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Invigorating

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Summary: Buffy leaps into Glory's portal... and lands in the Mississippi River.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Anita Blake > Buffy-CenteredCrunchysunrisesFR181681,41711936075,6794 Sep 1220 Sep 12Yes

It hurt like hell.

Title: Invigorating
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Anita Blake
Rating: R
Content Notes: graphic depictions of violence, character death
Disclaimer: I have no rights to or within the Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Anita Blake franchises, copyrights, characters or trademarks. This is for fun, not profit.
Summary: Buffy leaps into Glory's portal... and lands in the Mississippi River.
Additional Notes: Written for the Het Big Bang challenge. This story fulfills the "hunger/starvation" square on my Hurt_Comfort Bingo Card, the "WILD CARD - washing/cleaning" square on my Kink Bingo card, and the "Chemistry" square on my Cotton Candy Bingo Card. Also answers Challenge #5765 (Inglorious) and Challenge #4842 (Vampires' Superiority Complex) on the Twisting the Hellmouth Website and the TTH100 Challenge.


#023. Pride

'Small skill' my ass! Buffy thought much later.  She was laying on the hardwood floor in the room that they had been dueling in.  If Angelus or those knights or that hell-bitch had fought like that, things might've worked out very differently.

The only salve to her pride was that Jean-Claude was sitting on the floor nearby, leaning against the wall.  He was sweaty and disheveled and looked as tired as she felt.

Asher's familiar signature was prickling over the back of her neck.

There'll never be a better time, Buffy decided. "I suck at relationships and my relationships with vampires always suck the worst," Buffy admitted to the shadows over her head.  Jean-Claude had installed electricity into the connecting series of caves that passed for his lair but ceilings, apparently, were only for certain rooms.  Buffy was grateful that all of the bedrooms seemed to have them.  "Pun intended.  Question the first, how does Asher feel about ending the world?"

Jean-Claude huffed a laugh.  "Shouldn't you ask Asher that?"

"You're here and you're too tired to escape.  Anyway, he's skulking somewhere near the ceiling."

She had the sense of a quick, sharp movement from the corner of her eye as Jean-Claude startled and asked, "How do you know that?"

Buffy turned on her side, the better to smirk at Jean-Claude.  "I have amazing vampire hunting skills.  Now answer the question." "Ending the world and world domination both take a certain amount of aggressiveness and ambition that Asher simply lacks when it comes to power and material gains.  He wishes to be happy, passionately in love, and to be loved passionately in return.  He will do, or not do, whatever it takes to accomplish those goals.  And, since you are the focus of his love and happiness, he will not betray you."

Buffy, who already knew that about Asher, asked with careful nonchalance, "And what do you want, Jean-Claude?"

"This isn't about me," Jean-Claude said, his face a perfectly pretty mask.  "This is about you and Asher."

Buffy frowned.  Jean-Claude was exactly her type.  She could live with being halfway, or even completely, in love with him.  And she could live with Asher being in love with him too.  The three of them might even be very happy together.  But she absolutely refused to be even halfway in love with someone that she (or, more likely, her apprentice) was going to have to kill someday.  There was never going to be another Angel in her life.

"Fair enough," Buffy gritted.  "Question the second, does he love me as much as he loves you and Julianna?"

Jean-Claude snorted inelegantly.  “Asher adores you.”

“I adore chunky monkey ice cream but that doesn’t change the fact that triple fudge is my favorite.”

“You are not an ice cream!  You are the woman that Asher wants most in the world!”

“And you’re the man that he wants most!”

Jean-Claude gasped, as if Buffy had hit him, and hunched his shoulders as if it were an effort not to curl in on himself.

“You promised that this wasn't about that.  You promised that you weren't punishing Asher for having loved Julianna and I."

"I'm not!  But I don't want to be a replacement, either.  I can't stay with him knowing that I'm standing in someone else's spot."

“Who has told you these lies?” whispered Asher's voice from behind her.

Buffy sat up and turned to face him.  Asher's eyes were literally incandescent with his rage.

“Who?” He thundered.  “Meng Die?”

“What?  No!”  Buffy yelped, hating that she had to look so far up.  She stumbled to her feet.  “The only one who told me anything about your ménage a trios was you."

"You shouldn't have asked me about that!  I was out of my mind!"

"You would never have told me the truth otherwise!"

"I didn't want something like this to happen!"

"Nothing's happened!  I just can't be second!" Buffy shouted back and then flung up a hand between them.  Raising Dawnie, even for a few months, had taught Buffy the value of controlling her temper during arguments.

She took several deep breaths. Asher's eyes stopped glowing.

