This is the life of Buffy Summers in years:
A strange man in a tweed suit, a knife, an open grave and the slow sinking knowledge that nothing will ever be the same again.
Sunnydale and new beginnings, old nightmares and a prophecy.
Death, dying, reviving, a harsh breath and the taste of stale water coming back up.
Life, fire, flame and spirit, burning, burning, burning.
Fire and passion and a hunger for life that even death can’t quench.
Angel and the way seventeen-year-old girls break.
Angel again and Faith and the Mayor and how to die inside without letting anyone see.
Golden, Angel calls her late at night, burning brightly, but Buffy feely like a lonely candle in the dark, small and flickering.
Faith again and Adam and the first slayer whispering in her ear about things she isn’t yet ready to hear, about firemen and floods and no flames at all.
She saved the world a lot.
This is hell.
“What do you want to do now, Buffy?”
“I want to live.”
But wishes, even those that don’t use the w-word, never quite go as you expect them to.
“I’m so sorry Buffy, I didn’t know, I swear I didn’t know. I just wanted…”
Buffy sighs, runs a hand through her hair and tries, really hard, not to hate the woman across from her. “That’s just it, Wills, isn’t it? You wanted me back. And now here I am. Back. Permanently.”
“I’m so sorry. But hey,” her best friend tries with a watery smile, “you have time to do all the things you wanted to now, right?”
She had plans once, she remembers that, but she was sixteen and full of passion and spite and now…
With a smile, Buffy bites back on the first words that come to mind and nods quietly.
“Yeah,” she agrees, staring at the flames in the fireplace, humming a song she once sang on her way to save her sister. “Sure.”
“It’s not that I don’t love you, Buff. You know I do. It’s just that, well, Maggie doesn’t know about… everything. She thinks I’m just a guy who lost his eye in a car crash and I… I can’t keep introducing you as the girl I had the worst crush on in highschool. A few more years and you’ll look like my kid. Or I’ll look like your dad, whatever. I just…”
“I get it, Xander,” she allows, smiles at him. She spends far too much time smiling and not saying anything these days. His temples are almost completely grey and he never recovered from that time a demon almost tore his leg off. He limps permanently now and hasn’t held anything sharper than a kitchen knife in years.
He’s retired, as dumb as it sounds.
And Maggie is awesome, just blunt and proud enough to keep goofy Xander under control, to love him right.
Buffy gets that.
“Maybe we’ll just stick to Skype and phone calls from now on, yeah?”
He beams at her, relieved, and she’s thrown back to the halls of Sunnydale High and the idiot boy with the skateboard who followed her around and couldn’t formulate a proper sentence.
He’s dead, that boy, and she’s the one who killed him.
“It’s just that, sometimes, you act so much older than you are, you know? I mean, we’re twenty. This is college. Live a little!”
As far as break-ups go, this is the least painful Buffy has ever had. Mainly, she thinks, because it’s not Buffy the kid is breaking up with, but Liz, a twenty-year-old English major, who’ll disappear again in a few weeks.
The identity was an experiment, an attempt at normal, at making new connections after all her old one started crumbling away. It failed.
Perhaps, Buffy decides, in a century or two, when she’s gotten used to… when she’s gotten used to it.
For now, she’s still Buffy, the immortal vampire slayer, and she leaves the boy she met at a bonfire of all things behind her, head held high.
“Look, from now on, you’re just my cousin, if anyone asks. And in a few years, maybe you’ll be my niece. It’ll be fine, Buffy, you’ll see.”
Dawn beams and squeezes her hand, holds on tightly and refuses to let go. At least her little sister won’t abandon her.
“So, Shanshu, huh?”
Lying in a gutter and looking at the stars. It’s a quote, Buffy thinks, but can’t remember who wrote it.
If fits, even though the guy probably didn’t mean it literally. Also, there’s way more blood than in books and pretty metaphors.
Her back is broken. She knows that because she can’t move. At all. Her left lung is punctured and she is slowly, but surely, drowning in her own blood, here in the back alley of some nameless Romanian village, flat on her back like a beetle, helpless, paralyzed.
