One minute, Buffy was in heaven. The next, she was being literally being ripped out of paradise and being thrown onto her back in a strange cemetary she didn't recognize. Her first conscious thought, which settled in hazily only after breaking the arm of a gun-toting man demanding her non-existent wallet, was that she'd been sent to hell.
Six months after first arriving in Gotham, Buffy's opinion hadn't changed much.
Which wasn't to say that she wanted to stay in Gotham. Despite being stuck in a near perpetual state of numbness, followed by the occasional moment of vague despair that made her physically ache for the brief happiness she'd known, Slayer training ran deep.
Whatever else might be true - whatever sacrifices had been ripped out of her hands - she still was the Slayer, and she still had a job to do. The fact that she couldn't get on a bus to Sunnydale, because "Sorry, Miss, there's no such town listed in California" didn't change that. Nor did the fact that the only Willow Rosenberg in California that Buffy could find was a 85-year-old retired Broadway actress living in some place called Star City, somewhere Buffy had never heard of, despite its supposed location between L.A. and where Sunnydale should have been.
The Hellmouth might not exist anymore, but Gotham had plenty of vampires. They still killed innocents, because even in this post-death world she didn't recognize, that was their purpose.
And ridding the world of vamps was hers.
Something was different in Gotham, and it didn't take Dick particularly long to figure out what that difference was. His adoptive city might have been a large one, but the vampires of this city were just like the one who had taken his parents away. Always preying on the weakest, and that meant the ones least likely to be noticed when they were gone. Just like no one particularly cared when two circus performers were killed, no one could be bothered to care when a sex worker, thief, waitress or other "undesirables" were killed.
Vamps were monsters, but they were smart monsters. They operated where they could do the most harm with the least amount of harm coming to them. Dick couldn't begrudge them that strategy, not when it worked so well for them. Frankly, it worked better for him, as well, because he'd never be as effective if they were spread all over this forsaken city; he'd never be able to hope that he'd find his parents' killers.
But it also meant that, by the time the unexplained attacks in Gotham's papers grew smaller in number, Dick had already noticed the change.
Two weeks, if she was being precise. That was how long it took Buffy to find some way to sustain herself.
Oh, there were certainly options before that. There was a particularly seedy strip club that offered to hire her "under the table." And with her Slayer powers, she could have easily have forcibly taken what she needed.
Once or twice, she was tempted. The soup kitchens in this city only operated once a day and the meals were never enough to fight off the kind of hunger that came with Slaying. But she was never quite hungry enough to forget that using her powers to hurt people weaker than herself put her in the same league as the vampires she hunted.
Sometimes, when the opportunity presented herself, she did take, when a head was turned or a person distracted - but never by force.
She felt guilty at first, but after the first few successful rounds of harmless theft, the guilt began to lessen. Buffy wondered if that was yet another sign that she'd come back to this life wrong. It should have been, she figured, just as much of a sign as the fact that she couldn't find her home.
But it kept her fed, which in turn allowed her to keep fighting. In a world devoid of any of the joy, in which all she had left was her responsibility to fight, Buffy couldn't find the extra strength needed to keep feeling guilty.
She did spare the extra strength to think of Faith each time she took something that didn't belong to her. Buffy thought that Faith would have fit into this world so much better than she did. Faith would have had a fake ID in two hours, and would never have had to settle for a crappy under-the-table waitressing job that paid only in tips.
Resentment took just as much needed strength as guilt, so Buffy didn't spare any towards Faith, no matter what terms they'd left under and no matter how much better Faith could have handled this world.
But longing for Faith...did not require as much strength, certainly not any more than the things Buffy already longed for, and Buffy could spare the extra energy to think that she would have greatly welcomed Faith's help. Even the help of an enemy might have soothed the burden of shouldering her responsibilities in a world in which she was denied the benefit of a solitary friend.
It took him three weeks of realizing something was wrong to find her. He found her in a cemetery, with her heeled boot crushing a vampire's ribs and an ax raised above her head.
Dick waited until the ax was brought down, before he spoke. "Normally,I'd feel badly about making a pretty girl fend for herself, but somehow I don't think that applies to you."
She didn't take her eyes off him as she wiped the ax's blade against the grass. "The ax give me away?" The voice didn't match the lightness that he expected from a blonde dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. She looked every bit like a sorority girl, and he expected the lightness of a cheerleader when she spoke.
