When the Hellmouth first opened and the demon came pouring out sputtering and coughing, the first thing she dealt with was the stench. It was fucking gross, she had to say. Rotten eggs and shit. Brimstone, the bookish types would call it, but to her, it was just an assault on her enhanced sense of smell. She coughed a little more, spat some black soot against the stone, then began her way out of that godforsaken hole to see what the hell was going on. There was annoying-ass gate in the way with writing on it that could have been chicken scratch for all she cared – she forced that open before quickly closing it behind her. Couldn’t be too sure what the fuck was going on at the moment, so she wasn’t taking any chances. Whatever she had left behind, she didn’t want following.
And then she climbed. It was difficult, the rocks and crags tore at her skin, but the fire erupting from her skin licked it right up and left her as fresh as a baby’s bottom. It disappeared when it was finished, but it jumped up again with every wound. She actually enjoyed the trek, it gave her an opportunity to stretch her muscles and really feel the weight of her having been ripped from her own dimension, then plopped down at the center of the goddamn Earth. What had she done to deserve this treatment this time? What God had she pissed off?
Surely there had to be something of value at the summit of this cliff edge. Surely when she went up these ancient stairs of runes and depictions of monsters, and then up another set of stairs with what she assumed was a hell of a lot of antique do not disturb signs, and then another, and this weird ass tunnel, and then this walkway, and through this perfectly normal looking door, she’d find herself somewhere worth ogling.
Nah. Just a library. Figures.
Shift took a wide, sweeping glance at the room of books shrouded in darkness. The shelves were neatly tucked away and stacked with literature that she couldn’t have cared less about. It was the middle of the night, she judged by the moon coming through the windows. The place had been left spick and span, nearly sparkling. Nothing moved, but for the dust motes in the air. She walked a little further, poked her head out through the entrance, and noted the battered lockers lining the halls.
Still didn’t answer any questions, though. So, the demon kept walking. Real casual like, right out of the high school, like she didn’t look like something had just chewed her up and spat her right back out again. She might have been healed, and her clothes might have kept that old magic that knitted them back together with every rip, but that wild mess of hair was more tangled than ever, and every inch of her was streaked with dirt.
This was another one of E’s tricks, she knew. It had to be. Upon closer inspection, there was no other explanation for waking up in the middle of who-the-fuck-knew-where. The Editor was fond of throwing her out into the boonies of dimensions to see what she might do. Each time usually ended up with at least half the country on fire, and that was only the demon’s fault most of the time. This place was not Darktree, Ridgeden, or any other small town she was familiar with. She was in a whole new world, and she had to say, the travel plans weren’t exactly her thing. She might have enjoyed a nice little teleporting, maybe even a little dimensional space travel if she was feeling up to it. But coming straight out of Mother Nature’s butt cheeks without so much as an explanation? Well, she’d be checking that one off the bucket list, she guessed. Right under ‘never do again’.
She looked at the street names for any clues she might get, but she got nothing. Default names. At least they were English. Made things a little easier, since that had been what she’d been using for the past hundred years. Breaking out a little French or German would have been outside her comfort zone.
But the buildings were all dark, closed down for the night. Close together, fancy book stores, hardware, coffee shops were all dark and as boarded as a still-open venue could be. She heard a car alarm in the distance, and that seemed to be the only signal of life. There wasn’t a soul in sight. There was a faint chill in the air, and she burned her body temperature up a little higher. If she was going to be stuck in the middle of nowhere, she wasn’t going to do it freezing her ass off.
But damn, where the hell even was she?
It took going north up the street all the way ‘till the highway to figure that out. And then she finally took in a sign that explained everything she was about to do. Looking back, she wanted to swear at how conniving a God could be. Placing her here, of all places, miles away from where she needed to be.
‘You are now leaving Sunnyvale. Have a pleasant day!’
Alarm bells went off in her mind. Shit. Well that answered that.
Her mind started racing. But what time period was it? How far back had she gone? Did she have time to do anything, change anything? Was she even capable of such a feat? Was this all some stupid joke she was going to wake up from? What did E think this was, a game, or an attempt to right wrongs? And how many wrongs did she have the opportunity to right in the first place?
How could she keep him safe?
Fuck, no time to lose, to be honest. None at all.
The first car that stopped for the poor lost girl on the highway was the unlucky one. The man poked his head out for that cute ethnic girl with her thumb sticking out just as much as that belly button underneath her flowing long sleeved crop top and hastened a grin. She was definitely his type. Athletic, small, and tight, looking desperate enough to say yes to whatever fantasy he had in mind. She might have been homeless, with that long, ragged hair and the dust covering her from her head to those harem pants that sat low on her hips, but he wasn’t about to discriminate. If the girl needed a ride, then he’d be happy to oblige. If, of course, she was willing to offer up.