When her wrath had subsided, at least partially, Buffy said,  "I don’t have to be the only one in your heart, Asher, but I cannot be second to anyone.  I can't stay with you if I'm just a convenient stand in for the ones that you really want."

"Do you really believe that you are worth less to me than Jean-Claude or Julianna?  Even after I told you how I adore you?"

Buffy shrugged.

"You were out of your mind.  At one point you called Detective Zebrowski a charming boy with a delectable ass.  And when he preemptively turned you down, citing his long and happy marriage as the reason why, you gave him step by step instructions for getting pegged by his wife."

Asher snorted.

"And I stand by my assessment.  He is charming.  And anyone with an ass like that needs to be bent over and fucked occasionally.  It would certainly be to his wife's benefit.  And he'd enjoy it, too."

Buffy smiled wanly.  "So you meant what you said?"

"Yes, but I never meant to make you feel like you mean less to me than Jean-Claude or Julianna.  You are second to no one.  The thought of you hurt or lost to me destroys my poor heart."

"Asher... I'm not Julianna."

“No.  You’re not.  Julianna was meek, gentle, and dependent on Jean and I.  She could sing, dance, sew, paint, and speak six languages without butchering any of them.  You're incomprehensible, materialistic, violent, and could do very well without me.  You dance like a pulse.  And you may understand several languages but you butcher your native tongue.  Your shoe fetish borders on the unholy.”  Asher took a deep, ragged breath.  His entire body shuddered with it.  He pressed a hand to his chest. “But I adore you.  I was lonely and you found me.  I needed a friend and you were one.  I fell in love with you and you let me court you.  I’m yours – your monster, your lover, your man.  Are you mine?”

Buffy swiped her wrist roughly across her watering eyes.

“Yes,” Buffy blubbered.  "I really do love you."

Asher was on her in an instant, kissing her fiercely and then peppering her face was small, soft kisses as he breathed, "I don't want to end the world or rule it, Buffy.  I'm too lazy.  We could be happy together forever."

"No one makes me happier than you do, Asher," Buffy promised between kisses.

"We should make up," Asher announced.  "Sexually."

Buffy laughed.    





#071. River

Buffy refused to make up with Asher in a room without a ceiling.  Instead they kissed and giggled and sneaked through the Circus' hallways towards Asher's rooms.

Sometime during their conversation, Jean-Claude had slipped, or most likely floated, away.  He was still close enough that he made Buffy's spidey senses tingle and, if she had really wanted to, she could have thrown something and hit him.  But, as they got closer and closer to Asher's rooms, Jean-Claude's spidey signature fell further and further back and then dropped away entirely.

In Asher's rooms there were two portraits leaned against the wall.

The first was hot.  Jean-Claude made a surprisingly gorgeous girl.

The other must have been made when Asher's scars were still tender and raw.  Although Buffy suspected that smithing while naked was probably some sort of serious no-no in the world of blacksmiths, she had to admit that there was a certain hotness to that portrait too.

"I'm dating a Play Girl centerfold," Buffy said as she tried to imagine the blacksmith getting with the sneaking girl-Jean-Claude.  It was very easy.  Also, very hot.  Or maybe Buffy was just feeling horny in general.  "Admit it."

Asher laughed.

"Centerfold no longer," he said with amusement.

"Damn straight," Buffy growled playfully between kisses as she turned and began to walk Asher backwards towards his bathroom... and its wonderful bathtub.  "You're happily settled down into a monogamous relationship with a wonderful, incredibly violent woman.  The only one who is allowed to take dirty pictures of you is me."

Asher laughed.

"There, ah, may be a few others still in circulation."

"And by 'a few' you mean...?"

"A lot.  Hundreds, possibly thousands," Asher admitted before kissing her belly.

"I've always been an avid collector," Buffy promised as she ran the water for their bath and added two capfuls of bubble bath to the clear river of tap water.  He always ran the water too hot or too cold for her tastes.

"Really?"

"For a whole three minutes," Buffy promised him as they stripped and kissed each other. "Just so I know where to start, are there any more pictures like the blacksmith one?  I, uh, like my men to be athletic."

Asher's eyes lit up.  His grin was positively wicked. "Maybe a few hundred."

The very best thing about having sex in a tub with a vampire was that he never needed to breathe.    





#029. Heartache

The biggest downside to killing anything in this world was the paperwork.  Regardless of whether the hunt was interesting or boring, there was always, always paperwork.  And, when things like the St. Louis Massacre happened, there was extra paperwork in addition to review boards, court appearances, and governmental oversight committees.

Frankly, it was going to be a mess.  And it was going to cut into her practice time.