Instead, her voice held a gravity that confirmed Dick's suspicions. She was like him. "Yeah, you don't see many of those. Not even in Gotham."
"I'm guessing from your complete lack of shock at seeing me fighting vampires that you've seen your fair share of strange things in Gotham." She practically spat the last word, and Dick felt an irrational rush of happiness that someone should share his disgust of this city.
"Vampires?" He exclaimed, with mock surprise. "You're telling me vampires exist?"
"Wow. Tight clothes, a sense of humor, and you know about vampires? Isn't it my lucky day?"
"You can thank my parents for all three."
"Your parents taught you to dress in tight clothes? I'm not sure whether I should be nauseated by the ickage factor or jealous that you never had to endure the rounds of arguments that I did."
"My parents were in the circus," he clarified. "Before they were ... attacked."
"Oh my god, that's horrible." Her eyes widened as realization dawned. "Vampires attacked them?"
He barely had time to nod before he was flat on the ground, her fingers to his neck. "And I thought we were getting along so well."
"Sorry. I was just checking to make sure..." She stood up and offered her hand, which he took while trying to maintain his irritation. But it wasn't every night of stalking vampires that Dick ran into an attractive woman willing to pounce him. "Normally, I wouldn't have to, but the vampires in this world are ...different. Staking them isn't enough and all my Slayer Senses don't always work the way they should."
"Maybe it's the head trauma from being tackled to the ground, but did you say you came from another world?"
A laugh escaped and Dick was struck by the realization of how gorgeous the woman would be if the laugh had been sincere. "Not literally! At least, I'm pretty sure not. It's.. it's a long story, and not a very interesting one."
"Ah. In other words, you don't want to talk about it. The same go for 'Slayer Senses?'"
She gave a wry grin and extended her hand. "Buffy Summers, Vampire Slayer."
"Dick Grayson," he introduced himself. "That's quite the title, Buffy, though it doesn't sound too friendly."
"You can blame the Watcher's Council. I certainly didn't pick it."
"Not so sure I want to blame them." Dick didn't bother to ask what this "Watcher's Council" was; he wasn't quite sure he believed or understood half of her story. But she knew about vamps and how to kill them, and at the end of the day, that was all that really mattered to Dick. "You're the first person I've ever met who hasn't thought I'm crazy."
It wasn't through lack of trying. The cops, children's services, the foster parents - he'd tried to tell everyone who'd listen, in a desperate attempt to find justice for his parents. At least, he had until the third psychiatrist had tried to lecture him about "coping" strategies.
"People see what they want to," Buffy answered. "You hunt vampires, too?"
"Mostly just one. Others come up and I kill them, too, but - "
"But you're after the one that killed your parents? Getting your vengeance on?"
He couldn't tell if she was mocking him or not. "Yes," he said defensively. "You don't understand what it's like to watch your parents murdered by a monster in front of your eyes."
"You're right. I don't. Doesn't mean I don't want to help you."
He hadn't expected it to be that easy. "No one wants to help unless there's something in it for them."
"Your monster is killing others. He has to be. That's what vamps do. And Slayers? Take care of it. That's what we do, and that's what's in it for me."
She sounded both angry and proud during her speech, and if Dick were less selfish, he might push to find out why she couldn't pick a solitary emotion for longer than a word.
But the years had taken most of that selflessness away. "I've got a lot of information on him. I've spent years tracking him. If you wanted to come back to my place, I could show you."
She gave a dry chuckle as she ran her hand through her hair. "You do realize how that sounded, right?"
"Oh! I didn't mean it like that. Honest! I mean, I have a girlfriend."
"Then I promise to keep my hands to myself. Lead the way."
The girlfriend only lasted another week. Buffy found out about the end of the relationship when Dick came home, shaking with rage and upset - the kind of emotions that were typical when your lover turned out to be a vampire. Buffy checked his pulse, bandaged his wounds, and thought about telling him about Angelus.
Instead, she made bologna and mustard sandwiches while he cooked a box of macaroni and cheese that they split. During dinner/breakfast/three-carefully-rationed-meals-are-better-than-what-she-had-on-her-own, she told him about the green plant demon.
"Demons?" His blue eyes shifted, from being full of hurt to being full of intrigue. "I've never fought any demons."
"Vampires are demons. Well, a type." Truth be told, Buffy wasn't entirely sure what the green plant lady had been. A demon or a witch or ... something not human, at any rate.
"But there are other types of demons?"
"Yeah, there are."