Her vision greys, then blackens.
She dies bloodless and alone and revives the same way fifteen minutes later.
Everything feels cold, inside, and her fingers, as she curls and unfurls them, are tinged blue. She looks dead.
She is dead.
She makes a list.
There are two columns.
One of them contains everything she has lost.
The other contains everything she still has. There are three items on it, and the last one is set in brackets, because it is a temporary, tentative thing, woven with lies by now. She could pass as her sister’s granddaughter these days, almost.
The other two items are: life, slaying.
Something needs to change.
Something needs to… to be fixed. She was alive once, Angel’s golden girl, a roaring fire in the dark. But she died in water and since then she’s been growing more and more empty.
Something needs change. The problem is, she doesn’t know how to even begin.
The amulet is small, plain, roughly worked. It’s the kind of jewelry you’d never pick out of a pile of gold and silver because you simply wouldn’t notice it.
Inside it rests the power to travel between worlds.
More than that, Dawn explains, eyes closed, hands hovering over the small stone. There is a faint glow about her, green like… well, like the dawn.
“Universes,” she says and Buffy finally know where to begin.
Free fall between universes feels a bit like flying and a bit like dying.
It’s the most alive she’s felt since the top of that tower.
The first world she lands in is a pretty place called Vanaheim. The people there call themselves gods and they’re pretty enough to pass. It’s a bit rural for her tastes, but peaceful.
She gets her violence quota filled on the training fields, where no-one looks at her strange for being super strong, only for being female. And they stop that, too,
after a while.
She exchanges some of the gold she brought for lodgings at first, then works for the innkeeper until one of her sparring partners offers her a job in the guard. Work is six shifts a week and she mostly stands around, holding a spear, looking dangerous.
There’s no real crime. Tempers flare occasionally, but these people are just Lord of the Rings enough to settle their disputes in an orderly fashion with knives and swords instead of beating on each other in a drunken rage. Much.
It’s not the life she dreamed of as a child, but she makes a few loose friends and no-one relies on her for anything. She feels… lighter.
One night, she lets herself be convinced to go to the tavern with a few colleagues. They drink and tell raunchy stories and suddenly, out of nowhere, Buffy realizes she’s laughing.
She’s laughing and it feels a bit like sunshine on bare skin, like the warm light in the room, reflecting in burnished gold surfaces.
Apparently, they’re getting royal visitors.
Buffy, who still doesn’t know how to act around the lords and ladies, much less the people they swear fealty to, kind of dreads it. She’s also curious.
So when a silver beam shoots out of the sky and Odin Allfather lands, along with half his court, apparently, she goggles just a little, because, come on, it’s Odin.
And then she goggles some more because, hello salty goodness, as Cordy would have said. The King brought his sons and they are a study in contrasts, one light, one dark, one dangerous, one… less so.
Within five minutes of watching, she has the big blonde one tagged as the one to watch out for in a straight up fight. The other one, with the lithe build, he’s the one you have to look out for the rest of the time because he has a quick mouth and quicker fingers and while his brother’s smile is disarming, the dark one’s should be classified as a lethal weapon.
Buffy is part of the contingent that leads the royals to the palace. En route, she listens to their chatter. Thor and Loki, that’s their names, and while Thor finds a young lord to impress with stories of battle glory – please – Loki quietly chats up the boy’s sister, spinning glorious lies to her about the splendor and grandeur of Asgard.
It’s a nice story, suited for a naïve little girl, but he is so full of shit that Buffy can’t help but snort, just a little.
Her partner, marching next to her, elbows her discreetly. “What?” she mutters, “He’s lying.”
She gets a baffled look in return. “How can you tell?”
Apart from the way the edge of his smirk says it all? He fairy stinks of amusement and lies. She can practically see it rising off him in a vapor. But since she’s just a lowly guard here, she shrugs and says, “I just can.”
The prince looks back at her, then, suddenly, just a brief flicker of his gaze and a twist to his lips. He heard her. She looks steadily back.