On the bright side, Buffy also knew that there was going to be a lot of free food and chances to dress up which was always nice.  And she was going to be too busy to think about the mess that was her relationship with Asher.

One night, while Buffy was sitting in the substation that was currently housing the RPIT and making some headway against her mountain of paperwork, she listened as most of the vampires and Anita whispered together about some Manny No-Air in serious, and even frightened tones.  Only the high, carrying voices of the children discussed anything else.  They seemed to want to stay in Jean-Claude's territory and they were willing to swear a blood oath to him to do it.

Buffy tried to give a rat’s ass about the vampires' Super Serious Issues.  Mostly she was wondering how to describe a sense that most humans just did not seem to have.  And she was feeling vaguely irritable.

Why does everything have to be so damn dramatic?  These vamps aren’t cut out for a real apocalypse.

It was sort of sad since Buffy knew that this place was heading for an apocalypse-level event under the Hell Goddess of Home Perms.

In front of Buffy, someone cleared her throat and said, "Buffy?  Can I call you that?"

Buffy blinked up at the very pregnant detective in front of her.

"Sure.  Uh..." She frantically ransacked her memories of that night with the uber-vamps.  "Tammy Reynolds, right?"

The other woman smiled at her.

"Yes.  I was going to dinner.  But I hate to eat alone.  Mind keeping me company?"

"Uh, sure," said Buffy.  Getting along with the locals was important, even if she was going to be leaving soon.  "Is there somewhere I can put my paperwork?  I'm half-done and I'd hate to lose it."

"Sure.  You can put it in one of my desk drawers."

Buffy put her paperwork into Tammy's desk drawer and went outside with her.

"Should we take your car or mine?" Tammy asked lightly.

"Yours," Buffy said, eyeing the other woman's baby bulge.  "My driving might send you into labor."

Tammy laughed.

They ended up at an old railway car turned greasy spoon.  The paint on the walls was cracking and the linoleum underfoot was peeling but it smelled divine.  As they claimed a table, Tammy assured Buffy that the pie was to die for.

Buffy ordered the continental breakfast which came on three plates and included a t-bone steak.  Tammy ordered a sandwich and fries.  And they both ordered the cherry pie. While Buffy inhaled her meal, Tammy chattered on about baby clothes, her upcoming family leave, and her religion, the Followers of the Way. 

While Tammy's faith was not Buffy's thing, her religion seemed nice... and determined to do its best by a world that did not always want them.  As a Slayer, Buffy respected that.

"So I've been doing some research in my coven's international archives," said Tammy.  "About people with your particular gifts."

Buffy stiffened.  Her meal was suddenly sitting heavily in her stomach.

"The title of Slayer isn't one that should be taken lightly... or by someone without a claim to it.  The Slayers, the one that all of the modern vampire hunters are based off of, sure sound... formidable.  But then, you'd know all about that, wouldn't you, Buffy?"

"Maybe a thing or two," Buffy said dryly.

“Why aren’t you guarding the gates of Hell?” asked Tammy.  She leaned forward, her elbows resting on the table.  Her eyes were intent.  "Or are we in danger of an apocalypse?"

Buffy hesitated.  On the one hand, it was tempting to deny everything. On the other hand, Tammy Reynolds and her unflinching coven might be very useful allies to the one who was going to throw Anita out onto her ear, Buffy's apprentice Myka Cannon.  Every hero needed a Scooby Gang.

"Deadly danger," Buffy admitted.  "But, from my perspective, it's already over and your people have saved themselves - or will save themselves - by casting the hell goddess out, into my dimension."

Tammy leaned back.  She looked troubled.

"But that's just causing grief for someone else.  Why didn't we solve the problem ourselves?"

"You couldn't.  We're talking a being that was worshiped in hell as a goddess.  Your best bet was to cast her into my world, where she eventually made her way to the mouth of hell... and me."  Buffy shrugged.  "Some things just require a Slayer's touch."

Tammy's eyes were wide.  "You killed a hell goddess?"

"Only because I'm the Slayer and she made it necessary," Buffy said hurriedly, disliking the reverent tone in her voice. "She tried to break down the barriers between all of the worlds, blend them together, and destroy everything.  Plus, she tried to dice up my little sister.  She totally had it coming."

Tammy nodded.  She was quiet for awhile before she asked, "So you're from further down the timeline... after we rise up, save our world, and cast out this... Beast... ourselves?"

"Yeah," Buffy said and shrugged.  “Things didn’t go as planned in that last battle.  I ended up thrown back in time and into her home dimension, before her rise to power.  It's been... weird.”

