Buffy felt relieved as she headed towards the training area. Her bandaged arms and chest were itching like mad, but she knew not to scratch them. She wanted to go back – back to the conference room where the tension had disappeared. Where her sister had absolved her of her sin of wanting to stay, and allowed her to take the next step. She entered the training hall where Teal'c was instructing Faith and Satsu in Mastaba. Even though he didn't know them beyond what Buffy had told him, he had taken to the slayers naturally. It seemed years of dealing with her had given him some understanding of them.
Giles and Willow were sitting at the far end of the room talking about something. Xander was watching intently. For a moment, he reminded her of a cross between one of the SG team leaders and Giles watching his protégés fighting. Buffy wandered over and sat down next to him, wincing slightly as the new skin she was growing under her bandages complained. She knew she would be scarred, she just hoped it wouldn't be too bad, but secretly Buffy feared the worst. However, she pushed away her vanity for just a moment. She had a difficult thing to do.
"Hi, Xander," she said, and sat down keeping her focus on the fight. Faith was a little out of shape Buffy realized. The younger Satsu was getting in a few hits that her old friend and rival should have caught. For a while, Buffy felt like going out there and fighting wounds be damned, but she couldn't. She hated losing her fighting form, even just a little.
"Hi, Buffy," Xander said after a while. "You want to say something?"
"How do you know these things," Buffy asked.
"I am me. Besides, I know you my Buffster. Are you okay? You look like you just had a deep conversation of some sort... " Xander sat in silence for a moment, then a realization changed his expression. He turned to face her. "You've decided?"
"Yeah," Buffy admitted. She struggled for a moment trying to decide yet again what to say.
"You're staying," Xander stated, and looked back out at the fight.
Buffy felt like the air went out of her. "Wait... how?" Buffy asked.
"Listen, why do you think I've been so angry ever since I saw you here? I knew. I knew the moment I saw you standing there talking to your new mom in the infirmary. Your face is like an open book to me. I don't want to say this, but Buffy when you're happy, it practically radiates off of you. I knew you were happy here. Then I turned into an asshole and tried to have you back, even though I had already figured out that you were happier here than you had been for a long long time back in Sunnydale. I'm sorry. I was being egotistical. Call it momentary insanity."
"Jeez, you lot are all 'deep with the wisdom' these days. Dawn practically ordered me to stay and you had figured it out all by yourself. Am I going to go back there and hear the same from Willow and Giles?" Buffy looked towards the pair, still deep in their discussion. Giles had been deeply apologetic ever since he had admitted to manipulating the Scoobies to bring them here.
"I don't know. I think they have thought about it, but I guess you shouldn't be surprised if they're gonna be all kinds of understanding," Xander explained.
"I need to go talk to them now," Buffy continued.
"Yeah, I can't help you there. You should schedule in some time to talk to Faith as well," Xander said.
"Sorry to dump and run, but I need to do this before I get to weepy."
"I m ok here for now," Xander said, continuing to watch the slayers fight.
Buffy smirked and got up. She walked along the training area as Teal'c barked instructions to the girls. She walked up to Willow and Giles, overhearing their conversation.
"So you understand why I have done it, why I've recreated someone to watch the Watchers, just like they did in the past?" Willow said.
"Of course I do. I've always approved – I just couldn't tell you. The Watchers – especially the older faction that is still holding the purse strings – are dead set against it, but I felt that by acting as their champion and leader I could control what measures they would take against you. They started out wanting to assassinate you, but I managed to keep it to exile. And I will continue to do so until the old guard has finally passed, and make sure they don't recreate themselves in the younger generation... Ah Buffy," Giles turned and looked at her.
"You should have stayed with my original financing plan: outright theft from those who could afford it," Buffy suggested, not really meaning it.
"Of course, and give something for both our enemies to focus on. The way we changed to was much more efficient in the end even if it has allowed the old Watcher faction a measure of power. This system has served us well for several years, but I guess when you get back, we'll have to evaluate our suggestions again. Your old position as Head Slayer is available if you want it," Giles said.
Buffy frowned. She hoped he wasn't serious. The slayers had to have some sort of leader. "Really?" she asked.
"Of course not. Actually we tried having Faith fill in, but it really didn't work for her. She is a lot of things that we all love her for, but not really a leader. And since then, no one has really been able or willing to fill that place, so almost everyone listens to the leading council," Willow explained.
