Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Star Wars belong to their respective creators, Joss Whedon and George Lucas.
She always came to see him in the morning.
Anakin lived for the morning. He knew his master disapproved of it, of these visits, but then Master Windu disapproved of almost everything. What mattered was that he didn't order Anakin to put a stop to it or try to prevent her coming, and Anakin tried to show how grateful he was for that not exactly small concession by never talking about it.
She had changed a lot since she'd left the Temple. Her hair was longer, her skin paler, her eyes darker, but those were just the physical differences. What worried him was how quiet she had become, how isolated in her skin. She talked and laughed and joked like she always had, but it was different now, as if she wasn't really there with him. There was a remoteness to her, a distance in her eyes that he couldn't seem to ever quite bridge. She never drifted off or lost the thread of a conversation, she was never inattentive, but it lay between them like the Maw, a void that Anakin hadn't known was forming until it was there.
He didn't know how it had happened.
He felt the changes in her, too, felt it most when he asked her where she had been that year, that mysterious year when no one could find her and the Jedi masters had refused to answer any questions. She also refused to answer questions about it, turning her head and staring at the wall until he stopped asking. Anakin knew from Obi-Wan that Master Jinn never talked about it either, or about the six months he had been absent, presumably in search of her. It was as if it had never happened, as if they hadn't gone missing at all but only stepped out of the room and back in, as if a lost year meant nothing.
Except for that one time, that one moment, when she had first come back to the Temple after that unexplained year of being gone and Anakin had rushed to hold her, to take her—now smaller—body in his arms, and he had heard it in his mind, a noiseless echo of something like pain, something like emptiness that seemed to whisper through her skin and into his, the tormented cry Canderous, Canderous
She had pulled away, had broken contact, but it lingered there between them, the anguish he had heard resonating like a bell in her mind.
Master Jinn no longer lived at the Temple. He had left it shortly after their return, when he had come back with her hand in his, leading her home. The Council hadn't said a thing when he had removed himself quietly from his rooms there, and Obi-Wan didn't say or give away anything except to look slightly hurt. For maybe three days, everyone was talking about it, but when nothing happened and all the other Jedi masters—even Master Windu, who was usually so vocal about his opinions—completely ignored the matter, everyone else found other things to talk about.
Anakin didn't understand why she didn't just come to the Temple and take up her training again. The happiest he'd ever been in his life was that short time before everything else when they'd been initiates together, training under Masters Windu and Jinn. Everyone admitted that she was the most talented warrior who had ever walked the halls of the Temple, and that their potentials for the Force were the greatest anyone had felt since Master Yoda. Master Jinn had been so sure she would do well in the Order, he had been so certain. Anakin remembered how hard her disappearance had hit Master Jinn, to the point where he could not be dissuaded from searching for her, month after month, despite anything Masters Windu or Yoda said to him, until he, too, had finally vanished, only to turn up again six months later, her at his side, silent and changed.
No one wanted to talk about Master Jinn. It was an unsaid but acknowledged fact that his behavior and beliefs, which for years had put him at odds with the other masters, had finally become too unorthodox to ignore or dismiss. He didn't seem to care that there was talk that he would not last the year, didn't seem to care that he was about to lose his rank and lightsaber and everything that had been his life until that day two years ago on Tatooine. He had stopped coming to the Temple as much as he should, was, it was whispered, getting more involved in civilian affairs without Council approval or recognition, and was, all in all, acting like a man who had already left the Order.
These rumors disturbed Anakin. He liked Master Jinn, owed him more than could ever be repaid, especially since Master Jinn had been the one to find and bring her back where he, Anakin, had had to wait, helpless to do anything. Anakin resolved to speak to her about it—she would want to know. Perhaps she could even talk him into being more circumspect in his conduct; she had always had more influence with Master Jinn than anyone else Anakin knew, since the first day they'd met him.
The year she had been gone had been the worst in his life. Anakin couldn't remember ever before being so filled with despair, so much so that even Master Windu had been openly concerned. The idea that she had left him, had gone away without a look or a good-bye—he had been more hurt by her abandonment than even by his parting with his mother.
But he had known, somehow, deep inside, that she would come back, that she had not forgotten him. He couldn't explain it, but he knew, and he had waited, because that was all he could do.
And she had come back.
Just one. One more year, and then he could finally keep his promise. Anakin had been counting the days, the months, the years since he had been ten, and now there was only one year left, one year until he could finally tell her that he would take care of her, that he was ready to be the one man she could always depend on. He would be a knight by then, and he could finally, after all that time, ask her to fulfill the promise she had made him nearly ten years ago, when he had told her that she was his life and would be forever. For two years, he had been forced to watch as she lived a life that hardly included him, letting others take care of her when that was his place, his responsibility. No more. He would make her happy again, he would protect her. He would fix everything that was wrong or broken, change the galaxy to make room for her happiness.
It didn't matter where she had gone, or why. What mattered was she had come back.
He didn't know what had happened in the year she'd been gone. She would not tell him. He didn't care; someday, eventually, she would, when whatever it was had stopped hurting so much. She had so many secrets, so many things she didn't tell him, but she had had more when they'd first met. She would tell him, sooner or later, one by one, each a small piece of herself, and someday Anakin would have everything. For that, he could be patient.
Buffy was meant for him. He'd known it since the very first moment he'd seen her, in the Dune Sea of Tatooine..
One more year.
I need a beta. Someone to edit my work, tell me when something is inadequate or dumb, pretend to listen as I whine about my block, thrash some sense into me when I do something stupid like write three stories at once (...) or start turning Buffy into a Mary Sue (...), and yell at me when I get lazy and stop writing.
I've noticed a lot of fanfiction writers have writing pals. You know, people they discuss ideas with, start communities with, trade requests and stories with. It all sounds terribly mawkish and like a lot of hard work and I WANT ONE.
Addendum: November 15, 2007
(Has been speechlessed.)