“How long have you been in this world?”

“Long enough to figure out how this place works.”

"It's wrong to ask to be spared a suffering, especially if it is necessary," Tammy said.  She took a deep breath, "But weren't you ever tempted to save us from this heartache?"

"I can't," Buffy said.  "There are things that won't happen and people that won't exist if The Beast doesn't happen.  There was a cosmically powerful entity in my world at that time.  It was more powerful than The Beast could ever dream of being and it had even less interest in humanity.  The Beast's coming caused it to change itself.  It became human.  In a weird way, The Beast's attempt to destroy everything actually made everything safer for everyone."

Tammy nodded and her shoulders settled.  She said softly, "It is... heartening to know that our suffering will be such a great catalyst.  Will you lead our rebellion, then?"

"No.  I think I'll be fighting a different war on the Hellmouth, then.  But I've been training up a leader for you.  She'll need allies, of course.  And witches to toss The Beast out."

Tammy paled, her hand drifting down to rest over her swollen belly.  But her mouth firmed and her nod was businesslike.

Buffy smiled.  "One way or another, you're a hero and a champion of light, Tammy Reynolds."

"I'd always hoped to be.  I just... never expected to have to bear such a load."  She took a few deep breathes and settled her shoulders.  "But we're never given more that we can bear."

Buffy grinned.  "I'll try to remember that."

She actually meant it.  Maybe there was something to this Followers of the Way business.

"I can't imagine that being conquered and ruled by a hell goddess or casting her out will be particularly good for the fabric of society or the social order," Tammy said.  "Will you be back to help us... clean up?"

Buffy shrugged.  "I don't know.  If I can find my way back here, I will."

Tammy frowned.  "If you can find your way back here?"

"There are countless worlds, dimensions, alternate dimensions, possible dimensions, and dimensions without shrimp."

"Shrimp?"  Tammy looked horrified.  "Are they hell dimensions?"

"That's what I said when I heard about it!"  Buffy said cheerfully.  "Anyway, you have to have some sort of marker in a world to find your way back to it.  The witches in my home dimension have access to my blood relations.  But I don't have anything like that here."

"Isn't there any other way?" Tammy asked desperately.  "If we're to recover from becoming a hell dimension, we'll need a Slayer."

"My perfect match lives in this world.  If he agrees to do a joining spell with me, and the spell takes, he'll be my marker in this world."

"Have you asked him yet?"

"He ran screaming," Buffy said gloomily.  "Except without the screaming.  I'm hoping that he'll come back."

Tammy nodded.  The color was returning to her face and her body language was becoming more resolute by the second.

"Well, if he doesn't change his mind or the joining bond doesn't take, we'll think of some other way to bring you back."

"Could you use, I don't know, a focus?"

"Do you have something in particular in mind?"

"There's a Spear in Tennessee that calls to me.  I haven't retrieved it yet because, well, I haven't needed it yet but it's there."

"The Spear of Destiny?" Tammy asked.  She sounded surprised.  "That's real?"

"Apparently."

Tammy nodded.  "That might work.  It's a powerful artifact and it resonates with you.  When are you leaving?"

Buffy shrugged uneasily.  “Soon.  I can't be here for her rise.  I'd fight because that's what Slayers do but that would screw up my own timeline since I'm a Buffy who has already fought and killed her.”

The twitch of Tammy's eyebrows alerted Buffy to the fact that she had just made a terrible verbal slip.  But Tammy just nodded.  "Don't worry.  I'll see this through."

Buffy smiled.  "I never doubted it.  Hey, when's your next, er, Way-meeting-thingy?"    





#093 Future

Buffy was in a very good mood.  Her bank account was very healthy and the check from RPIT had cleared, making it that much healthier.  Immigration seemed to be looking at the little French girl and her family favorably.  And things with Asher were still wonderful, despite the slew of legal problems besieging the Master of the City and Anita.  Ted was still avoiding her but, since that was out of her control, Buffy refused to sweat it.

Instead, she prepared for the future as best she could.  She wrote entries in her newest journal, mostly addressed to her apprentice, and stalked Jean-Claude, who was also avoiding her.  Too bad for him that, unlike Ted, his cooperation was not essential.

Buffy ran Jean-Claude to ground in his office.  More honestly, she used her Slayerly abilities to lie in wait until he entered the room.  When Jean-Claude was far enough inside, Buffy sprang out of hiding and threw herself in front of the office door.  With the severe lack of windows in the room, Jean-Claude was trapped.  He was not nearly as pleased about that as she was.

“I need to talk to you.”