"I thought you said the slayers would need a figurehead - a single person to rally around?" Buffy asked.
"Yeah, and these days it's mostly Xander, Giles or me, depending on who you ask," Willow continued.
"What about Kennedy?" Buffy felt she needed to ask.
"Kennedy isn't really leadership material. Honestly, she pisses off a lot of people," Willow said.
"She's an arrogant bitch, and she's actually worse whenever you two decide not to date for a while," Giles interjected.
Buffy knew she could have said something, but decided to do better than in her past, and kept her opinion of Kennedy to herself. Ken was a good slayer, but her personality set Buffy's teeth on edge. She had always been afraid that Kennedy would go off on a killing spree – Faith style – only, aimed at other slayers, just to prove she was the best, as if something like that would help anything. It was probably just an irrational dislike, coming from her knowledge that Kennedy actively disliked Buffy as well.
"Hah, figures," Willow said. "So what gives? You just making the rounds?" Willow asked with a look on her smiling face that reminded Buffy, for a moment, that Willow was her best friend, or had been for a long time. It was almost strange to see her all grown up. Buffy wondered if Willow ever thought about settling down and putting together another family outside of the Scoobies.
"I wanted to talk to you. About me going or staying," Buffy said. Both looked at each other and then at her. Buffy could see they were prepared for both things, but had formed no judgment ahead of time. "I am staying here. Please let me explain before you ask, say anything or argue.
“My Grandfather said something before I went to rescue Bra'tac and you." She looked at Willow. "He told me that I needed to make this decision for myself. I love it here. I really deeply love it. I love you guys, but the life on your side – it wouldn't fit me any more. I may have been taken here against my will, but I've made it my home and staying here has changed me. I feel like I am meant to be here. For the longest time, I was afraid I was abandoning my duties to everyone on your Earth, but I don't think I am. I have met the embodiment of this universe, and she told me that I was brought here for a purpose, but I was also told to take care of myself. I know it's a little selfish, but I think I want to live in a universe where that is something I'm supposed to do. One where I wasn't just chosen to fight and die... or lead from the front all alone. The people on either side weigh equally for me: mother, sister, friends old and new – all equal, so I have to go with everything else. And that is why I've decided to stay." Buffy breathed out and smiled. "Sorry for the long speech, but I had to explain it to someone at least once."
Giles looked sad, but somehow not that surprised. Then he did something he hadn't really done to her for a long long time. He grabbed her and took her into a gentle, but tight, hug that just managed not to press too hard against her damaged skin. Buffy felt surrounded by the bigger older man, and remembered all the good times, all the trust and confidence they had shared. They had hurt each other, but in the end this moment was better. "Buffy, I am proud of you. I am so glad you were in my life," Giles whispered, only for her ears.
"Do I get a hug as well?" Willow asked, just as Giles leaned back. Willow and Buffy hugged too, then Buffy sat back in between the pair.
"You know it's weird that you're a kid again," Willow said.
"Hey, how do you think I felt when I got my memories back? Okay, given I was in the middle of a Goa'uld base, having just been tortured, and was fighting my way up to the leader to explain my feelings to him, I may have had other things to worry about at the time, but I can tell you I wasn't too pleased. One good thing though: the better diet and, I think, some of Carter genes have improved my bust line, and made me several inches taller," Buffy boasted.
Willow drew back and studied Buffy for a moment, "It's not that noticeable, but I'm sure you're right," she said with a smile.
"Funny! Be glad you're a civilian, and I am not in top form, or you'd be out on that mat getting sparred around this room," Buffy said. Willow grinned.
"I always thought that was the reason Buffy was so successful as a slayer. Smaller target and all that power focused into smaller areas," Giles said, but his eyes revealed he was just teasing her.
"Okay, okay, I can take the digs," Buffy said. She watched as Faith finally put Satsu on the mat.
"What happened to her to make her quit?" Buffy asked.
"Faith never really quit,” Giles explained. “She got retired more-or-less for mental health reasons. She took a couple of hard missions that drained her emotionally, and experienced some trauma, but she was doing good until one of her strike teams ended up in a hell dimension. For us she was gone for a only an hour, but Faith spent nearly a year fighting, getting tortured, humiliated, and I think she gave in a one point. One day, she had enough strength to make her way back home, but she wasn't really sane for a while. We managed, with Angel and Spike's help, to contain her and get her the help she needed. Angel told me that Faith revealed in her therapy that you were somehow a legend in that dimension, and that while your memory helped sustain her, it didn't help her with her feelings towards you.”