Later, after the feast – seriously, Lord of the Rings – Buffy suddenly finds herself steered into an empty alcove by none other than Loki Odinson, who presses her against the wall and studies her face intently.
If he weren’t a prince, she’d break his face. If he doesn’t let go soon, she’ll do it anyway.
“You have never been to Asgard,” he finally tells, like it’s some revelation. The torch light reflects in his green eyes, giving them an eerie light. She’s heard him called the god of fire and she understands why, even though his hands on her wrists are cool.
“And yet you knew I was lying to the lady.”
“It was a bit obvious,” she tells him and shrugs her shoulders. Belatedly, he releases her, taking a step back to give her a critical once over. Judging her. Instead of insulted she feels… challenged.
“It was not,” he tells her.
No, it wasn’t.
“I have asked around about you. They say you come from a world outside the nine realms.”
Another shrug. He quirks an eyebrow at her. “Interesting. What brings you onto the branches of Yggdrasil?”
Waving a hand, she plays it off. “This and that. New adventure, all that rot.”
She’s slipping out of the speech patterns she’s picked up over the last years, back into her native drawl.
He snorts derisively. “Adventure? Here? The people would not recognize excitement if it introduced itself by name. I have visited dead worlds with more excitement.”
Not wrong, that. Vanaheim is a good place to land, but even the training fields got boring when people stopped wanting to fight her because they couldn’t win against decades of constant warfare.
Still. “There are different kinds of adventure. Not all of them involve blood and slaughter.”
Something sparks off his green gaze at that, interested and awake. Aware.
“Interesting,” he repeats, crowds her into the wall once more and leans in, closer, closer. For a second, she is sure he will kiss her.
He pauses a hair’s breadth away from her, inhaling. Then he pushes away, giving her back her space, expression smoothing over like water.
He disappears without the slightest sound.
She keeps watch in the hall for the rest of the night, but he doesn’t return.
Somehow, she feels disappointed.
More importantly, she feels.
He’s right, that’s the thing. Within a decade, Vanaheim bores her to death, so she skips again and finds herself in a place that… defies description, really.
It’s cold and dark but it doesn’t feel bad, or evil. It feels a little like heaven did, comforting, perfectly defined and without insecurity.
She likes it. She even likes the dark-eyed soldiers who come to collect her after a few days of wandering and letting the familiar feeling sink into her bones.
They take her to a palace made of bone and ice, into a throne room sparkling with blue-white fairy lights, where a queen sits upon a throne of skulls.
Half of her is golden and beautiful, the image of life and splendor. The other half, kept in shadow, is dark and dead. The queen stares at her, one eye golden green, the other a milky white, and Buffy cocks her head to one side and marvels at the perfect line bisecting the woman’s body into half, life and death, light and dark. It’s the truest thing she’s ever seen.
The queen’s absolutely symmetrical, apart from colouring and, well, the fact that she feels… dead. Half dead, to be exact.
“This is Helheim, isn’t it?” she asks without preamble.
The queen blinks at her. “You are not dead. And yet you walk my lands. You have a beating heart, and yet I can feel you as one of mine. Who are you?”
Buffy smiles and replies, truthfully, “Just a girl passing through.”
“Does this whole immortality shtick get easier?”
Hel stops braiding Buffy’s hair, letting the curls loosen and fall apart again. “I am unsure,” she answers, shifting so they are sitting face to face. “I have always known the span of my life. It is different for you, I think.”
“I just… I came to this world, universe, whatever, to try and find… something. I don’t know. Some truth, I guess. Or something to live for. Something new. But it’s all just…”
She waves a hand, unwilling to insult her friend’s realm. She had passion once and fire, but she lost it somewhere and she wants it back.
“The most exciting thing that happened to me since I got here was an Asgardian prince manhandling me for about two minutes.”
“Which one?” the queen asks with a secret smile on her face.
The smile grows.
The edges of Helheim are on fire.
Hel called the invaders demons, but they look like nothing Buffy has ever seen, horned and made of living lava. She calls them Balrogs in her mind and goes through weapons like they’re a dime a dozen because these things melt steel.