“Then you must schedule an appointment,” Jean-Claude said, his face and eyes pleasantly blank.  Buffy had met more expressive robots.  “I am very busy.”

Buffy rolled her eyes.  “You’re not.  I already checked your planner.”

Jean-Claude stared at her, his expression empty.  Irritated, Buffy snapped, "What's eating you, Gilbert Grape?"

Jean-Claude glared at her.  Buffy had no doubt that, were she generally susceptible to vampiric charms, there would be a nifty sensation to go with the expression.  Although he had acted to preserve Asher's happiness, Jean-Claude apparently refused to direct any of his own warm fuzzy feelings toward her.

"If you're that pissed at me, we should fence it out!"

"Not everyone finds comfort in gratuitous violence," Jean-Claude snarled in French, his shoulders stiff.  "I do not find relief in harming those that I love."

Buffy decided that, at least on one point, her seventeen year old self had been right.  It was easier to ignore a guy's Freudian slips than deal with them.

"Look, Jean-Claude, I need to ask a favor.  I'm going to be away for a bit.  A really, really long while, actually.  And I may not be able to get back here.  Ever.  Will you – ack!"

Jean-Claude, his long pale hands wrapped around her shoulders, slammed Buffy against the inside of the door again.  Buffy let him.

“How can you possibly speak so casually about abandoning him?”  Jean-Claude hissed, his eyes blazing.  “Asher loves you!  Trusts you!  He would give up everything for you and you would throw him away so casually?”

"It's not going to be so much a matter of leaving Asher as being forcibly taken from him," Buffy said carefully.  "Sometimes my dreams are prophetic.  This was one of those dreams.  I'm going to be needed at home."

"Surely, you will be able to visit and call.  Write, even.  And when you have finished your business there, you can return."

Buffy shook her head.  "When I go, I'll be incommunicado, possibly forever."

Jean-Claude stared down at her.  His grip on her shoulders tightened.

"Say no and run away!  Leave now, this very minute!"

"No one can outrun themselves, Jean-Claude.  I was born to do a particular duty.  If I'm needed, and I will be, then I'll do what needs to be done."

There was a beat of silence then, “Steps could be taken to extend your life and make you harder to kill.”

“Become his human servant, you mean?”

“So Asher has spoken of it to you.”

“I’m supposed to think about it.”

“But you plan to turn him down so that you may valiantly die as your calling demands.”  Bitterness laced Jean-Claude's words.  His eyes were hard and accusatory.

“It's... complicated,”  Buffy said and then smiled wryly at his expression.  "It's not like with you and Anita.  But, if I survive, I'll find my way back here one way or another."

"For Asher?"

"For Asher," Buffy agreed.  She took a deep, fortifying breath then pulls his hands off of her shoulders and took them in hers.  There was a painful shiver in her heart as she admitted, "among other people."

Jean-Claude went absolutely still for a heartbeat.

"Mademoiselle Buffy..."

"One way or the other," Buffy added grimly.  "But, if I was sure that I'd never have to kill you and you weren't with Anita, well... I'd be willing to try something like that out... if I didn't have to slay you, Jean-Claude."

Jean-Claude’s eyes were suspiciously bright.  And not with a murderous light, either.

"Is that why...?"

Buffy swallowed back her own tears.  She was a Slayer, damn it, and no vampire was going to see her cry.

“I need to know that Asher will be taken care of by someone who loves him,” Buffy said, her stupid voice wobbling.  Jean-Claude's hands were painfully tight on hers.  Buffy bit the inside of her cheek.  Hard.  “And you’re selfish enough to make him outlive me.”

Jean-Claude flinched.  Buffy kept a tight grip on his hands.

“Please Buffy,” he pleaded.  “Don't ask this of me.”

“There's no one else to ask.”

“Asher is only now beginning to forgive me for Julianna.  There would be no forgiveness if I forced him twice.”

“But you'd know that he exists somewhere and might find happiness with someone else.  That'd be enough for you, wouldn’t it, Jean-Claude?”

There was a short silence punctuated by Buffy's unsteady breaths.  Jean-Claude gently freed a hand from Buffy's death grip.

“I did not believe that you had the capacity for tears,” he said as he wiped away her tears.  “Very well.  It will be as you wish.”

"Thanks, Johnny."

Jean-Claude winced.  "Johnny?"

"I'm trying it out."

"Ah."    





#053 Good

"Gaaah!"

Buffy, who had until that very moment been wearing a towel and dancing to the latest in bubblegum rock, scrambled for weapons chest that served as her coffee table.

Ted, who was leaning against the inside of her apartment door with his arms crossed over his chest, stared at her with a look that was half amusement, some judgment, and the slightest bit of interest.