“Need a ride?” He honked his horn and she smiled faintly. Strange how in the light of his high beams, her eyes seemed almost red. They reflected the light like a cats’. He glanced at the faint glow of the digital clock illuminating his dashboard. Well, it was nearly three, and he had been driving for hours down the highway. Probably just seeing crazy. Finding a motel down the road with this girl would be dream. Hell, was she even legal? Not like he cared.
“Yes please!” She climbed in next to him and curled up in the seat with her knees pulled up for her thin arms to wrap around them. Just like a child. But by the way she looked, he had to guess sixteen, maybe seventeen. Hell, she might have been running away from home, looking like she did. Strange, though, how her eyes seemed red even in the dim light of the dash, and the faint reflection of the headlights bouncing from the trees back to the car. He rubbed his face.
“Where to, pretty girl?”
“Seriously? I’m going the opposite direction.”
“Well, you don’t have to drive me there,” she argued. He bit his tongue. Couldn’t pass up on this opportunity, no matter how tired he was.
He quirked a grin. “I will, on one condition sweetheart.”
She blinked her eyelashes at him in response, and his stomach turned. He swore they were red, those eyes. Even looking straight at him now, in the dark, it was like they were glowing. “What’s that?”
“How ‘bout a little time in the back of the car, you and I? Just fifteen minutes.” Surely he was awake enough to get his freak on. Then he could convince her to stay the night, or maybe just kick her out. Not like he could make her go anywhere.
She bit her lip thoughtfully.
His hands gripped the steering wheel of the car.
Teeth that ended in points dug into skin, and caused beads of blood to form that she quickly licked away. Tiny flames replaced those wounds with healed flesh in seconds. “Nah,” she purred. “I think, actually, I’ll be taking this car.”
“Right.” His heart pounded. “You… You take the car.”
“And I think I’ll take you too.”
“No, no you take the car.” He reached back to fumble for the handle in growing desperation, but she leaned forward like a stretching cat and placed her hands delicately over his shoulders. His body froze.
“I haven’t eaten in a while,” she told the man who trembled beneath her grasp. “And if I’m going to make it all the way with no time to spare, I can’t afford to make to pit stops. I can’t afford to be delicate. I’m going to need all the strength I can get.” She opened wide, revealing the huge set of shark teeth in her mouth, impossibly sharp, and utterly inhuman. The jaw itself opened wider than it should have. The man’s trembling stopped. All that was left within him, was the cold despair of knowing what would happen next. “Sorry if I’m a little rusty. Can’t remember the last time I’ve had to kill.”
The screams on the highway weren’t heard by anyone that night. Even if they were, Sunnydale was a place where you didn’t ask. That man had made the crucial mistake of stopping by the Hellmouth, and now, unfortunately, he was paying for it. There was a reason truckers never made long pit stops there.
Curiously, though, it wasn’t something of this dimension that had gotten him. Not even of this universe.
The next day was when everything went to hell, and the demon arrived just in time.
There were the men with guns, there was Holtz, there was Angel looking like he was about to end everyone’s life at the same time, and there was the demon appearing out of thin fucking air. It was the standoff to end all standoffs, everyone looking as though they had something desperately intimate to lose. In many cases, they did.
Oh, and of course, there was Shift practically screeching to a halt in the stolen Toyota Camry she’d been cruising around all day in, trying to get the location right. Following all of the moving parts of this shitshow had been difficult, with what little information she’d gotten ages back that she swore back then wouldn’t be important. She was just glad she remembered enough. The thing was, as important as life events are, most people don’t tell you the street names they happen on.
Sixth street bridge was busy today. The demon peered over the front of the car to see what was going down, and just how far they’d gotten into the conflict. She’d figured out the dates enough to know what time period she was in, but that didn’t tell her hours or minutes. Was she too late?
The baby was crying in Holtz’s arms. No. She was just in time.
“We do not want the child alive. We want the child dead.” The demon said. “That was our arrangement.”
“Yeah,” intoned the woman backed by the gunmen. Shift wracked her brain for the chick’s name and came up with nothing. “I’m a lawyer. Have you met me?” She smiled. “We have a new arrangement. I’m keeping the baby.”
Quietly stepping out the car, the demon was remarkably impressed with how little anyone seemed to give a shit about her presence. But then, they may not have noticed. Things were intense. Holtz was looking more desperate by the minute. There was no portal yet, but she knew it was coming.
“Anyone tries to take him, he dies,” the hunter said.
