just tried repeating the chant. Third time is the charm, she thought amusedly as even her second attempt failed to achieve results. And she was right. As she pronounced the spell once again, she felt the air ripple and reality rift to her left.
A thick cloud of black smoke soon left place to a bright figure, a young woman dressed in a white nightdress, very stylishly decorated with wispy frills and stripes of cloth. She stepped out of the smoke and into the light, her disfigured face now in full view.
"Ease your worries, sorceress," the newcomer said, the words taking both a male and female tone coming out of her mouth. "Anyanka is here to grant your wishes."
"Uh," Buffy started with a grimace as the demon approached her, "could you please drop the double voice? It's giving me the creeps."
The brunette stopped on her tracks and huffed. "I swear, no one appreciates professionalism anymore," she said now in her normal feminine pitch. "Next thing you know they'll ask me to get rid of my cute, demonic cuts."
"Actually…" Buffy started.
"Oh, hell no!" Anyanka refused decisively. "How can you expect me to do my job properly like that?"
"Sorry," Buffy relented, trying to explain. "Maybe I should have been clear from the beginning. This is not a business call."
There was a moment of silence during which the Vengeance demon looked surprised. Then she sighed tiredly. "I so don't have time for a worshipper call. I even ditched D'Hoffryn's ball for this!"
The Slayer considered that for a moment.
"D'Hoffryn's throwing a party?" she asked in amusement.
"Do you take this for a business suit?" Anyanka threw back irritably, gesturing at her own attire. "At least this isn't as uncomfortable as those nineteenth century's dresses."
"You look good," Buffy said honestly, finally taking her slim figure in from a different perspective.
"Thanks. You too, I guess… whoever you are," the brunette replied a little mollified. She looked up and down at her and then at the long sword lying on the ground next to the summoning goblet. She grew a bit wary. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Oh, that." The blonde crouched to pick it up. "Well, it ties with the reason why I called you. You see, I have to reach D'Hoffryn in the Arashmaharr, peacefully if possible. You," she pointed at her with the sword, "would be my ride. This thing is only a precaution. And an incentive, maybe?"
Anyanka growled, now fully on guard. She started circling around Buffy.
"We don't have to do it this way," the Slayer tried to reason. "I don't want to ruin your dress."
"It will be more colourful with your entrails all over it!"
That said, the Vengeance demon jumped forward and at Buffy, swiftly avoiding the first intimidatory swing of the sword and landing a punch. Expecting to send the girl flying through the air with her demonic strength, she was surprised when the blonde bounced back with a powerful kick to her stomach.
Anyanka slowly stood up from her sprawl a few feet from her opponent. She growled menacingly, now staring daggers at the Slayer.
"Who are you?" she asked.
"I'm Buffy, nice to meet you," the other said flippantly. "Are you sure you want to do this?"
"Hell yeah!" The brunette nodded her head in rage. Her eyes were wide with anger now. "I'm sure."
The next attack was furious and fast, and it left the Vengeance demon dismayed. How could that blonde fight like that? She was parrying every blow so easily she almost looked like she was playing with her! And she wasn't even using her sword! Furthermore, she had smelled like human from the get-go, but no human had that kind of strength.
"I just want," Buffy said with a huff, ducking under a punch and downing Anyanka with a low sweeping kick, "to reach the Arashmaharr!"
The demon got up in a moment, angrier than ever.
"No wonder you weren't invited," the brunette snarled. "You'd be such a party pooper!"
Trying to kick her right in the gut, Anyanka found her foot in the blonde's hold and then twisted sideways.
"Hey! I'm a fun girl!" the Slayer protested, parrying the feeble punch the demon threw blindly behind.
The brunette was forced to the ground by the grip, her free leg flailing wildly in the hope of hitting her opponent. When she realized Buffy was easily avoiding her attempts, the demon reached for the fuming goblet nearby and tossed it with its content over her shoulder.
Unfortunately, it missed Buffy.
"Hey!" the Slayer complained, looking helplessly as the golden object flew over the ledge and onto the street below after a couple of clangs. "I had just bought that!"
She then pulled Anyanka's ankle until her body was right underneath her and, plopping down on her back, she slipped the sword to her throat, yanking her head up by her stylish hair. The demon stopped trashing immediately, freezing in terror.