"Good morning?" he offered.

"Didn't anyone ever teach you how to knock?" Buffy demanded.  She waved a sword at him.  "I should stab you."

"But you won't."

"Probably not," Buffy agreed.  "But only because you don't have a Slayer's healing."

"Would I get it if we did that, er, joining magic?"

Buffy blinked at him.  She said cautiously, "I thought you were definitively not into that."

"That was then, this is now."

"What's changed?"

Ted hesitated.  He stared at her as if he could see whatever he was looking for stamped onto her forehead.  Buffy stared back at him.

"Tell me what you've been up to."

"This feels like it's going to be a long conversation," Buffy said.  "I should put on clothes.  Real ones, not a towel."

Ted nodded minutely.  "I'll be here."

In her bedroom, Buffy hurriedly changed into underwear, jeans, and a flattering pink sweater.  She dragged a brush through her hair and put on a minimal amount of makeup.  On her way back to Ted and the living room, Buffy paused long enough to check that the shutters were securely closed and the curtains were pulled shut before she stopped by the bed long enough to briskly pull the sheets over Asher.  To that she added a couple of blankets from the closet.  Then she went out to meet Ted.

He had been busy too.  There was a steaming cup of coffee, perfectly made, and a heaping plate of slightly burned scrambled eggs and bacon waiting for Buffy on her kitchen table.

Buffy smiled at Ted.  "Thanks."

He nodded.

Ted sat catty corner to Buffy and watched her while she ate.

"How have you been?" he asked.

"Idle chitchat?" Buffy asked.  She slanted a look in his direction.  Ted was expressionless, even grim.  "You?"

"Humor me."

So Buffy told him about graduating, her latest fencing and ice skating competitions, her most recent hunts, and her new apprentice, one of Pete's granddaughters.  Pete himself had recently retired (again) and absolutely, positively refused to come out with her anymore.

"But he still does research for me," Buffy said brightly.  "So that's something, I guess.  And I think that she's been doing pretty good.  She seems like she's got a real talent for the work."

"Still dating the corpse?"

Buffy grimaced.  "Asher's not a corpse."

"He's dead during the day, isn't he?"

"Not to my senses, he's not."

"But it's still on?"

"Why do you care?  Going ask me out?"

Ted grimaced.  "Buffy..."

"Ted, just say it.  If it's work related, I'm not going to talk about it with anyone.  You know that."

Ted snorted.  "Blake used to say the same thing." "I'm nothing like her," Buffy said sharply. 

"I mean it.  If you need help, just ask."

"You're dating a bloodsucker.  You know what's up with Blake."

"I don't, actually."

For the first time, Ted actually looked surprised.  He even sounded it when he asked, "You aren't seeing the vamp?"

"I'm still seeing Asher but I haven't been keeping up with Blake or the gossip on her or the vamp scene in general.  All I know is that lately I've been getting more of her consults and executions."

"How is that possible?"

"Hey, I'm the original vampire hunter!"  Buffy snapped, stung.  "It's possible for people to prefer me to Anita Blake!  Not you, apparently, but people.  Other people who pay me money when I go kill things with or for them."

"I didn't mean it that way," Ted said sharply.  "But you're living at the epicenter of this thing!  How could you not know?  Surely your boyfriend has mentioned it to you."

"We don't talk about things like that."

Anita Blake was one of the things that Buffy and Asher, by unspoken agreement, did not discuss.

"You're never even a little bit curious about what's going on in the supernatural world?"

"No."

Ted stared at her, his eyes hard and bright.

"You knew this was going to happen, didn't you?" he accused.

"What's happening?" Buffy asked, striving to sound curious.

Ted glared.  "You knew!  How could you let this happen?"

"I honestly don't know what's going on or what's going to happen," Buffy said.  "I just know how it ends."

"How does it end?"

Buffy hesitated.

"If we do your joining magic, we'll be closer than if we were married," Ted said.  "We can't keep secrets from each other."

"Would this no secrets keeping clause apply to you equally?"

"...within reason."

Buffy arched her eyebrows at him.

"Fine.  Yes."

"Someday, a younger version of me is going to kill Blake who will be known that time as the demon god Glorificus a.k.a. Glory a.k.a. The Beast a.k.a. the Demon Goddess of Real Bad Home Perms.  The Glory that I met had been banished from her home dimension.  And she figured that she could get home if she opened an uncontrolled inter-dimensional portal.  It was supposed to bleed all of the dimensions together and destroy everything, everywhere."

"So you killed her."

