At the moment the vampire dusted, she looked just like Willow.
She didn’t look like the monster who’d terrorized the world for the better part of a year. There was no indication that she’d gouged a hole in reality with powerful dark magicks to pull forth an army of demons. You would never guess she had personally killed thousands of people and caused tens of thousands more to be killed.
No, when she died, lit up from the inside by a blast that leveled a city block, she looked exactly like Buffy’s best friend, sweet freckled face tipped upward, eyes wide with shock.
Sometimes, the world-save-age gig totally sucked.
When Buffy felt that same silver fire light up in her own belly, felt the force of it drive her molecules apart in a million different directions—well, that sucked even more, but at least it was familiar. She had some experience with death.
God, that was an understatement, wasn’t it? Death was her gift, the first Slayer said. Her gift. Apparently, it hadn’t come with a gift receipt. If it had, it would have gone right the hell back to the store. She felt like laughing whenever she thought about it, unless it was one of those days when she felt like crying. She and death were intimately acquainted, although they hadn’t spent time together for a while. That’s how it is with old friends. You meet up again, even after years, and it’s like no time has passed at all.
This was her fourth death so...yeah...she had some experience.
This time was just like all the others. She recognized the moment of surprise, the final gasp, the feeling of surrender, and then the sweet, welcome peace that followed. It was all familiar and oddly comforting. You know, as death went.
The waiting room was new, however. Greige carpets—check. Off-white walls hung with tasteful yet generic art prints—check. Potted plants—check. Four-year-old magazines—check. People biding their time in stone-faced apathy—check. Definitely a waiting room. Buffy walked up to the receptionist’s window.
“Can I help you?” The receptionist blinked at her through cat-eye glasses, her bouffant coiffure hair-sprayed into immaculate obedience. There was cranberry colored lipstick on her teeth.
“Uh...” she said. “Summers...Buffy. I should...I think...um...” Oh, fuck it. What’s the worst that could happen? It’s not like they were going to kill her. “I have an appointment,” she lied firmly.
The woman opened an appointment book and flipped the pages, pursing her lips. Her nails were painted the same vivid red as her lips, and they curved like claws. “Yes. Yes, you do,” she smiled, revealing a pair of delicate, pointed canine teeth. “Have a seat. Matt will be with you shortly.” Huh. That was...way too easy. Not to mention kind of creepy. It raised more questions than it answered. Buffy just nodded and went to sit down.
She was halfway through a surprisingly engrossing article about adapting the twenty-twelve fall fashion line-up to the needs of the mature woman when she realized someone was calling her name. “Right...uh...right there,” she said, dropping the magazine and bolting for the door. In her hurry, she tripped over the outstretched legs of the...man...in the chair next to hers. He didn’t make eye contact, but the rumbling growl he aimed at her made her stomach do backflips. What the hell was this place, anyway?
A young woman in blue scrubs led her down a hallway to a scale. “Hop on,” she said as she scribbled something on the chart in her hands.
“Should I take off my shoes?” Buffy asked. The woman rolled her eyes. “Okay, that would be a no.” Buffy stepped up on the scale. It was constructed like an ordinary mechanical scale—the kind you see in any doctor’s office—except that in place of a sliding weight there was a small platform with curved edges. The nurse reached into her pocket and retrieved a white feather, which she dropped onto the platform. The arm of the scale tilted but did not level.
“Hmm,” the nurse said, writing something else on the chart. Buffy craned her neck around, trying to get a look, but all she saw was the cover. It had the word “Duat” printed across it in capital letters. “Let’s get you into the exam room. Right over here.”
She waited alone in the antiseptic room, bouncing her heels idly against the metal base of the exam table like the hyperactive post-adolescent she appeared to be. There was a magazine rack on the wall, but it was empty. By the time she’d gotten bored enough to count the perforations in the ceiling tiles, the door opened. An elegant, dark haired woman wearing a white lab coat over a knee-length red dress walked into the room.
“Miss Summers?” the woman said, smiling warmly at Buffy. “I’m Ma’at.” There it was on her name tag, too. Not Matt. Ma’at, Egyptian goddess of the goddamned underworld, wearing an ankh on a fine gold chain around her neck, even. Buffy’s throat was very dry, all of a sudden. She swallowed hard. “Let’s see where we stand.” Ma’at flipped the chart open. “Well, it’s lucky you’re exempt from referral to Ammit, because I don’t like the direction these numbers are going.”