"Now," the blonde said, panting slightly. "Calm down!"
The brunette was panting twice as much now, panic filtering into her mind.
"I don't want to kill you," Buffy tried to reassure her. She eased the grip on the demon's bun and pulled her up slowly.
When they were finally standing again, Anyanka still at sword point and held tightly, the blonde tried a gentle smile.
"I'm sorry about the dress," she said honestly.
The brunette glanced down at herself and saw the tear on the front che had previously missed. When she looked up again, she seemed almost on the verge of tears.
"I hate you," she whispered hotly.
"Hey, I tried to warn you! We could have done things differently!"
"And what?" she asked angrily. "Teleporting to Arashmaharr like good chaps so you could have ruined everybody's dresses?"
"I said I was sorry!" the Slayer defended herself. "And it was your fault anyway!"
Anya stared at her in outrage but Buffy didn't leave her time to reply.
"Now, can we please get going?" she said brusquely. "If there's a ball like you said, then every demon worth a damn will be there, right?"
"It's just us Vengeance demons," the brunette interrupted surly. "D'Hoffryn wanted a family party."
"Who are you showing all you goodies to, then? Aren't you all girls?" the blonde asked almost as an aside, looking up and down the curves of the other's body, highlighted by the dress. "I hope it's not for D'Hoffryn because-"
"What? No, no, no! Of course not! He's like a grandfather to us!" Anya interrupted her, apparently horrified. "Ewww… it's like… gross!"
"Okay, okay! Sorry I mentioned that!"
"It's just a ball, duh," Anya said scathingly. "Assuming anyone would want to invite you to one, what would you wear?"
"I've been to many of these demonic social gatherings, thank you very much," Buffy fired back. She ignored the brunette making faces at her and resumed. "Anyway, getting back to my point. Look at it rationally," she reasoned. "If you refuse to bring me there and stay here, you die." She raised her sword a little as if to make a point. "So your best chance is to teleport both of us to Arashmaharr and overpower me together with your little friends."
It took her a moment to admit it, still feeling quite petulant, but the demon did eventually. "That makes sense."
The Slayer smirked. "I know."
"Okay, then. I'll do it," the brunette agreed in a haughty voice. "Now release me."
"I don't think so," the blonde snorted. "We'll do this with my sword at your neck so you don't get any fancy ideas about dropping me mid-way, over a volcano or something. I'll free you once we're there."
"Fine," Anya huffed and without another word or warning, she opened a dimensional portal with her powers. It took maybe two seconds, and after the world had blurred into an indistinct mass of colour, it was soon shaped back into what looked like a faintly lit ballroom.
The experience would have been unpleasant if it had been the first time she had done it. Instead, Buffy immediately assessed the situation with a look while the other people present just watched stunned the sudden appearance of the pair.
The blonde routed her eyes on the throne placed on the raised platform in front of her and smiled.
"Good evening, D'Hoffryn," she greeted loudly, lowering the sword and letting her hostage slip away. "Sorry, I had to borrow Anya, there, for a few minutes. Hope you don't mind."
Everyone turned to the bluish demon, who stood up regally and smiled down at her.
"Miss Summers," he replied cordially. "How lovely of you to come to our little gathering. I'm afraid it is a Vengeance demon only event, otherwise I would have made sure to invite you."
"Anya did mention that, but I was hoping I could steal a minute of your time for a matter of business," Buffy replied friendly enough.
"She forced me to bring her here, D'Hoffryn!" Anyanka shouted angrily. She seemed ready to attack once again but since the others still didn't really know what to do, she stayed back for the moment.
"I did ask nicely first," the blonde pointed out calmly.
"She summoned me with a spell and then attacked me," the demon resumed. She licked her lips quickly, both anxiousness and excitement visible in her features. "She's strong."
"Your boss knows that, Anya, don't worry," the Slayer replied with a smirk. She looked around at the demons surrounding her warily before bringing her attention back to the Lord of Arashmaharr. "I think you'd want to talk in private."
D'Hoffryn let his gaze wander over the whole ballroom with a smirk of his own. He obviously made a quick calculation. A talk, alone, with the Slayer or in the company of a few dozens of loyal underlings?