"Uh... I'm not sure, actually," Buffy admitted.  "Things got pretty hairy at the end.  One of her apocalypse minions opened the dimension while we were fighting.  I mean, I know I kicked her ass and I vaguely remember throwing someone off of the tower that crazy built... But the portal was definitely open.  So I, uh, closed it.  And ended up here."

Ted stared back at her flatly.  "You fell in, didn't you?"

"Of course not!  Cats wish they had my balance, especially during apocalypse season!  I, uh, jumped."

Ted arched his eyebrows at her.  "Because that's so much better?"

"There's a certain amount of magic that goes into being The Slayer, which is probably why the dying after jumping into an inter-dimension vortex thing didn't take.  And so I am a Buffy who has killed a demon god and come out the other side of it."  Buffy shrugged.  "I was really surprised when I realized that this place was Glorificus' home dimension.  We all just assumed that this place was always a hell dimension of unimaginable torment and suffering."

Ted's eyes narrowed and the corners of his mouth tightened.  "And you're not going to try to change our future?"

"I don't think that I can."  Or want to, Buffy mentally added.  Because what would that do to Dawnie?  Would she even exist?  "I've done extensive time travel research and all signs point toward it being unavoidable."

Admittedly, by 'research,' Buffy meant 'watched a ton of popular movies with time travel as a plot point and also maybe read a few books,' but Ted did not need to know that.  He was a stickler about the quality of his expert resources.

"I'd think that you'd want to keep an eye on her in that case?"

"Keep an eye on something that I'm not allowed to kill?  Are you crazy?" When Ted huffed, Buffy thought to ask, "If we use the joining magic, are you going to try to kill her, Ted?"

"Yes," he said without hesitation.  "Is that a problem?"

"No.  But decide quickly.  I'm not going to be here for very much longer."

"We can do it when you get back from your trip."

Buffy shook her head. "I... have dreams.  Prophetic dreams.  Sometimes.  I'm going to be pulled back to my own world soon.  If the bond isn't in place by then, we won't be able to create it.  And if it doesn't exist, I'm not sure how this world is going to send The Beast to meet my younger self."

The skin around Ted's eyes went tight and pained as he asked, "How big a window do I have to decide?"

"Not big?"  At his look, Buffy shrugged.  "It's not a scheduled thing.  It's going to be really, really soon, though."

Ted nodded.  He stood, his chair legs dragging against the linoleum floor.

"I'll get back to you.  Tonight.  Tomorrow, at the latest."    





#046. Universe

Buffy spent the day preparing to leave her current world for the one that she originally came from.  It was depressingly simple, mostly because she dumped everything that she owned, including her bank accounts, possessions, and apartment, into her apprentice's lap.

"I'd always meant to get you a good axe when the time was right," Buffy said as she explained things to the younger woman.  "I'm just giving them to you a bit earlier than I'd anticipated."

After that, she went out to hunt down the ingredients for the spell of joining.  Maybe it was a testament to the importance of that night, or a lingering side effect of the joining spell with Giles, Willow, and Xander, but she remembered how to cast that spell as clearly as she remembered how to cast the spell that had shown her the truth of Dawn.

By late afternoon, she was jittery with excess adrenaline so Buffy spent a few quality hours in her home gym.  Ted never came by but Asher did.

"Is something the matter?" he asked while Buffy finished her cool down.

"Yes," she grunted.  "Wait a minute."

Asher was still and silent as Buffy finished up.  When she was done, he moved as if he was a statue coming to life.

"Now?"

"After our shower?"

Asher nodded.  He followed Buffy into the bathroom.  Showering with Asher was as soothing as it had ever been.  When they were both squeaky clean and toweled dry, Asher asked, "What has happened, my heart?"

"Nothing yet," Buffy said as she took his hand.  "Asher, I'm going to be leaving soon.  If I manage to return, it'll be a very long time from now."

"Where are - You're going home, aren't you?"  His hand tightened on hers.  Asher frowned at Buffy.  "You're going back to that dimension that you come from."

"A witch from my world is going to kidnap me," Buffy said with a little grimace.  "Soon.  I've been trying to get things in order all day."

"If we formed a bond--"

"You can't bond me, Asher," Buffy said, watching denial form in his expression.  His hand jerked against hers.  "No one can.  I've already been bound to the Slayer line."

"So that's it?" he snapped.  "You're going home and I just have to accept it?"

"Only for awhile!"  Buffy assured him.  "I've found a way to find this world again even in a universe filled with worlds and alternate worlds and dimension without shrimp!"

Asher stared at her.  His expression was blank.

"The shrimp-thing is a big deal if you like shrimp," Buffy said with a defensive hunch of her shoulders.  "You know how seriously I take my shrimp cocktail."