"You know,” said Buffy, “somehow, at one point in time, it ended up being about who was the better person between me and her. I was as guilty as Faith of screwing up great parts of my relationship with her, but I was a kid with my own problems when I met her and I just wasn't strong enough to prop her up. It's one of the biggest regrets I have, because I just can't help thinking how great Faith would have been without me. She hasn't died three times, slept with two vampires, or decided to kill someone, just to give their blood to their vampire boyfriend. Sure, she hurt me right back and she turned to the dark out of sheer fear and egotism. We have a long list of issues between us, I just don't think I have the time to repair all that, if our history is still the problem."
“I doubt that is still the main problem. However, you should talk to her before we leave," Giles suggested.
"I'll try," Buffy said.
"So what will you do now?" Willow asked.
"Right now, I'll see if I can get to talk to Faith, but otherwise, I guess I'll go see my mom in her lab. She is sure to be working on something interesting," Buffy commented.
"It's so neat, you're a brain now," Willow said.
"Hey, I was never stupid," Buffy argued.
"No, you were a natural leader, fighter and planner, but never really research gal or anything like that. I mean, you seem like you would know how to put together a circuit board or something now," Willow said.
"Oh, I do. I helped my mom built the prototypes of the space superiority fighter of earth – the F-305. Of course, it's already outdated, and we're looking at making a single seater and our own cargo ships too. You know, maybe I should study that. I guess I'd love to build space ships – I certainly love flying them. But you know what's funny: I am studying different branches of science at college, but I haven't really picked a major. I want to do so much, I find it hard to decide."
Out on the mat Satsu, who was being held in a choke hold by Faith, slapped the floor to signal her surrender.
Buffy called out to Faith. "Faith, could we talk?" She grabbed an unopened bottle of water from the floor near Giles and Willow, and brought it along as a first peace offering.
Faith studied her. "So am I the last on your list for today?" she asked.
"You could hear us right?" Buffy asked rhetorically.
"Yup," Faith agreed.
"And the kidnapping part?" Buffy asked. She guided them over to other corner of the room. Teal'c, who was standing nearby, moved away to give them privacy. Buffy reminded herself to talk to her friend about the state of things in the galaxy, but knew it had to wait.
"Especially that part," Faith said, and stood there looking a bit defensive.
"Sit please," Buffy said.
Faith sat almost reluctantly.
"Giles told me you were retired, so why did you want to come for me?" Buffy asked.
"Honestly I wasn't sure when I first heard from Angel that you were still alive. I had mourned you for a long time, and I was a little angry with you," Faith explained.
"I heard something about issues," Buffy replied, trying to sound as neutral as possible and really listen to her sister slayer.
"Yeah, it's really not your fault. I just feel--" Faith shook her head and sighed. "It's so fucked up, B. Our business was done – I thought it was done – but then you became the big leader in the sky of the slayers and I was back amongst the masses. I tried to tell myself it was okay, but stupid little cunt that I can be, I started pulling a Kennedy on myself – telling myself that I was the active slayer, that the line followed me, and that meant I should be in charge. I never really believed that shit for real. Really, I expected you to fuck up, or step down to finally get that life no one seemed to want to let you have – not even yourself – but you went and died. You became this fucking big martyr and I had to step into your spot, and live up to your legend. That nearly killed me, because I tried to do what you did, but I couldn't. We think and fight completely differently. Xander and Angel managed to convince me to stop, and I took that hit, but I kind of stayed a symbol just like you did.
“Then I ended up in some sort of prison hell, where you had been too. You had gotten away, but they had wised-up, and kept overwhelming me. Whenever I got away, there was no way home, so they kept catching me. I don't know for sure why they didn't just kill me. Finally, I managed to slip away one morning, just as they went out for more slaves, and made it through a portal. I was totally fucked up, but throughout the entire time I was there, all I heard about was you. From the other slaves, and from the other slayers that were trapped with me, until they died. And I hated you, because you were always there overshadowing me. I guess I just wanted to be big sister for once."