"Nonsense," he said, gesturing down at his guests. "There's nothing I don't share with my family."
Buffy shrugged indifferently. "I honestly wanted to save you this embarrassment, but whatever." Her eyes hardened and so did her voice. "I want my ring. Now."
A spark of surprise flashed in the demon's eyes and the Slayer smiled smugly.
"What? You thought I didn't know about that?" the blonde said sweetly. "You continue to underestimate me, D'Hoffryn. You could pay for that, one day."
The Lord of Arashmaharr narrowed his eyes.
"Anya told me about those," Buffy continued, ignoring the Vengeance demon's cries of innocence. "When you were sending killers after her, she made sure to tell me everything about you. You know, in the off-chance I got to meet you."
There was a general feeling of confusion in the ballroom, now. Demons were looking at Anyanka, D'Hoffryn and at each other with puzzled expressions on their faces, wondering what exactly was going on. Suddenly, one of them leaped at Buffy from behind, long nails extended and ready to strike as a howl escaped her throat.
Buffy twirled just enough to dodge the attack and then hammered the hilt of her sword down on the woman's skull. She fell down with a thud and lay there, unconscious.
As if that was the signal to start the fight, the nearest demons surged forward.
D'Hoffryn's thunderous voice cut through the ballroom like a sword, halting everyone with its commanding tone. Buffy lowered her weapon again as the nearest offenders retreated. The Lord of Arashmaharr was standing on his platform's border now, and was looking down at his demons harshly. Then his face visibly softened and he smiled slightly.
"Don't throw your lives away," he told them gently. "You're no match for her."
Low whispers started slithering through the ballroom at that, as the guests began questioning the identity of the intruder. Two demons tended to their knocked out companion at D'Hoffryn's gesture while Buffy remained quiet, apparently calm under her indifferent expression.
"It was reckless of you to come to my realm as you are now," he continued, now looking at the Slayer intensely. Demons made space for him as he got down from the platform and through the ballroom, but they kept at close distance for good measure. "You're not nearly as strong as you were."
"I could probably take out most of the people here before going down," the blonde commented nonchalantly before flashing a grin. "But, of course, I would go after you first if it came down to that."
"I'm guessing you had something else in mind," the Lord of Arashmaharr said calmly, now standing in front of her. "Not that your actions suggested anything different from a physical confrontation, but I got to know you fairly well in the past years."
"Well, you guessed right," Buffy admitted. "As I said, I know how your powers work. The energy of every wish you make is stored into a ring, and as long as that ring is intact, the effects of the wish are as well. Furthermore, you lose power when you lose a ring."
The demon glanced briefly at Anyanka.
"I see you did your homework," he grumbled in slight irritation.
"It wasn't me!"
"So," the blonde resumed, ignoring the brunette, "just give me my ring. You know I'll protect it with my life and that's in your best interest as well."
D'Hoffryn stayed quiet for a long while, as he stared the Slayer down.
"I could have you killed, right now," he then said. "Order my girls to get rid of you and teleport away."
Buffy too took her time before answering, while the demons around her shifted anxiously.
"I think you are smarter than that," the blonde eventually commented with a smile. "This thing we did," she said staying vague, "gives us a huge advantage. Killing me would throw the biggest chunk of it away."
D'Hoffryn too was smiling a little now. "Why, pray tell?"
"You know what I'm going to do," she explained in a matter-of-fact tone. "You know what I'm going to be. You saw me come out on top against all odds when I had half the knowledge and resources I have now. Killing me would be like knowing the winner of a horse race and betting against it. Totally foolish." She tilted her head to the side. "The best you can do, instead, is jumping on the bandwagon."
The demon's smile turned amused at that. "Are you really suggesting what I think you're suggesting?"
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Unfortunately, yes."
There was another moment of silence during which D'Hoffryn visibly weighed the options in his head. Then he nodded sharply.
"Very well," he said. "I admittedly had already fantasised about something of the sort, although more along the lines of blackmailing you into submission." She snorted quietly at that and he resumed. "But I knew that would have been of difficult application, all with you being untameable but for vampires."
"Ouch," she said wincing. "That was a low one."