Sword in each hand she takes a running leap and flips herself above one of the monsters, digging her blades into either side of its neck and pulling.
The head doesn’t fall, because the moment it dies, the whole thing just folds into itself, a construct of fire and magic.
She lands, swings at another and watches half a dozen of Hel’s guard cut down. The queen rules only over the inglorious dead, peasants and children, women and crones. Not warriors. Buffy is the only real advantage she has on a battlefield.
The slayer runs to avenge the fallen, grabbing a new sword as she goes, hacking and slashing. There is no end in sight. Then, suddenly, something flashes green at the corner of her eye and when she has time to check, there is a man in dark armor and a golden helmet, blade in one hand, spear in the other.
He uses magic to kill the Muspelheim demons and takes them out one by one like they’re nothing more than insects. Buffy backs up toward him until they’re covering each other and all of a sudden, they’re making a dent in the enemy.
Half an hour later, there is nothing left alive around them and they turn to each other, both of them breathing hard. Buffy gets the first good look at her new comrade.
“You,” she blurts, the same time Loki calls the exact same thing.
In the greatest hall of her palace, Hel laughs and laughs and laughs.
“Come along,” Loki commands, his hand out for her to take and she frowns at him. She is roughing it on one of the small worlds between the branches of Yggdrasil, far from the big nine, and she hasn’t told anyone where she’s going.
And yet here the god of mischief stands, proud and straight as ever.
“Why would I?” she asks.
His lips curl with something wicked as he answers in a drawl, “An adventure.”
With a sigh, she takes his hand and lets him pull her up and into a maelstrom of magic that carries them into… a palace.
The walls are golden and lit with flickering torches. Loki points toward a bed, where an opulent gown in green and copper is laid out.
Buffy frowns at it. “Adventure?” she queries, too late.
A smirk is her answer. “There is something in this palace I require and I need your… skills to help me do so.”
They’re in Svartalfheim, it turns out, and there is a ball on. A ball during which Loki intends to steal some dark elf artifact. And he doesn’t need her skills at all. He just needs her to look flashy and foreign enough to draw all attention onto hersekf while he disappears toward the vaults.
When he comes back half an hour later, slightly singed, and pulls her out of a circle of admirers who were picking more and more holes into her imagined first meeting with the god of lies, she smacks him. Then she grabs a bottle of that awesome mead and obediently follows him, like a good lover would, miming the drunk affair and pinching the inside of his elbow hard enough to make him wince.
He leads her outside with an excuse and then flicks them back through time and space to her camp.
She plops down on the ground in her too flashy gown and pops the cork of the bottle she stole. “Here’s to you being a sneaky bastard,” she announces and takes a long drag.
To her surprise, he sits down next to her, laughing. “I shall take that as a compliment,” he informs her as he grabs the mead and drinks.
“It wasn’t one.”
That smirk again, but no words. For a while, they just drink in silence and Buffy feels… settled.
“I… Hel says you’re almost two thousand years old.”
He gives her a look but doesn’t speak.
“How do you do it? All that time? How do you not just… stop?”
“Ah,” he says, low and secret. “I had wondered at your wandering from world to world without apparent purpose. How old are you?”
She shrugs. “Barely a hundred. But I…” There was a man in tweed suit who told her that she would not live to turn eighteen and now here she is. She feels empty, hollowed out by time and loss and too many battles.
Loki shakes his head. “It will pass,” he offers. “Or it will not. Everything is cyclical.”
“So no big advice?”
He hums and finishes the bottle off. “Find something. A spark, if you will.”
“Like you and your… tricks?”
Then he’s gone and Buffy realizes that he never even told her what she risked her neck for.
“Come along,” Loki orders, holding out a hand for her to take. “We’re going on an adventure.”
And they do.
“Come along,” Loki orders holding out a hand.
His eyes are dark, this time, hooded and full of anger, of hatred. She thinks about asking what happened, but decides against it. She knows that expression and the helpless rage that comes with it, and she knows words aren’t going to help.