"Oh, god, Faith. I got out of there by luck and endurance. I even had some help. I can't even say I'm sorry can I?" Buffy said.
"Nah, it's my problem I just can't seem to tell anyone... except you. Why can I tell you?" Faith asked.
"Come on, you know why," Buffy said.
They looked at each other and nodded. Buffy was more conscious of it than Faith probably was, but even she knew it at that moment: Buffy and Faith were more than the others. They were The Slayers – not made by Willow's magic, but by The Powers. It didn't make them physically stronger, but there was something deeper and darker in them than in all the others. Maybe it was a flaw in Willow's spell – a tiny glitch – but it was there. It was a connection between them, and it was a connection that they, due to their history, had never explored or been able to truly embrace.
"Yeah, I know why. So you're not coming home. Angel is going to be sad about that," Faith said.
"I know. Oh, I know. You know how I feel about him. There will probably never be another that has the same place in my heart. There will be other loves, deep and intense, but I doubt there will be another Angel for me. Faith, would you tell him and Spike something for me?" Buffy looked at her black haired friend.
"Any day B," Faith said.
"Thanks. Tell them... Tell them that I love them both of them. Differently, but the both of them. I love Angel. I love Spike. But not romantically – not anymore. I'm not that person any more. That dark romantic world doesn't still attract me. I will be a grown up soon – again – and I have love like one as well. I can never thank them enough: they were both a major reason I became who I was. Many of the good and the painful things came from them, but in hindsight, I would not have missed even a single thing... except maybe one or two things I did with Spike," Buffy admitted.
"Yeah, I got all the nasty play-by-play one dark night. You got mad skills, B. I thought I was all that in the weird hotness, but damn," Faith chuckled. "No really I will tell them – I promise," she said.
"Thanks. I guess there isn't that much more I can tell you, huh? I ain't got that many nuggets of wisdom yet. I am, amazingly, still a growing girl here," Buffy commented.
"Just sit here with me for a while," Faith said.
Buffy gave Faith a confused look.
"I want to remember how you feel to me," Faith explained.
"How very predatory-cat like, F," Buffy commented.
"Shh," Faith said. Buffy didn't say anything after that, but just sat in silence and watched everyone around them go about their life in the busy training hall, while Faith sat with closed eyes next to her. After five minutes Faith got up, and offered Buffy her hand. Buffy grabbed it, and let Faith lift her until she stood.
"Take care B," Faith said.
Buffy took a step then turned and looked at Faith. "Faith, I don't think I've ever got a serious answer? Why won't you use my name?” she asked. “You use everyone else's – at least occasionally!”
Faith blinked then smiled, "Honestly, like you should be named Buffy. It's not a good enough name for that which you are. So I settled on 'B'."
"Faith, sometimes you're a mystery to me," Buffy said, but smiled, believing Faith had just given her a compliment in disguise.
"Right back at ya, B," Faith said. Buffy walked, away giving everyone a small wave.
Buffy walked into her mom's gloomy lab. The short haired blond woman was seated over a piece of alien technology trying to place some sort of probe into its innards. Buffy tried to determine the machine's origin, but couldn't place it as something she had seen before.
"Hi," she said. Her mom looked up and immediately smiled, but Buffy could see the guarded fear in her mom's eyes that had been ever present since the Scoobies had arrived. Buffy knew her mom wanted to be down in the medical observation room like Buffy, but Janet had forced them both to leave, promising to call them when Jacob's final time came.
"Hi, honey," her mom replied.
"I've told them. Now it's your turn," Buffy said, then realized too late that she had forgotten to tell her mom what she was talking about.
"You've made your decision?" her mom said. For a moment Buffy sensed the flicker of uncertainty in the blue eyes staring back at her.
"I'm staying. I want to stay here. With you – with everyone. My life is here now."
Her mom rushed over, and then stopped, remembering her skin problem, and gently hugged her a lot like Giles had done earlier. "Oh, god? Are you sure, honey?" her mom asked into her hair.
"Yeah, I am staying here for ever and ever," Buffy said.
"Thank god," her mom said. Buffy felt a little awkward for a moment as she realized her always strong, always dutiful, mom was crying. Then she just closed her eyes and let her mom hold her, sharing their precious good moment and hoping it would keep them strong in the dark days of the coming weeks.