D'Hoffryn chuckled lightly. "Yeah, I thought so too."
A second later, the demon raised his hand imposingly and the whispering around them stopped. The guests pointed their eyes at him and waited with palpable curiosity.
"Ladies and… well, ladies," he said, and a few laughed politely, "this you are witnessing is a defining moment in the history of our community and of all realms. It will be remembered as the turning point in the always-shifting balance in the war between good and evil. It will-"
"It will not be a long speech," Buffy continued for him with a light glare.
"Uhm, well…" He cleared his voice slightly at the interruption but nodded curtly at her. "Miss Summers and I have reached an agreement."
"A silent agreement," the blonde specified with a meaningful look in his direction.
"A silent agreement," D'Hoffryn repeated loudly with a small bow.
He then reached with a hand inside his rob and pulled a golden ring out of a hidden pocket. He raised it dramatically above his head for everyone to see and the whispering started again at full force. Buffy stared at the jewel, quickly dissimulating her entranced state, but she missed the shocked looks of the demons and their comments all the same, too distracted by her internal turmoil.
That ring… it was hers, she thought immediately, staring at the engraved green stone on the top. It belonged to her like her arms or legs. It called to her in a hum of power so familiar it felt like Dawn's blood did when her sister used it for her spells.
She quickly shifted her eyes to D'Hoffryn, as the Lord of Arashmaharr resumed his speech, happily basking in the attention. He seemed to have not noticed her strong reaction to the ring.
"This is the power she and I entwined to make our wish possible," he declared solemnly, slowly lowering it from above his head. "Now I entrust it to her as a sign of my commitment."
She hesitated for just a moment before accepting it, feeling part wary and part thrilled about touching it. She forcefully peeled her eyes off it and brought them back to a smiling D'Hoffryn.
"Rejoice, my loyal Vengeance demons," he called loudly, raising his arms to the ceiling, "for we are now allied with the Vampire Slayer!"
A stunned silence descended on the ballroom as everyone stared in shock at Buffy. The blonde stared back for a short moment before rolling her eyes. She pocketed the ring.
"Thank God," she said dryly. "For a moment there, I thought you were actually proposing to me." She turned to the surrounding demons and to Anya in particular. The brunette was practically gawking. "What? Powerful, female and human. Who did you think I was if not the Slayer?"
"Am I right in assuming we'll keep the usual conditions?" D'Hoffryn asked getting her attention once again.
Buffy waved dismissingly with her hand. "Yeah, yeah."
This wasn't new to either of them. Buffy had officially allied with many demonic clans in her time, and with D'Hoffryn twice. The rules were pretty much always the same.
"But throw in a secrecy clause in addition, okay?" she remembered to say. "I want to keep myself low for a while at least."
"This is how you keep yourself low?" Anyanka asked disbelievingly, being near enough to eavesdrop.
Buffy pouted. "Hush, you."
"I'll explain the terms of the agreement to my girls at a later hour," D'Hoffryn butted in. "I'll make sure even Gretchen understands all of it."
"You better," the Slayer warned. "We wouldn't want her ending up like last time, would we?" Buffy tried to spot her among all the other Vengeance demons but couldn't. "That reminds me. I guess you already dealt with what's-her-name, right?"
"Ester," the Lord of Arashmaharr filled for her, a malicious glint in his eyes. "That was taken care of, yes."
Buffy winced, not really wanting to know what he had set for the soon-to-be traitor Vengeance demon, Ester. Coming from the future really gave you a heads up about that kind of things. Once she got back to school, she would avoid Ford like the plague.
"Right," she said after a moment of silence. "Then I think I'm done here."
"Wouldn't you like to stay and enjoy the party some more?" D'Hoffryn proposed cordially. "We have much to celebrate."
"Sadly, I have other things to do," she declined politely, shaking the sword a little as if to loosen up her muscles. She lowered her voice so that only he could hear her. "Expect some big news in the days to come."
The demon couldn't help but smile at that, honestly intrigued.
"Open up a way for me, would you?" she asked then, and he did so, ripping the dimensional curtains to create a passage. "Thanks."
"My pleasure, Miss Summers."
Buffy snorted, turning in his direction once more before crossing over.