Instead she simply nods and accepts his hand. He pulls her to her feet and makes to let go. She holds on for a moment longer, squeezing. Just long enough to something to soften in him.
He cocks his head in something approaching understanding and she smiles.
Then he drags her off to steal a magical artifact from an irate dwarf king and they end up battling an honest to god fifty foot tall dragon and a horde of the king’s personal guard.
By the time they’re done fighting for their life, the dwarves are all wounded and the dragon dead. Loki and Buffy are both covered in blood and slightly singed and the god’s shoulders have almost lost their tenseness.
She knows why he takes her along on his little ‘adventures’ and always has, since the first time he held out his hand for her to take.
Knows that she serves a purpose for him, always. Distraction, ally, blunt instrument. He comes to her when he needs her, when he has use for her.
The fact that she feels a little less dead with every one of their side trips is of no concern to him.
A lost bet this time, and a god of lies unwilling to pay his dues. Buffy can’t stop laughing about the whole thing for days and Loki smirks a lot, easier with every snigger from her.
He’s broken, in his own way.
All the other immortals she has met so far seemed so serene, so together. Unbroken. Like they knew absolutely and perfectly who they were and what they wanted.
Loki is different, jagged and ragged, a little mad and a lot bad and Buffy is relieved every time his cracks show because that means there’s hope for her yet.
If he can do eternity, broken as he is, then perhaps, so can she.
“Alright,” she cuts him off before he can force his clenched jaw open to lie. “I’m coming.”
This time, she doesn’t even let him say it, just takes his hand and lets herself be flung across the universe, to an island with thick, dense trees.
There are guards posted all around a central cave and they sneak around them with the practice of years and the familiarity of those who have fought together before.
Once, when there is a close call, Loki makes a heavy, purple fruit drop form a nearby tree. It nearly beheads the burly guard it falls on and Buffy bites her tongue until it bleeds to stifle the giggles.
At the cave entrance, Loki touches her arm, muttering under his breath. When she looks down, she can’t see her own body anymore.
“Neat,” she says and follows him into the darkness.
There is a wolf inside.
It’s taller than her, with eyes like flames and teeth as long as her hand and there is a heavy, spiked chain looped around its neck, keeping it bound to the rock wall behind it.
It snarls, sensing them even invisible and Buffy’s hand reaches for her dagger the moment Loki ends his spells and…
The beast stops snarling, bowing low with a whine instead. The god of lies smiles, sweet and open, and steps forward, well into the range of those teeth.
“Fenrir,” he greets, quietly and fondly and Buffy understands.
Understands, and spends the rest of the day playing all kinds of strange games with a demigod locked in the form of a wolf. Afterwards, Loki takes them back to her place, the way he always does, and magics a bottle out of nowhere, because that’s also what they always do.
Sit and drink and come down from the adrenaline high the god of mischief got them both.
“Thank you,” she says, halfway through the bottle. “For trusting me with this.”
He nods, solemn for once.
For twenty years he’s dragged her through the cosmos, up and down and around, coming and going from her life in a flash of green. Taking her on ‘adventures’, though that words hasn’t meant what it should in years.
And now he’s shown her his son, his secret. Buffy puts down the bottle to one side and rises to her knees, straddling his lap. When he doesn’t throw her off in a rage, she kisses him.
He tastes of snow and apples, which strikes her as strange because he is the god of fire, but then his hands find her hips and she stops thinking at all.
Afterwards, lying on a pile of furs, he runs a hand through her hair, far too long, and says, “I will not be your spark. I cannot.”
His daughter is trapped in the world of the honourless dead, his son chained in rock. His own world despises him and he lies and steals and tricks, rather than ask for anything. She thinks of how he always, always keeps his head held high, spine straight with pride, and how his smiles are always full of teeth.
“I know,” she says. Because it wouldn’t be fair to either of them, to make him her lifeline. She’s too stubborn for that and he… it wouldn’t be fair.
She rolls herself on top of him again and makes sure there is no more conversation that night. By morning he’s gone.