“Numbers?” Buffy leaned over to look at the chart. There was a list of statements, each beginning with the words, “I have not.” Some of them had check marks next to them. At the top of the page the number 19/42 was written in red ink and circled.
Ma’at tapped the chart with her pen. “The last time I saw you, right after your files were transferred to us, this was a thirty,” she said, flipping over the page and pointing to the older, much higher number. “I take your presence here to mean that you’re interested in making another effort?”
“Yes,” Buffy said. Where had that come from? It just came out of her mouth. She had no idea how she knew it, but it felt true. Was that how she had an appointment she didn’t remember making? And why was it all with the Egypt theme? “I am.”
Ma’at appeared to consider that for a moment. “You are an unusual case,” she said, looking over the chart again. She pulled a yellow highlighter from her pocket and marked the chart. “Your failures are...spectacular...but so are your successes.”
“Hey—if you’re gonna make a mistake, make a big one, right out loud, so we can all learn from it. At least, that’s what my choir teacher used to say, back in....” Ma’at did not look amused. “Sorry. Just a little joke...and not a very good joke, now that I think about it. That’s actually one of my biggest faults, saying stuff before I think about it, and I’m babbling, so I’ll just shut up, now.”
“In light of your service to the Balance,” Ma’at continued as though Buffy hadn’t spoken, “your request will be considered, provided I find no contraindications in your chart. Please—tell me what you’d like to do.”
Buffy took a deep breath to steady herself. Despite more than a hundred years of life, she was virtually unchanged from the girl who led the first Slayer army out of the ruins of Sunnydale. Because she looked so young, it was easy—too, too easy—to allow the human people in her life to underestimate her. Even Xander and Willow, who should have known better, fell into the habit as time wore on.
All the trips to other planes, originally meant to stretch the short lives of her friends over a longer part of hers, only exacerbated the problem. Three years here, five years there, another language learned, another fighting style mastered, another apocalypse averted and the would-be Big Bad foiled—every day spent in some high-velocity hell-world made her a little less human. Her eyes grew old, but her face didn’t.
Xander ran to fat, gray at his temples, behind a desk at his own construction company, which specialized in buildings with integrated wards and protection spells. Willow stayed spare and fit—her hair salon-dyed to its youthful strawberry because she didn’t use magic for trivialities anymore—all the better to attract a series of young lovers and acolytes who never stuck around long enough for Buffy to learn their names. Both of them became respectable, powerful thirty-somethings, with solid connections to the regular human world, while Buffy was still the Slayer.
With each passing year, they looked older and seemed younger, seemed slower, more mortal, more...limited...until there was nothing left to talk to them about. Eventually, she spent all her time with the surviving Slayers—and the demons who were their allies—and stopped seeing Xander and Willow altogether. During her rare interactions with humans, she acted as flighty and juvenile as they expected her to and let someone else—Giles, at first; other watchers, later—play the authority figure. She didn’t have to fight for their respect, that way. It was just easier. Away from mortal presumptions, she could behave like the century-old general she was.
Well, Ma’at was certainly not mortal. She was a god, ancient far beyond Buffy’s paltry hundred and fourteen years, and she deserved to be treated like one. It was time for Buffy to be the general. She had a proposal to make.
“Let me go back,” she said, and, again, the words just came, although she had no memory of thinking them prior to their emergence from her very own lips. It was entertaining, really, like watching a television drama. A great, explosive action sequence segued into an interesting plot twist, and this was the moment right before the big reveal. She hung on her own every word. “It doesn’t have to be that way. Give me another chance. I can fix it.” That was a bold statement, to be sure, but not quite as bold as the, “I will fix it," that followed. Whoa. She couldn’t wait to see where this was going.
“You have considered the consequences?” Ma’at asked. Buffy couldn’t read her face.
“I have.” She had? When did that happen? Did a piece of the plot get sacrificed for an extra commercial break?
“What is your request, then?” Ma’at leaned toward her. “Specifically. You wish to return to the moment before your death?”
“No,” Buffy said. “Further back. I can prevent the necessity of my death.”
“This death? The previous death? This is...” Ma’at flipped the chart open. “This is the fourth. You were transferred to us in the midst of your...second.”
“My Champion...” she started. Ma’at laughed.
“The Champion you sacrificed?”
“Exactly. That’s the mistake that led to all the others. That’s what I want to fix. Return me to the moment he was first mine.”
“Done,” Ma’at said.