Asher snorted.  Life and movement flooded back into his features.

"Yes, I do," he said, affection lacing his tone.  "You have no choice but to go back there?"

"None.  A very powerful Wicked Witch is going to find me and pull me back there."

"And you are... needed there, too?"

"Yes."

"But you've found a way to get back here... to me?"

"Yes."

Asher engulfed her in a hug.

"Then I will stay here until it is time for you to leave," Asher murmured against her ear.  "I want to know when you are gone from me, across the universe to save a world that I am not certain is worthy of you."

Buffy laughed.  "I do love you, Asher.  So, so much."

Asher shuddered against her.

"Let me tell you, show you, all the ways in which I love you," he urged.  "Every minute until you leave will be our last together."

"Okay."    



Ted was lounging on her couch again.  When Buffy glared at him, he produced coffee and donuts just like in the bad old days. He waited until she was caffeinated, and thus better tempered to say, "I'll do it.  But I've got some conditions."

"Okay?" "I won't be your slave."

"It's... not that kind of bond," Buffy said with a grimace.  "It's more like... compensating for each other's shortcomings.  We'd be too close for there to be a master or slave between us."

"It doesn't sound like there'll be much privacy."

"There wasn't," Buffy said, remembering how it was with the others.  "But if we don't look into each other, we don't have to know."

"It sounds like you've done this before," Ted said.  He sounded suspicious.

"I have.  The others weren't strong enough to survive my true nature.  It was killing them.  So the bond unraveled."

"You didn't end it?"

Buffy shook her head.  "I didn't have to.  We weren't suitable for a long term attachment so the bond dissolved itself.  If you and I aren't a match, it won't last."

Ted visibly relaxed.

"But, assuming it worked, we give each other space," he said.  "We have private thoughts, private time, and private lives.  Even private families if we want to have them."

"Okay."

"And after this, you don't get to keep all the most interesting hunts for yourself."

"Neither do you."

Ted nodded quickly. "And I can kill Anita if I want to, timelines be damned."

"If you can," Buffy said darkly.

Ted frowned at her.  He looked insulted.  "I can kill anything."

Buffy grinned at hearing her own line in his mouth.  This was so totally going to work!

"Of course you can," she said, trying to sound soothing.  It came out mocking.  "But neither of us kills each other's families, even if they aren't blood relatives."

"Deal," he said so quickly that Buffy knew he had someone in mind, too.

"Anything else?" Buffy asked.

"Nope.  Let's do this."

Buffy grinned, buoyed by the feeling of it all coming together. 

"Okay.  But you get to be the stinky herb holder."

"Joy."    





#057. Star

When the time came, Buffy went willingly.  It was still really unpleasant.

One moment, Asher was the only tingle on the back of her neck.  The next, there was an overwhelming sense of magic as black as death.  It knocked the breath out of her, lifted her off of her feet, and whisked her away.  Buffy fell between the stars with Asher's shouts ringing in her ears, The Slayer snarling under her skin and Willow's magic crushing the air from her lungs.

At the familiar sensation of drowning, of dying, Buffy struggled, flailing and lashing out without direction as the magic blazed its way through her pores, into her ears, up her nose, and down her throat. Alone in the place between the stars, Buffy drowned in an ocean of magic and death.

Creation whirled around her and Buffy had the impression of a jackal-headed man, carrying a set of ancient scales and a feather, and a terrible creature with a thousand trumpeting tongues and ten thousand sharp wings, burning with righteous fury. A tongue licked her, or perhaps more than one did, and Buffy felt something harden within herself, shattering the fetters of mortality.

The black magic enveloping of Buffy flared high, incinerating her from the inside out and freezing her from the outside in.  The magic burned itself out with one last, gut-wrenching yank and Buffy fell away from them, screaming and flailing.

She fell down, down, down from an unimaginable height and landed on a sand dune.

It hurt like hell.

For an immeasurable slice of time, Buffy lay still and tried to remember how to breathe.  When she mastered that, Buffy tried to sit up.  She gave that up as a bad idea after about three seconds.

At least I'm not drowning, Buffy thought.  She turned her head, feeling the chains of her necklaces pull against her throat.  And I can get back to Asher and Edward someday.  Probably.  But first, getting back to Dawnie, Giles, and the Scoobies.  Sit up, Buffy.  Buffy, sit up.

Groaning, Buffy dragged herself upright.

All right.  Good job, Buffy.  Now, stand up.

When Buffy stood, swaying on her own two feet, she took her first step toward Sunnydale.  Then, she took another.

The End

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