She’s in a Monaco, which is almost like the one she remembers from Council trips, and there is a madman with a lightning whip beating on a guy without any sort of weapon. He’s trying to get to a screaming woman, trapped in a car.
Buffy throws herself out into the street, grabs a loose hubcap and throws it like a Frisbee. It hits the whip guy in the back of the head and attracts his attention long enough for the unarmed guy to get the woman safe and put on some kind of armour.
She’s too busy ducking the whips to really watch what he’s doing until he’s firing some kind of energy weapon at Whips, who gets thrown back, but doesn’t go down.
“I’ll keep him busy,” she hollers, flinging herself into a back flip, another, another, running gymnastic circles around the guy because she really doesn’t want to touch the whips.
By the time he finally, finally goes down, she’s a little out of breath.
The metal man walks up to her, visor up, and gives her a curious look. “I don’t think I’ve seen you around,” he observes. Buffy grins.
Superheroes, Tony says.
Avengers, Fury says.
Saving the world, Natasha says.
Buffy laughs until her stomach hurts and Tony builds her a whole bunch of high-tech weapons she never uses.
It’s nice, though, being in a world that’s almost like her own, having people who understand the madness of being different, of having a duty.
It’s nice belonging somewhere.
She fingers her amulet sometimes, thinking of Loki and sparks and twenty years spent sharing bottles of mead between them.
She never goes through with it.
Watching the footage of Loki tearing up a street in Stuttgart, Buffy fights the urge to flinch, just a little.
Down in the holding cells, the god of lies is glaring at the camera. Buffy meets his gaze squarely and wonders what happened to him in the few years since he left her to find herself on her own.
What happened to him while she was here, messing around with Tony’s inventions, binging on shoes with Pepper, beating up bad guys with Natasha?
She asks the question out loud and Thor turns sorrow-filled eyes on her. “My brother found out a secret our father kept from us for all his life.”
He shakes his head and turns away, something like shame in his gaze. His shoulders are hunched, his arms folded, like he’s trying to take up less space than his massive frame needs. He’s as different from his brother as night from day.
Later, above New York on fire, Loki stops his mechanical chariot just long enough to smile at her, bitter as poison, and then move on.
This is what Tony pieces together from various security tapes long after the fact:
Buffy packing her things in her room.
Buffy making her way into the hallway, stopping, smiling at the camera. “I never thanked you for picking me up in Monaco,” she tells it. “I had fun, these last few years and that…. That was good. I liked it here and you guys were awesome. Please, don’t take this personally.”
She walks down to the prison level, knocks the two guards on Loki out before they can raise the alarm and lets herself into his cell. Not glass this time, but just as secure.
The god of chaos sits with his shackled hands in his lap, muzzle firmly in place.
The door hisses shut behind Buffy and Fury curses at the bank of screens the Avengers are watching the footage from. They all ignore the Director.
Inside the cell, Buffy shoulders her pack properly and cocks her head to one side, waiting. She seems to find what she’s looking for after a moment and steps forward, far, far too close to the madman. With one hand, she cradles his face. With the other she unclasps the muzzle and drops it on the floor.
Then she steps back.
They stare at each other again.
When Loki finally speaks, he sounds mocking. “I see you have found your spark.”
Whatever that means. Buffy shrugs. “And you seem to have lost yours. World domination? Seriously? You’d suck as king.”
He sneers. “Oh, has my brother not told you? I was born to be king. King of the Jotuns.”
Buffy blinks. “So that’s what’s got you all turned around.”
His smirk is all razorblades, even as she continues, “From where I’m standing, you’re not much different.”
“I am a monster.”
She shrugs. “Like I said. Not much different.”
The team expects Loki to lunge to her, to scream, to rage at the blatant insult, but the god of lies laughs, deep and throaty and brittle as glass.
Buffy shakes her head and reaches into her shirt with one hand, grabbing onto whatever it is she keeps on the silver chain she always wears. With her other hand, she takes Loki by the shoulders.
“Come along,” she quips. Loki snorts and let’s her manhandle him to his feet.
Between one second and the next, they’re gone.