Angel was weighing his options in his mind, but he knew there was really only one answer here. Shift had never seen much of the vampire before. But looking at him now, she was really reminded of a certain other self-sacrificing blowhard that had since turned over a new leaf. He and Ro even had the same chiseled jaw line. It was uncanny. Probably had the same lack of humor as well.
“Take him,” Angel decidedly gasped.
“Woah, no!” The time demon held up his hands. “What is wrong with you people?”
“I will take good care of him,” Holtz hissed to the vampire in a desperate tone. “As though he were my own son. He’ll never even know you existed. But come after me…” Shift grit her teeth as she listened to them. “You will though, won’t you. Maybe I should just…” He gripped the baby’s neck just enough that the fire demon’s nails dug into the stone of the bridge. She was inching closer, closer. She knew he wouldn’t die here, but her heart would just not stop pounding. He was right there. RIGHT there. She could save him, from all of it. From Quor’toth. From everything.
But then, what would Connor even be?
Fucking safe, that’s what, she reminded herself. Now was not the time to go philosophically guessing what she might do to the timeline. Safe. Safe was all that mattered.
“No!” Angel said quickly. “Please. Just take him.”
Sahjahn started chanting and that’s when she knew shit was about to go down. The demon hunkered down as the wind began flying and the dimension ripped itself into existence. Cars erupted into fire and sparks, the bridge itself buckled under the weight of the energy. When he was finished, there was a wavering maw, with the fabric of reality itself fluttering in the dimensional breeze. The rip in space and time showed the group the center of what Shift already knew was bad fucking news.
“What you’re looking into is the Quor’toh,” the demon explained in his raspy, Boston accent, clearly unimpressed. “The darkest of dark worlds. So,” he drew his hands back to his front from the chanting spell he’d just done, “I can widen the portal and you can all be swallowed up by a world you can not begin to imagine. Or you can keep your word and kill that child.” He turned to the lawyer lady and drew himself up to his full height, his mouth turning into a snarl. “NOW!”
No one moved. Well, no one but Shift, who was getting as close as she possibly could without any of them noticing. She was right behind the lawyer and her posse by now, in line with Angel, and just out of the line of sight from Holtz and some girl she believed was working for him. She was standing beside the hunter, lost and waiting for the demon to make his move. Everyone seemed to be waiting for the demon to make his move, in fact. And Sahjahn was quickly realizing no one was about to lift a finger.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” the demon finally finished, and his arms rose up to finish the impossible spell.
The portal grew wider as though it were nothing, and the maw of Quor’toth opened further to swallow up the bridge. The lawyer and her men were rattled; Connor was crying, and Shift was waiting for the perfect moment to wrench the baby out of the hunter’s grasp without any danger of him dying in the process. There were too many hands in the pie, too many opportunities. She couldn’t afford to put him into more danger.
“Kill it,” the frightened lawyer turned to command her men as she realized her options had grown thin, but Angel cried out in protest.
“No!” Angel raised the gun he was holding at her face, barking out in reflex with wild eyes. He was bristled and ready to defend his son at all costs. The crying was already panging him – he couldn’t do anything. He was stuck. And the crying was growing louder, and louder.
All at once it happened. The moment that Shift had been dreading. She hadn’t known how the pieces were going to fall into place until it was too late.
Holtz grabbed the girl beside him and threw her into the center of their created no-man’s land just for the chance at a distraction. As she called out his name in pained confusion, he leapt for the rip in space and time.
Shift started running as soon as he did, but she was already too late. Holtz jumped in his own supposed death sentence before she could grab them. Her swearing grew until she was practically screaming into the rip in space and time. “Fuck fuck FUCK FUCK FUCK - ”
Angel was right behind her. He yelled a desperate “NO” as he sprinted forward, gun left forgotten, but the rip’s lightning she just barely avoided colliding took him down in a second. He’d planned on jumping in after them, logic be damned, but that was a moot point now. He was half conscious and staring up at a mystery. What was she? Were those red eyes? What was she saying? Where was his son? What had just happened, it couldn’t have. His son couldn’t be gone. Couldn’t be dead. His head was swimming.
“Sorry, who the hell are you?” Sahjahn blinked at her. She stood just outside the rip, on the verge of throwing herself in. She was going to do this. She had no idea how to get back, how long this was going to be on her end. But one thing was for certain, she was going to jump. “No, seriously, who invited you?”
“Uh, none of your fucking business,” she breathed.
This was it. She grit her teeth, then grimaced at the demon. “See you in two weeks, fuckface.”
And then she jumped, and everything from the old world vanished into a puff of smoke.