"Tell me about them."
Dick leaned forward, all attention suddenly diverted from the dead girlfriend and onto the issue of demons. The part of her that remembered what life had been like before her death knew that wasn't normal. Yet she was grateful for it, because Dick's lack of lingering emotional response over anything that wasn't related to his parents' death made her own numbness feel a little less wrong.
It was three days after he staked Barbara that Dick and Buffy first had sex.
Oh, he meant to wait longer. He had cared for Barbara, more than he'd dared to care for anyone since that monster had taken his parents away.
But a frustrating patrol full of dead ends put both his and Buffy's adrenaline on a higher wire than was typical for them. Buffy moved in for the first kiss, and though he was surprised, Dick didn't push her away.
"Faith was right about this," Buffy informed him as she removed her top. Dick supposed he should ask or care about this Faith person, but with a very nearly naked Buffy straddling him, it was difficult to pretend to. "Always the best way to burn energy after patrol."
Then she kissed him, firmly enough that Dick couldn't have asked about Faith, even if he'd wanted to.
In the weeks that followed, Dick had plenty of opportunity to agree with the mysterious Faith, because their first time was certainly not their last. Dick relished her strength and the inability or indifference that made it impossible for her to hold back.
Bruises took the place of where playful scratch marks could have been, if their lives were normal, and hickies were replaced by bite marks. Dick's cry of pleasure only increased as Buffy held his wrists down into the sheets and sunk her teeth into the skin along his collarbone.
"This is wrong," Buffy informed him, as his orgasm subsided. Her fingers traced along the bite mark she'd left. "So wrong. For both of us."
"I'm sorry," Dick offered, both because it was what he thought she needed to hear and because he knew she was right.
"You aren't, though. Not really. This life, it's all you've ever known." Disgust or pity, Dick couldn't tell. Either way, when she spread her legs and guided his face between them, he followed the command willingly.
He didn't mark her the way she'd marked him. She had enough marks, though Dick tended to ignore them. Once, his fingers grazed across the bite mark on her own neck, one certainly not given by him.
She responded by moving his fingers to feel her pulse instead. "It will fade. The others did."
It wasn't at all assuring, and the bite mark on her neck still frightened him. But it didn't frighten him enough to make him stop.
Four weeks after she and Dick started having sex, they finally found the monster who had killed Dick's parents. He was older and stronger than most she'd fought and Buffy was glad Dick was there to help her.
Buffy held him down, while Dick wielded the ax. They burned the remains, something that Buffy wasn't entirely sure was necessary, but in this world, she wasn't taking any chances.
"Thank you," Dick murmured at her side.
"For helping me avenge my parents."
"I told you. Killing vamps is what I do." She frowned at him. "You almost believed him, earlier, didn't you? When he was going on about how you and he were the same."
"He had a point. He hunts...hunted with the desire to kill. I hunted with the need to kill. It's not really so different, is it?"
She tried not to roll her eyes, because she knew that her patience level was lower than Cordelia's at this point. "Do you wait outside of theaters and swoop in to kill parents in front of their children?"
Judging by his expression, a punch would have been more kind. "No!"
"Then I'd say it's awfully different."
"I guess you're right." He sighed deeply, not liking that particularly truth. Buffy didn't blame him, even if she was a little low on the sympathy herself, because she'd been dealing with that truth for years. "I never dreamed there was so many of them."
"A Slayer's work is never done," Buffy retorted. "But you don't have to keep doing this. You got the one you were after. You can go have a normal life now."
She tried to sound less bitter about it, but to her own ears, she failed miserably.
"I don't think I could." Dick shoved his hands in his pockets and gave a half of a shrug. "Maybe before I met you, I could have. But knowing what's out there, what damage they could inflict...I don't think I could go home every night and just close my eyes. Not when I could help."
"You're going to need training," Buffy answered.
"Training? I've been training for this since I was a kid!"
"And you've got raw acrobatic skill and more flexibility than any Slayer's ever had," Buffy acknowledged. "Both very god things. But we want to make less with the raw and more with the smooth slaying machine. You're good, but you can be a lot better."
He smiled at her. "You need a sidekick, Buffy the Vampire Slayer?"
"Oh, that's me, alright. Responsible, mentory girl." She snorted at the idea. "But I can do a Giles impression better than anyone. It might be enough to keep you from getting killed."
It wasn't exactly the type of team she'd had in the past.
But it was hers.
In this world, that would have to be enough.