Title: Imperial, Chapter 1: The Return
Pairings: Buffy/Spike (Willow/Oz, Xander/Anya)
Length: ~21 K (this chapter: 2273)
Timeline: Prologue S3, the rest S4, this is an alternate reality world in which things didn’t go quite the same for Buffy at the end of S2
Warnings: Character Death, Violence (including gun violence), Sexual Situations
Summary: Buffy returns to Sunnydale in order to take down the Initiative and find her chosen mate, she’s just a little different than when she left. My love letter to heroic bloodshed movies (Think: Mi:II, Wanted, The Matrix). This one’s for fun!
Notes: The Initiative is bigger and badder than in canon. Beta’d by Gort and 13Lilies. Response to a challenge on Elysian Fields by Sharade.
Chapter 1: The Return
It’s so magical
-Lady Gaga, “Paparazzi”
The hulking shape of the mansion loomed over Crawford Street. Giles hated the place, this monstrosity that had swallowed his Slayer. Still he came. At first it’d been once every few days, then once a week, then every two, and now a year and a half later he managed to make it at least every month. He came to remember and honor the girl that had given everything to stop the world from descending into hell.
Gripping a vase full of fresh flowers, he made his way through the tangled weeds to a side door. It opened easily when he pushed it. Inside the house, dust motes drifted lazily. The dim light turned everything the same shade of muted gray. The late autumn heat clung to the stale air, stifling his breath and making him sweat. Giles made his way to the great room that contained the now inert statue of Acathla. His footsteps echoed in the cavernous space.
Buffy had no grave. To the world she was an unsolved missing persons case, just another teenage runaway. It had broken Giles to lie to Buffy’s weeping mother, but the truth, that Buffy had been sucked into an unreachable hell dimension while saving the world, had been too fantastical to try and explain. Instead, he’d concocted a story about Buffy and Angel last being seen leaving town together. He suspected Joyce believed that Angel had kidnapped or killed her daughter. Which was true enough, in its own way.
Giles cleaned and dusted the end table that served as a memorial. There was a picture of the Slayer with a wide smile on her face, as well as the few other things of hers that he’d been able find: a change of clothes she’d kept in the library, her school notebooks, some ponytail holders with wisps of blonde hair still clinging to them. He knew it was pathetic, but it was all he had. Her weapons had all been taken by Kendra and her new Watcher, Wesley, when the other Slayer had moved permanently to Sunnydale.
Giles flipped open one of the notebooks, smiling at the girlish handwriting and all the little doodles of hearts in the margin with A+B written inside. At least she’d been happy for a brief moment. He’d always known she’d be taken from the world too soon, but barely seventeen seemed like a bad joke. Sighing, he let the notebook cover fall closed. Had she lived she would have started college this year, roomed in the dorms, gone to parties. He chuckled to himself. She’d also have been slaying demons and averting apocalypses left and right. Probably things not very amenable to maintaining great grades in English 101.
Well, Buffy, I’ll see you next month.
The earthquake hit just as he stepped outside the mansion. The ground heaved and bucked, knocking Giles off his feet. From inside the house he heard a crash. Groaning, he picked up his glasses that had been knocked off in the shaking, and climbed stiffly to his feet. Something felt off: the world had changed. Cautiously, he walked back into the house, the hot air clinging to him and tasting of spent magic. He stood for a moment in the great room, waiting on he didn’t know what. The altar that served a Buffy’s memorial had oddly remained untouched by the ground’s shaking. The picture and flower vase were still upright.
The sound of quick steps deeper inside the mansion made his heart start to hammer. It seemed he was no longer alone.
As quietly as he could, Giles crept along the hallway towards the sound. The door at the end of the narrow space stood ajar, letting in brilliant sunlight. A figure moved between the door and the windows. A moment’s hesitation, then Giles stepped into the sunbathed room. The furious beating of wings made him jump as two doves flew up from nearly under his feet. Cooing, they fluttered through a broken pane of glass to rise into the bright blue sky.
His eyes searched the room. A women stood at the far end, her back to him. Long blonde hair tumbled in waves to her waist. A deep purple dress hugged her shoulders and hips before cascading to her knees. Leather boots with a low heel were laced up her calves. Slowly, she turned to face him. It wasn’t a human face. Eyes completely silver glowed softly among the pronounced, but smooth planes of cheek and forehead. Behind ruby red lips a pair of small fangs hung. But this was no vampire, the sunlight caressed her skin. The creature’s compact body was feminine in its curves, but as the demon prowled towards him it emanated an enormous amount of strength. It stopped, cocking its head to one side, breathing deeply through its nose.
That nose, he knew that nose.
“Buffy?” Giles asked, hope making his voice brittle.
The creature leisurely tilted its head the other direction, regarding him.
“No one calls me that,” it said in a melodious tone. His hope faded.
“Then may I ask whose presence I am in?” He took a step back from its advance, terror awakening in the pit of his stomach. Power was radiating from this creature like a furnace.
“I am the Empress.”
Oh, dear lord, a Demon Empress.
Not much was known about them. They were the kind of thing the Watchers spoke of in hushed tones after a lot of whisky. They were a tale to scare impressionable newbies. Ruthless, with power beyond imagination, it was rumored that they held absolute sway over all other demons. From there the talk usually devolved into bawdy jokes to defuse the tension of imagining a creature with the unwavering loyalty of all the creatures of darkness. Luckily, any Empresses that existed supposedly did so in hell dimensions populated entirely by demons, where they held absolute sway.
The creature crossed its arms, tapping one clawed finger against its chin. Silver eyes narrowed at Giles.
“You are familiar,” it said. “You will tell me who you are.” It was a command.
“I will,” Giles hedged. “But first I must know what a Demon Empress is doing here in Sunnydale.”