Buffy walked away from the Arlington graveyard along with the rest of SG-1 and her friends, who had decided to stay and support her while she and her mom dealt with her Grandfather's funeral. It was a gray cloudy day, but it hadn't rained. There had been hundreds and hundreds of people at the funeral. Generals, the Chiefs of Staff, Jaffa leaders, Tok'ra and enough security to make it look like a state funeral. Buffy somehow felt that the attention vindicated her Grandfather's life. F-305s had flown by as the coffin was lowered into the ground.
Sam held her sobbing daughter as the last glimpse of the magical portal that had taken away her friends faded, and then completely disappeared. They had stayed as long as they could, but it had been time to return. The goodbyes had been long and tearful for all involved.
Jack put a warm hand on her shoulder. "You know what. I think I liked them after all," he admitted.
"Yeah, me too," Sam said. Buffy seemed not to hear them at all.
Buffy righted herself and stepped forward to look around the room, wiping her face slowly. "I'll miss them, but I know this is how it should be. Now, you said you have a theory about that ship orbiting the moon?" Buffy asked.
"Nah, business tomorrow. We're going out to dinner. I've taken the liberty to book us a couple of tables at a Steakhouse," Jack said and looked at his watch. "Besides, I happen to know that a certain Teal'c has arrived through the gate while we were seeing your friends off. He, Daniel and Jonas are waiting for us. So, no moping, squirt."
Buffy sniffed again wiped the last wetness of her face. "I can't promise that, but I can try," she replied.
"That's all I want," Sam said. "Let's go."
Dawn stood next to Angel and Spike on the moonlit battlements of the Scottish headquarters of the Watchers' Council. "Why didn't you stay?" Angel asked. Dawn knew from his tone that he would have been as tempted as she had been.
"I have a life here. Her life was there now," she answered.
"I hope it's a good one – better than me and Liam here could give her," Spike said.
Dawn expected a prickly reply from Angel, but all the dark haired vampire said was, "Me too."
Willow walked out, followed by Xander, Giles and Faith. They were carrying extra mugs of hot chocolate for the trio already outside.
"Seriously, you guys are such boy scouts," Spike grumbled.
"So are we remembering B again. Man, this is too much like a wake for me," Faith said.
"No, this is not a wake. Let's raise up and drink to a good future for us and for Buffy," Giles said.
"Hear, hear," Angel said and took a sip. They all followed suit. Dawn turned and looked out over the castle. She hoped Buffy was alright. At least she would always have that hope, and anyway wasn't hope better than the knowledge of a certain death? She smiled at the moon.THE END.
Amazing what a little spare time can do. I wrote the raw copy for this entire thing in a day and beat my own records doing so. Anyway I hope this little episode in the life of Buffy after "Going Home Through a Starry Mirror" was alright. It turned out as long and as fulfilling to write as I hoped. The entire conflict between the new life and the old was interesting to write and I used the Replicator thing as a backdrop to create the tension of drama on top of the more familial issues. I know some people might feel I skimmed rather lightly over things like Jacob's death, but honestly I wanted to keep focus where it should be, and while Buffy and Sam mourned deeply, it just didn't need to be part of the story – the same with the ending portal. I had originally planned several thousand words extra on both things, but they turned out to be mostly useless and repetitive of what Buffy talked over with the Scoobies earlier. This was, and remained, a more personal story about Buffy, Sam and the Scoobies which is why I wrote it like I did.
As for the Replicator made space ship and the nanites in Buffy's blood I am leaving them as open options for the next story: "Bring on the Fire." That one was supposed to be the big confrontation that Buffy was originally summoned for (yes Anubis was just foreplay), and what Buffy has been groomed for by the universe. However, there is one major problem right now (early May 2008): that is I don't really feel like I have a good plot for Buffy and SG-1 aside from the Ori plot line, and I don't think that is enough to only have the action, but not the emotional connection like Sam and Buffy's familial bond forming in Going Home or Buffy dealing with her past in this story. So until I figure out an emotional hook, I have to leave this series with this entry until then. I'd rather not put out half a story and then have to drop it because my muse won't play along. For one year and five months the Buffy Carter series has been my primary fanfiction project and also I think I want turn to something else for a while. This is not goodbye, this is wait and see, it is a maybe, a hope ;) And as story telling is in me I am sure to have more of something for you my readers one day soon.