Silver eyes flashed. “Do not presume to tell me what to do, human, your insolence should mean your death.”
“Yes, yes, off with my head.” Giles was gambling. The creature wanted information and he was betting on its curiosity to keep him alive.
Clawed hands fisted, then relaxed again with obvious effort. “I come to this place in order to free the slaves and punish their captors, as it has been foretold. This time and place is also that in which I will find my destined mate, he that is meant to rule at my side.”
Impatiently, the Empress gestured at him.
He took a deep breath, struggling not to stutter beneath her intense glare. “My name is Rupert Giles. I am a member of a group known as The Watcher’s Council. As such I am well informed about many aspects of the magical and supernatural, including at least a little about your kind. Perhaps I can help you to fulfill your duties here, and subsequently aide you to return to the realm that is your home.”
“Giles?” it asked. He nodded. Suddenly the angular planes of the creature’s face shifted and receded, the fangs retracted. An achingly familiar face, awash with anguish, was left behind.
“Buffy?” he whispered. He staggered back as the girl wrapped her arms around him in a fierce hug. “What happened Buffy? When? How?”
She looked up at him, not letting go. “How long?” she asked, her voice quavering.
“Eighteen months,” he said. A year and a half of grief now punctuated by her return. The corners of his mouth turned up tentatively.
Laughter, dark and bitter, poured from her lips. “Six hundred years,” she said, then stepped back, dashing the tears from her cheeks. “I can’t remember much from before. What the people I love look like. That faded first.” She looked straight into his eyes. “Hell has taken almost everything from me.”
“Buffy,” Giles said very quietly. “I need to know…”
“Watcher, don’t you recognize a Slayer when you see one?” Her face shifted again, back to planes and angles. “I had to get in touch with her real fast once I landed on the other side of that portal. I needed all of the demon, not just the bits and pieces that activated when I was called. It turns out I’m really freaking amazing.”
Giles was shocked. He knew that Slayer powers had a demonic origin, but not that they were tied to an actual demon buried within the girl.
“And how, how did you, end up as-”
“An Empress?” The Slayer grinned maliciously. “I fought.” She turned away from him, running one claw tipped finger along the wall as she drifted through the room. “For five hundred years I fought. Day by day, just trying to stay alive in the beginning, then to defend the piece of territory I called my own, then to take away land from others. I fought until the whole world trembled at my feet and the power of an Empress became mine. Then I fought for fun.” She gave him a teasing smile over her shoulder. “The intrigues of my court keep me busy now, for while none stand against me there are many factions at war with each other.” A little sigh. “But always I am alone on my throne. I wish for one to share my fate with me. This strange place is where I will find him.”
“You’re lonely,” Giles felt sympathy for her. Buffy had always been so alone in her calling. Angel, before he’d lost his soul, had been a brief reprieve. Had Willow’s spell worked he’d have thought Angel would have fought at Buffy’s side, but perhaps Angelus had simply been another impediment in her rise to power. In his fantasies he’d sometimes imagined Angel and Buffy overcoming all odds and returning from hell together, but obviously that wasn’t what had happened.
There was also the sting of knowing that she wouldn’t, couldn’t, stay in Sunnydale. The power of an Empress could only be relinquished by death. The drive to conquer and rule would always be there. She needed her throne, or she would make a new one, not stopping until all of Earth bowed before her. They had only so much time to rescue whoever she was talking about and to find her mate. Giles racked his brain, but he could think of no creature worthy of assuming that role.
From across the room the Slayer was cocking her head at him. She blinked and then was moving so fast he didn’t have time to dodge as she leapt across the room and grabbed his chin in one hand, forcing him down to kneel before her. She brought her face close to his, her eyes turning from silver to searing flame. Giles couldn’t look away, the burning gaze seemed to be looking not at him but through him, leaving everything he was bare to her.
Finally, she pushed him away and he was suddenly cold. “You are not he,” the Slayer said in disappointment.
“No,” he agreed. “I suppose not.” He got back to his feet. “I don’t really know if I can help you with that part, except to say it’s unlikely your mate is human. However, the other part about freeing slaves I may know something about. Will you let me help you?” It was a very dangerous game he was playing, but he couldn’t in good faith have a Demon Empress wandering around unsupervised. Constantly being reminded of the girl she once was would most likely render her less of a danger than leaving her completely to her own devices. Something of the Buffy he’d once known remained in there, he was hoping it was enough to keep the world safe.
The Empress stood considering him, then the face of the Slayer shifted back to that of Buffy. “Okay,” she agreed with a little nod.
She followed him, pausing briefly as she passed the memorial. Her hands ghosted over the items but she didn’t pick anything up. From the vase of flowers she plucked a pink rose. Giles lips thinned as he watched her magic infuse the long stem of the flower. It shed its thorns and twined gently around the Empress’ wrist. With a faint smile she brought the bloom to her nose, breathing in the scent.
She gestured that he should continue.
They walked out to the car and he opened the passenger door for her. Gracefully she got in, making sitting down into his old car look regal. During the drive to his apartment she was constantly scanning their surroundings, giving little startled gasps as they passed Sunnydale landmarks as pedestrian as the supermarket and the shoe store. Buffy didn’t ask any questions and Giles didn’t want to interrupt her reverie. He was hoping it was happy memories she was dredging up.
Giles opened the door to his apartment, letting them into the cluttered interior. Buffy looked around, seemingly at a loss for what to do. Perhaps tea would be a good way to start.
“Oi! Watcher, that you? Getting a little peckish in here!”
Good lord, he’d forgotten about Spike.
The clank of the chains against the bathtub was brash. The vampire called again, this time in a much less cocky voice: “Watcher? Who’s that you got with you?”
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/551183.html